UK firms more optimistic about Chinese market, but London’s slander sparks concern
Published: May 23, 2023 10:41 PM
China UK Photo: VCG

China UK Photo: VCG

The British Chamber of Commerce in China said on Tuesday that a majority of UK-based businesses are expressing greater optimism about the Chinese market; however, some are also raising concerns about the impact of geopolitical tensions amid mixed signals from London regarding relations with Beijing. 

British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak described China as the "greatest challenge of our age" in regard to global security and prosperity at the G7 summit in Hiroshima, Japan, casting a new shadow over bilateral relations. The remarks drew a harsh response from Chinese officials, with the Chinese Embassy in the UK calling it a malicious slander.

Chinese experts said that Sunak's comment added uncertainty about normal business operations. They urged the UK government not to transfer some of its internal problems elsewhere, and it especially shouldn't let such problems affect the China-UK relations.

In a survey conducted by the British Chamber of Commerce in China in April, 76 percent of businesses reported feeling more optimistic about the coming year following China's reopening, according to the British Business in China: Position Paper 2023 launched on Tuesday.

The resumption of travel has paved the way for the restoration of crucial people-to-people exchanges with headquarters, global offices and international clients, according to the position paper.

Furthermore, China's market potential and economic prospects, compared with those of other countries, provide further reasons for this renewed optimism, the chamber said.

"The Chinese government in general is much more actively engaging foreign companies today. That's very clear and we know that and we can see that," Julian MacCormac, chair of the chamber, said at the launch on Tuesday.

MacCormac told the Global Times that the importance of the relationship between the UK and China is very clear, and it is in the UK's interests to have a positive trade and investment relationship with China.

In response to the recent remarks by Sunak regarding China, he admitted that geopolitics exist, and there are clearly areas of disagreement between the UK and China.

While leaders of the G7 agreed that there's a need to "de-risk" from China, MacCormac said that "there are some [British] companies that will be wanting to have a greater clarity about what is it the government means when they talk about 'de-risking'."

He said that it goes back to the point of uncertainty in terms of where the lines are in China and "we have seen that's on the mind of businesses."

Chinese experts said that recent signals sent by the UK to China are rather confusing, causing potential uncertainty over normal business operations on both sides.

On the one hand, the British government still needs to maintain contact with China and even cooperate with China in some fields. On the other hand, it seems to be intensifying its hostile tone toward China, highlighted by Sunak's statement, Cui Hongjian, director of the Department of European Studies at the China Institute of International Studies, told the Global Times on Tuesday.

The political debate on China within the Conservative Party is still very intense, and the pressure exerted by parliament on the government is increasing, while the ability of the current government to deal with this complicated situation is declining, Cui said.

Cui said that the malicious remarks by Sunak will add uncertainty to business operations between the two countries by shattering market confidence, and confidence in the policy environment will also decline.

In response to Sunak's remark, a spokesperson with the Chinese Embassy in the UK said in a statement on Monday that the relevant remarks by the British side are simply parroting words from others and they constitute malicious slander in disregard of the facts. China firmly opposes and strongly condemns this.

Song Wei, a professor at the School of International Relations and Diplomacy, Beijing Foreign Studies University, told the Global Times that the complementarity and interdependence of the world economy are high, and the establishment of exclusive cliques is definitely not conducive to the stability and development of the world.