GT Voice: Is China-UK relationship set for new era of cooperation?
Published: Nov 29, 2023 12:14 AM
Workers assemble new-energy vehicles (NEVs) at a plant in Southwest China's Chongqing Municipality to fill overseas orders on September 21, 2023. NEV exports totaled 727,000 units in the first eight months of 2023, up 110 percent year-on-year, data from the China Association of Automobile Manufacturers showed. Photo: VCG

Workers assemble new-energy vehicles (NEVs) at a plant in Southwest China's Chongqing Municipality to fill overseas orders. Photo: VCG

Since UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak's appointment of David Cameron as foreign secretary earlier this month, the future of China-UK economic and trade relations has triggered renewed interest and speculation. Yet, instead of discussing the possibility of going back a decade in time, it may be more practical to look forward to and get the environment ready for future economic and trade cooperation.

Sunak said at the Global Investment Summit on Monday that the UK will not return to the Cameron era's close ties with China, according to a report from The Guardian. 

"If David Cameron were here, he would say the China of today is not the China he dealt with a decade ago," he said.

After so many changes to the geopolitical landscape and the world economy, public attention to the hypothetical question of whether China-UK relations can return to the "golden era" somehow mirrors the eagerness of the business community to restore the flourishing bilateral economic and trade cooperation of that era.

British Minster for Investment Dominic Johnson openly expressed the desire at the Global Investment Summit, saying that he was working to attract Chinese carmakers to build a factory in the country and investment from China was crucial to meeting environmental targets, Reuters reported. 

"I welcome strong business collaboration between the UK and China when it comes to investing in each other's countries," Johnson noted. "Absolutely, I have an ambition to try and attract a Chinese car manufacturer."

At a time when most of the focus about the future of China-UK economic and trade relations centers around whether there will be a comeback of the "golden era" in bilateral economic relations, Johnson's comments undoubtedly sent a positive signal.

Looking at the recent efforts of China and the UK to attract investment, it's easy to see that despite challenges and frictions in recent years, the two countries still share common interests in the economy, trade and investment. 

Sunak reportedly announced on Monday that 29.5 billion pounds ($36.8 billion) of private-sector investment had been earmarked for the UK. China's National Development and Reform Commission announced this month that China will shorten its negative list for foreign investment in a reasonable manner, and scrap all restrictions for foreign investors entering the manufacturing industry, according to the Xinhua News Agency.

While trying to attract investment, the two countries are also actively promoting overseas expansion by their own companies. For example, British Ambassador to China Caroline Wilson said in a video message at the second China-UK Forum that the UK is trying to help British companies enter the Chinese market or expand their presence in the country, and is willing to support Chinese companies that bring jobs and prosperity to the UK through investment, according to Xinhua.

Bilateral trade reached a record high of $103.3 billion in 2022, an indication of the strong resilience of bilateral economic and trade relations. This is largely because areas of cooperation between the two countries have not decreased amid political tensions. On the contrary, they are rising as China's economy accelerates its transition toward green and high-quality development. 

Some areas of cooperation with strong potential may include the digital economy, artificial intelligence, automobiles and green development.

Of course, smooth cooperation progress still depends on a stable political and economic environment, and cooperation and mutual trust between governments are important factors in promoting bilateral investment. 

Also, exchanges between companies of the two sides are crucial for bilateral investment.

Overall, as long as the conditions are right, it is possible to see bilateral investment between China and the UK taking off again.