By Claire West
In an interview with The Daily Telegraph, on the eve of his departure from China, Chancellor George Osborne said that “Britain has lost its sense of ambition and optimism”.
Last week Boris Johnson was asked by Sky's Dermot Murnaghan about China's human rights record and whether that was ever taken into consideration as the UK forged business ties with the nation.
"My job as Mayor is not to have a foreign policy but to get on and promote the interests of the greatest city on earth which is what we’re doing," Johnson said.
This week Osborne has announced that the UK will allow Chinese companies to take a stake in British nuclear power plants.
In an article in the Guardian John Large, who has advised the UK government on nuclear issues, said:
"We can see that even with the French operatorship of UK nuclear power stations [through EDF] that there are differences in the regulatory regimes in France and the UK.
But these problems would be much more profound with the Chinese, who like the Russians, are rooted in a government system without independent [safety] regulators,”
The announcement has also been criticised by former BBC journalist Isobel Hilton who now runs China Dialogue who says:
“Surely we, too, should be asking more questions of a chancellor who appears to think that Chinese money buys him out of the intractable difficulties and uncertain costs of nuclear power? Will British consumers end up paying high energy prices to guarantee a Chinese investor a good return? What future leverage will Chinese investment in British infrastructure give to an emerging power that frequently says it does not accept established global rules? What degree of transparency and accountability can we, as supplicants, enforce on our new partner? What guarantee have we that in depending on Chinese finance, we haven't surrendered more than we bargained for?”
Of course it is right that Osborne and the UK Government should be doing everything they can to foster and support overseas trade and foreign direct investment but this should be part of a long term strategy rather than a short term political win.
The lack of transparency from the Chinese regulatory system, an atrocious record on human rights and we should also remember that it was only just over five years ago that Steven Spielberg pulled out as artistic adviser to the Beijing Olympics because of the Chinese government's foreign policy.
At the time Spielberg said: "I find that my conscience will not allow me to continue business as usual," — yet in just five short years Osborne is on a charm offensive.
The Chancellor has told us to stop thinking of China as a sweat shop saying that the Chinese are "right at the forefront of medicine and high-tech and computing and high-tech engineering and all of that."
The chancellor also announced that there is no limit on the number of Chinese people who can come to study in the UK. Surely there is an obvious flaw? We educate large numbers of Chinese students for short-term economic benefit and then they return to build an economy that beats us up and buys us on the cheap.
It’s like Arsenal training Man United’s youth team and them handing them back after three years…
China's economic growth seems to have got back on track with recent figures showing that the Chinese economy grew 7.8% from the previous year and this is obviously the main attraction for Osborne and the coalition government. But before he criticises UK businesses for lack of ‘ambition’ he should look at some of the factors that have fuelled that growth:
Earlier this year the Chinese Government rolled out more measures to encourage growth such as; suspending taxes for small businesses, simplifying customs clearance procedures and further opening up the country's railway sector.
What has Osborne done for UK businesses?
Do you think that we are right to open the door so wide to China?
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