The Prime Minister has just started his first big trade mission, designed to woo the fast-growing economies of China and India. First stop (after the inevitable Heathrow delay of course) is Beijing, where he’s been in talks with Chinese premier Wen Jiabao. The result was a plan to boost trade between the UK and China by 50% in the next two years, to £60bn – during which time he also wants 100 new Chinese companies to invest in the UK.
The PM reckons that better trade links could create tens of thousands of UK jobs, as China looks to us for technology, services and even consumer brands for the growing middle-class (albeit the latter will probably be made in China in the first place). ‘We want Britain to be the number one destination of choice for Chinese business as it invests in the rest of the world,’ he said.
One of the major planks in Brown’s plan to get China and India onside is English teaching. The PM has launched a new learning website designed to get another 2bn people worldwide speaking English by 2020, and reckons that by 2025, there could be more English speakers in China than in the rest of the world combined. (MT wrote about this issue nearly two years ago - ahead of the game as ever...)
Among Brown’s coterie of business types in China is Virgin boss Richard Branson, who’s still sounding remarkably positive about his chances of pulling off the seemingly-doomed Northern Rock bid. He’s apparently said that he’s expecting Goldman Sachs to come up with a clever financing plan within the next two to three days – although he seems to be in a minority of one.
The party line is that the Rock will be totally off the agenda during Branson’s Chinese jaunt – but frankly, we’re a little sceptical that the old smoothie will pass up on the opportunity to try and bend the ear of the PM, or even of those nice sovereign wealth funds just desperate to plough their huge cash reserves into decrepit Newcastle-based mortgage lenders.
At least the Brits Abroad seem to be going down slightly better than French amis Citroen, who this week were forced to withdraw a Spanish newspaper ad after inciting Chinese wrath. The ad feature a doctored picture of Chairman Mao scowling at a new hatchback, above the legend: ‘It's true, we are leaders, but at Citroen the revolution never stops.’ This didn’t go down too well in China, where Mao is still revered – so Citroen quickly pulled the ad, clearly deciding that irritating a billion potential customers isn’t a great move commercially.
However, possibly the greatest threat to UK-China relations is the PM’s poor ping-pong. Apparently Brown declined Wen Jiabao’s challenge to play him at table tennis, perhaps fearing that a major beating would dent his prestige. We suggest he gets practising...