Delegation from 20 leading British tech companies will join chancellor on five-day trip that will include a meeting with China’s new finance minister
George Osborne will showcase Britain’s vibrant hi-tech sector in China as he seeks to repair relations damaged by last year’s meeting between David Cameron and the Dalai Lama. The chancellor plans to use a five-day trip to the world’s second biggest economy to open up “e-trade routes” and will be accompanied by executives from 20 businesses seeking to break into the Chinese market.
The visit, which will include talks with China’s new finance minister, Ma Kai, marks the resumption of an economic dialogue that was put in deep freeze due to Beijing’s sensitivity over the exiled spiritual leader of Tibet.
Treasury sources admitted Chinese anger over the prime minister’s meeting with the Dalai Lama had led to a marked cooling in relations. Osborne’s visit marks the first talks at senior government level for 18 months.
Osborne believes that China’s economic development is entering a new phase where products developed by fast-growing companies in Oxford, Cambridge, Manchester and London’s so-called Silicon Roundabout will be in demand. “I want to use my visit to China this week to strengthen strategic ties between Britain and China in areas that will drive both our countries’ growth,” Osborne said.
“The Chinese economy is changing,” he said. “Those who think it is just a low-wage, low-tech economy are making a mistake; it is becoming a cutting-edge player in industries like tech. This is a huge opportunity for Britain – we have some of the most innovative tech companies in the world and China can be a huge market for their exports.”
The chancellor, who flew to Beijing from the annual meeting of the International Monetary Fund in Washington, has made building up trade between Britain and China a top priority for the rest of this year.
Osborne will be accompanied by four other ministers and has identified two sectors – asset management and hi-tech – where Britain can use its global advantage over other countries to break into the Chinese market.
“That is why I am taking a tech delegation with me to China and will travel to Shenzhen to see some of China’s leading tech firms,” the chancellor said.
There are now more than 1,500 companies in Tech City and the UK is the highest net exporter of computer games and information services in the G7. These firms see China as potentially a lucrative market for UK tech companies, with the increase in demand for apps as a result of the rollout of mobile broadband seen as providing openings for companies specialising in online games and education technology.
However, the government believes the UK tech sector will be unable to exploit its strengths unless it becomes more familiar with the way Chinese consumers access online content. Sina Weibo is China’s version of Twitter, Alibaba is its eBay and Baidu is a search engine offering a similar service to Google. “The tech delegation will meet with all these Chinese companies and platforms,” the Treasury said. “By meeting with all these gatekeepers to the Chinese online economy, it is hoped that new e-trade routes will be forged between the UK and China, creating a mutual benefit where UK companies can bring their product to a maturing Chinese market and, in turn, China can take advantage of the UK’s skilled workforce and entrepreneurial environment.”
Ian Livingstone, chairman of Playdemic, said: “The UK excels in the creative and hi-tech industries and has a huge amount to bring to the Chinese marketplace with the right understanding of the region’s digital landscape.”
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