Beijing warms to 'welcoming' Britain

Beijing warms to 'welcoming' Britain
London Mayor Boris Johnson taking the Beijing subway on Tuesday. Britain's lower business costs and relatively low property prices explain China's red-carpet welcome this week for Mr Johnson and Finance Minister George Osborne.

BEIJING - Business comes first for China in deciding to cease its year-long snub of Britain.

China, which is coaxing its enterprises to expand overseas, likes Britain for being more open and welcoming than elsewhere in Europe and the United States.

Chinese telecoms giant Huawei, for instance, which received accusations of espionage and dumping in the US, announced on Wednesday its plans to invest US$200 million (S$248 million) in building a new research and development centre in Britain, which is the most popular destination in Europe for Chinese investments.

"China also hopes that Britain would play a role in making other European countries more open towards Chinese investments," Sino-Europe expert Li Jingkun of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences told The Straits Times.

Sino-British ties had been frosty since British Prime Minister David Cameron and his deputy Nick Clegg met in London with the Dalai Lama in May last year.

The meeting irked the Chinese, who see the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader as a dangerous separatist, and suspended or downgraded ministerial visits with Britain. Its then legislature chief Wu Bangguo cancelled a visit to Britain last year, and Mr Cameron's visit to China this April was also spiked.

Analysts say Britain's lower costs of doing business and relatively low property prices also explain China's red-carpet treatment for London Mayor Boris Johnson and Finance Minister George Osborne, when they visited China this week.

"Some (Chinese) companies hemmed in by fierce competition and price controls at home think they can enjoy bigger profit margins by investing abroad. Others want to acquire technology, management and marketing expertise," wrote China observer Jonathan Fenby in the British daily The Telegraph on Monday.

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