Opinion: Yin and Yang in China

Images of Mayor Boris Johnson and Chancellor George Osborne in China have featured large in the media over the last week. They have been dubbed Yin and Yang: Boris must be Yin, the softer, cuddlier one, the one that makes school girls giggle over references to Harry Potter and his first girl friend, and Osborne, Yang as he tackles tougher subjects, such as going nuclear with China.

In fact critics such as Will Hutton have been less kind and have instead suggested that the duo have sold out and opened the UK to all manner of risks through one sided economic concessions in the nuclear, banking and high tech sectors. He called them not so much Yin and Yang as wide-eyed Bambi and Thumper.

I am by and large in favour of Chinese inward investments into the UK and have blogged as much on the subject for London Loves Business. The typical Western reaction to the Chinese (with programme titles such as “The Chinese Are Coming” by the BBC) as unstoppable hegemonic forces need to be tempered by facts.

However the recent publicity attracted by Boris and Osborne have left me both bemused as well as uneasy. Whilst they were ostensibly in China to promote trade for the United Kingdom, we can all see (as was commented by Matthew d’Ancona in “All Roads lead to China for the next Tory Leader”) that China was merely the proxy battleground for their leadership aspirations.

The same day as that article appeared in the Evening Standard, I was interviewed by one of their journalists asking if I thought the Government was guilty of sending out conflicting messages, offering fast track visas to the big spending Chinese visitors, whilst at the same time acting tough on immigration at home.

I was quoted as saying (extract from the Evening Standard 15 Oct):

I am ..delighted about the fast-track visas due to be introduced. What would be even better is for the home Office to recognise that students should be taken out of the figures compiled for net migration. Pledges by the Tories to reduce net migration below 100,000 are meaningless and our higher education sector should not have to suffer as a result.

What I would also have wanted to highlight was the threat posed by the illiberal Immigration Bill due to have its second reading on Tuesday 22 Oct. On the same day, a strike has been called by Bobby Chan (an immigration adviser and a Brit who was erroneously sent one of those Go Home texts by Capita) in protest against the very damaging “fishing raids” that have been occurring with regularity in Chinatown since the summer, unsettling the restaurateurs and local community. Of course, many of the unregulated workers who are subsequently released are merely waiting for the Home Office to clear the half a million back log of cases.

But coming back to Yin and Yang: we clearly need a more balanced approach to attracting the right investments into the UK, humane foreign policies as well as fair and workable immigration policies . And we would prefer less posturing by our politicians and more pragmatic solutions to our problems, please.

* Merlene Emerson is an Executive member of LibDems Overseas and Co-founder of Chinese Liberal Democrats.

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  • @Matthew, I am sure they were, but just because they are Chinese does not give them the right to decide the ‘right’ sort of immigration here. To me, all your experience shows is just how twisted the immigration debate has become in this country thanks to the Tory party believing that the Daily Mail is an academic textbook on immigration policy.

    @Merlene, as someone with some experience of China – and doing business there, I understand why many British businesses are still hesitate to devote themselves to the Chinese dream, it is the same reason many European businesses are moving out of China in favour of what they feel are less hostile environments. One could write a whole book on this issue, but I lack the time to do that, so all I will say is that Chinese business practices and European business practices – as I am sure you know better than I – are vastly different. This remains true whether it is in relation to big issues like fraud (and let us not ignore the issue of fraud in this area) or smaller ones like the way negotiations over costs are conducted.

    All of these things bring tensions between European businesses and Chinese businesses. Furthermore, as British business is always more conservative and tepid in relation to these issues than its mainland cohorts, it is not surprising the British Government has continually been frustrated in its attempts to try and push British businesses into the developing markets – and especially that of China.

    Now, one may be asking why I bring this up; it is because I think this goes some way to explaining the problem we have with Sino-British relations in the modern day. The British Government does seem to be somewhat aware of the problem it faces in trying to get British businesses to move into the Chinese market; however, problematically, what it does not seem to understand is that these problematic feelings work both ways. The British Government seems to be under the misconception that Chinese businesses are hesitate to devote themselves to the British market just because of our crazy immigration laws and a lack of appreciation for their spending power. Now, while these things certainly do not help Britain’s case, they are not, in my experience, the central cause of the problem. The real issue comes from the fact that in the same way British businesses see China as a dangerous investment, most Chinese businesses see Britain as a poor investment.

    This is, as I see it, the reason for the strange rhetoric coming from the British gang in China and the reason why they were so soundly rejected by an overwhelming majority out there. They seemed to feel that saying Britain knows China has money and, therefore, likes China is somehow going to convince the Chinese that Britain is a save place for investment.

    Now, ignoring the fact that most people in China were rightly insulted by this train of thought (sadly, the Tory party does not realise that not everyone judges another’s value solely on their wealth), this line of reasoning failed to inspire Chinese businesses because China does not need telling why we think it is a good place for investment, it needed convincing of why Britain is a good place for investment. The businessmen I know, both from China and Britain, felt that the only thing our Government managed to make clear about Britain during those talks was that it is happy to distance itself from Europe. Sadly for our relations with China, that is not something they considered to be a positive train of thought.

    It is for these reasons that I am not convinced we will see the flood of investment from China that some crave and others fear, at least not until our Government begins to finally some tiny amount of understanding about China and its culture.

    While I am, personally, happy to see the progress in relation to immigration rules here, I cannot help but feel dismay that it is for all the wrong reasons and only going to breed further resentment in the immigration debate in this country as people come to realise that individuals are only valued in relation to their economic viability.

  • R Uduwerage-Perera 23rd Oct '13 - 9:21pm

    Merlene, this is an excellent and thought provoking article.

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