Opinion – Visits strengthen Birmingham China relations – Andrew Dunbar, BCC

Andrew Dunbar profileAny China watcher will tell you – China officials are no longer the globe trotters they used to be. The recent crack-down on ‘graft’ and corruption’ [strong words in English but not as belligerent in the native mandarin] mean that government officials now need an awfully good reason to travel to Europe on business. It’s a sign of Birmingham’s reputation and interest to them, that we haven’t seen much of a slow-down despite the national government reforms. Birmingham continues to be the go-to-city for incoming Chinese government officials.

FDI and education collaboration are still the main reason for incoming visits the primary reason for recent visits is to study and discuss issues surrounding the heated topic of Urbanisation. On the face of it pretty dry stuff – certainly not the more glamorous world of big money investment – but when you are running mega-cities [all of Birmingham’s three Chinese sister cities have metro areas bigger than Greater London] in the world’s fastest urbanising country than it’s a vital topic for analysis. It’s an area that has quality of life and good governance at its heart and, ultimately, it’s about people – their lives, aspirations, health, wealth, chances and fortunes.

Birmingham’s well placed in help them understand some of the big issues they face; though relatively small [certainly in comparison to Chinese cities] we are one of the key European cities to successfully manage transition to a post-industrial era, to diversify our economy away from an over reliance on manufacturing towards services, leisure, retail and conferencing. Many Chinese cities, and their leadership, are struggling with the realisation that this transformation is already happening, or about to happen, to them and they are looking towards their friends in the west to help learn the lessons we have already learned.

But, how does this benefit us? In addition to this policy need Chinese leaders are opening up the banking and investment markets at a huge rate, China’s private sector is being freed from the shackles of restrictive overseas capital movements and other red tape; Chinese students are increasingly seeing Europe as an education destination, not just for the quality of teaching but for experiential reasons. In a globalised economy, where we are competing with Basel, Berlin and Boston as alternatives to Birmingham, we need to ensure our profile is as high as possible and that our cities reputation is well regarded. Developing a network of the very high officials who help shape the future policy direction of their country is no bad start….