The UK must be careful of the messages it sends to China, according to the University of Sheffield’s vice-chancellor.
Sir Keith Burnett gave his warning following a visit to the city of Nanjing, urging businesses and universities not to squander the potential that exists between the two countries.
“The UK has a unique opportunity to take advantage of what President Xi has called a ‘global age of collaboration’ between the UK and China,” said Sir Keith. “Our task is to respond to that opportunity and to show that we appreciate it.”
The UK’s vote to leave the EU opened up the possibility of greater trade with China. The previous chancellor George Osborne was a keen advocate of such an arrangement, but under Theresa May’s government the relationship seems to have stuttered.
This was evident in the reaction to ministers’ delay in making a decision on the £18billion Hinkley Point nuclear plant. Mrs May was reported to have previously raised concerns about security implications of planned Chinese investment in the plant.
Chinese news agency Xinhua responded with a warning to the prime minister. It said: “China can wait for a rational British government to make responsible decisions, but cannot tolerate any unwanted accusation against its sincere and benign willingness for win-win cooperation.”
With Sheffield at the forefront of Chinese investment in the UK thanks to a 60-year deal with Sichaun Guodong Construction Company, Sir Keith is keen for the country to maintain a positive relationship with the Asian superpower.
He said: “China has a quarter of the world’s population and it is developing so fast. To stand in Shanghai station and to watch the sleek trains come into its 13 platforms and then leave at speed to cities and towns across this huge nation is awe-inspiring. We have the chance to be part of this, to be true friends and partners of the world’s most rapidly developing country.
“But our connections need to be genuine, and I am so proud that they are.
“We are working closely in areas such as sustainability, which really matters in China’s often polluted cities and on the healthcare and energy solutions we all need.
“We know something about industrialisation, our research and innovation is still world leading. We can share our knowledge and both peoples can benefit.”
Sheffield Chamber of Commerce is working with the university to bring more Chinese investment to the UK.
Chief executive Richard Wright said: “If we get this right, I am confident we can help to make Sheffield the landing place for China in the north, drawing in particular on the strong existing links with China through the university, Sheffield Council and existing investors like New Era Development.
“I am delighted that the university is so actively supporting this essential context through its extensive Chinese contacts and staff and students with vital expertise in supporting international exchange and collaboration.”