New institute to grow China links

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BUSINESS links between the North of England and the world’s fastest-growing major economy are to be boosted with the launch of a Chinese government-backed institute in Yorkshire.

The business-focused Confucius Institute at Leeds University is the third of its kind in Europe. It will run training courses in Chinese culture and etiquette for UK companies hoping to invest in China and orientation courses for Chinese investors in the UK.

Peter Buckley, professor of international business at Leeds University Business School, said: “Leeds has been chosen because of its strong academic reputation around the world, and in particular, the ground-breaking work carried out here at the Centre for International Business.”

Confucius Institutes are backed by the Chinese Ministry of Education, or Hanban, with the goal of promoting Chinese language and culture. The Leeds International Business Confucius Institute will carry out work in this area as well as supporting trade links.

Until now, there were just two business-focused Confucius Institutes in Europe – at the University of Copenhagen and the London School of Economics and Political Science. Prof Michael Arthur, Vice-Chancellor of Leeds University, said the institute is “great news for Leeds, Yorkshire and the north of England”.

Prof Buckley said there are “a number of very large and lucrative potential markets” in China for UK businesses, as the country tries to move away from investment to consumption.

Yesterday, a new International Monetary Fund report said that China’s investment over the last 30 years has fluctuated between 35 and 49 per cent of GDP.

“There’s a big market for British luxury goods... then there’s a market for general consumer goods and to support Chinese infrastructure.”

There is also “a big market” for business services in China, added Prof Buckley.

Although China’s growth rate has slowed, it still continues at a pace that far outstrips the rest of the world’s major economies. Commerce Minister Chen Deming said yesterday that China is certain to hit the government’s economic growth target of 7.5 per cent for 2012 and could even exceed it.

Prof Buckley said: “While everyone talks about the headline figures like the size and growth of the economy, China is still a very poor country. So there’s still a long way to go to bring people up.”

He said there are lots of different levels of opportunity, but companies must understand what market they are aiming for.

Meanwhile, the rising trend in Chinese businesses investing in the UK is two-pronged, he said. “One part is the big companies that are really big in China and are international competitors, and the second group are relatively small in this country, they are maybe private firms, they may be smaller state-owned or provincially-owned firms trying to establish a foothold.”

He said the second group “could become very important if they get the learning they need and if they are able to adapt to the environment”. Giles Blackburne, a Leeds-based director at the China-Britain Business Council, said: ‘With the UK government’s export drive in full swing, we’re getting more and more enquiries about China.” But he said it is a complex market and the Leeds institute will help businesses understand what they are getting into.

The institute was funded by the Hanban and Leeds University, totalling under £500,000. It was opened last night in partnership with China’s University for International Business and Economics. Of its 33,000 students, Leeds University currently has 561 from China. And Chinese athletes selected Leeds for their pre-Olympics training ground.