AT first glance, this picture of Guangzhou at night typifies the sleek modern image of urban China.
In fact, expats refer to the view as “the British skyline” in recognition of the role that UK firms played in creating it.
Engineers from Arup worked on the twisting Canton Tower, architects from Terry Farrell & Partners designed China’s largest train station and Zaha Hadid created the stunning opera house.
Many more opportunities exist for British businesses in first, second and third tier cities across China in spite of all the talk about stuttering growth, according to a UK diplomat.
“When you slow down to 7.4 per cent, you are still growing by 7.4 per cent and that’s the second largest economy in the world,” said Alastair Morgan, Consul-General in Guangzhou, referring to third quarter GDP figures in the People’s Republic.
Mr Morgan, who was in Leeds for a trade event at law firm DLA Piper, told the Yorkshire Post that China has “lots of tools” to use should the slowdown become more enhanced.
The country has been accelerating infrastructure investment but at a moderate pace compared to the steps it took in 2008, he said Mr Morgan added that China’s indebtedness remains low in comparison to developed economies and pointed to the country’s massive foreign exchange reserves. “It’s on a very sound footing,” he said.
There have been fears that a slowdown in China could have a negative knock-on impact on the rest of the world, although a survey of purchasing managers yesterday suggested that the economy is making a slow, steady recovery from its weakest period of growth in three years.
In an interview, Mr Morgan highlighted the improving trade links between Britain and China, led by the likes of Jaguar Land Rover.
He said British exports to China grew by around 20 per cent in the first half of 2012, following a similar rise in the same period in 2011.
“We can really see the growing compatability of our economy and the Chinese economy and what we have to offer. We are seeing it come through in the figures,” said Mr Morgan.
Britain might still be behind Germany and France in terms of what it sells to China, but it has overtaken Italy and the pace of growth of UK exports to the region in the first half of the year was faster than Europe’s, he added.
He said the business activities of London-listed mining giants like Anglo American, BHP Billiton and Rio Tinto in China also bring in significant sums to the UK but do not show up in export figures.
Nor do Rolls-Royce jet engines made in the UK, fitted to Airbus planes in France and Germany and sold to China, he added.
Meanwhile, the automotive success story Jaguar Land Rover is competing across China against German rivals BMW and Volkswagen.
Mr Morgan served as UK director of trade and investment in China between 2006 and 2010 before his current appointment at the British Consulate-General in Guangzhou. During that time, he has seen the increasing urbanisation of China where 51 per cent of the population now live in cities.
“If you look at the rest of the world since 2008, they have seen the financial crisis and economic downturn.
“China is not immune to that,” he said.
But Chinese GDP has grown by 45 per cent in the same period. The country has played a leading role through the G20 in the global response to the downturn, said Mr Morgan.
The Chinese middle class is now greater than the population of Europe.
The overall population is ageing, which could create new business for British healthcare firms, said Mr Morgan.
He said Yorkshire companies should “recognise the opportunities in all these areas and not just see China for what it once was and no longer is, which is a place for low-cost manufacturing”.
A gradual recovery
CHINA’S economy is making a slow, steady recovery from its weakest period of growth in three years, a survey of purchasing managers signalled yesterday, with new orders and output at their highest in months.
In the world’s second biggest economy where industrial output expanded at a 9.2 per cent annual rate in September, the survey implies that while China’s factories are growing, they are doing so more slowly than previously.
“Markets may be disappointed to realise that the Chinese recovery will be gradual and no new stimulus is forthcoming,” said Credit Agricole.
The survey is the first indicator of real economic activity since official data last week showed GDP growth fell below target in Q3 – its lowest since Q1 2009.