Britain is to relax visa requirements for Chinese businessmen and tourists, George Osborne will say on Monday, as the chancellor begins a five-day charm offensive to drum-up Chinese investment in UK infrastructure.
Mr Osborne will herald his visit as “the next big step” in UK-Sino relations as he draws a line under a strained period between the two nations following David Cameron’s decision to meet the Dalai Lama in London last year.
The chancellor will tell students at Peking University: “There is no country in the west more open to investment - especially from China.”
The visa issue is a key bugbear for British retailers, who complain that cumbersome bureaucracy is preventing access to these upwardly-mobile travellers, who typically spend ￡1,676 per visit, nearly three times the global average.
Competition to attract Chinese shoppers – who flock to Europe to avoid their own government’s high taxes on luxury goods – is fierce. The Chinese are now the world’s most valuable tourists, spending a total of $102bn on their global travels in 2012. France currently receives at least 25 per cent more Chinese tourists each year than Britain.
The UK government will make a series of announcements during the visit. On Sunday, Mr Osborne revealed that the Beijing Construction Engineering Group was joining the ￡800m project to redevelop Manchester airport. The chancellor is also expected to sign a deal allowing the state-owned Chinese General Nuclear Power Group to become a co-investor in EDF’s planned nuclear plant at Hinkley Point.
Whitehall officials travelling with the chancellor said on Sunday that the decision to relax visa rules was “both symbolic and substantive”. “A perception has developed among business people that the visa system is difficult,” said an official. “This is potentially very significant, we want to show China we are open to their people and open to investment.”
Under the changes announced on Monday, business people will now be able to apply for a 24-hour priority visa instead of having to wait up to a week. London will also pilot a joint visa application with other European countries after retailers complained that Britain’s complex application process was putting tourists off.
英国政府将在奥斯本此次访华期间宣布一系列消息。奥斯本已在周日透露，北京建工集团(Beijing Construction Engineering Group)将参与曼彻斯特机场的8亿英镑空港城开发项目。预计英国财相还将签署一项协议，让国有的中国广核集团(Chinese General Nuclear Power Group)成为法国电力(EDF)拟在欣克利角(Hinkley Point)建造的核电站的联合投资者。