Britons need to stop viewing Chinese industry as a “sweatshop” and accept it is a world leader in high-tech industries, George Osborne has said.
The Chancellor said he was trying to change British attitudes to China and that more respect needed to be shown for the way the country was developing.
Amid concerns about human rights and corruption, Mr Osborne said China was “tackling its own problems” in the “way it thinks is appropriate”.
He told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme that the UK had a “very strict attitude towards corrupt business practices” but “there is a huge crackdown here in Beijing on corruption as well, so the Chinese government understand that’s also a problem here that they, in a very high-profile way, want to address”.
He added: “Britain and China are two very old civilisations and China represents a fifth of the world’s population. Of course we can bring up issues that we have concerns about but we do also have to respect the fact it is a deep and ancient civilisation that is tackling its own problems and going about it in the way it thinks is appropriate. We can point out where we would do things differently, but I do think we need to show some respect for that.
“I think there is a bit of a British attitude which treats China as a sweatshop on the Pearl River. One of the things I’m trying to do this week in China is to change British attitudes to China... this is a country that is right at the forefront of medicine and high-tech and computing and high-tech engineering and all of that.
“It is a very rapidly changing country and it is also having a very rapidly changing conversation with itself. The high-profile corruption cases that are brought to the fore here and exposed in the media are a very good example of that.”
Mr Osborne said he wanted Chinese firms to see the UK as a place to base their Western activities.
“This is not just about us turning up as Western politicians and Western companies demanding that China opens its markets - it’s much more complex and subtle than that. It’s also about saying ‘You, big emerging power that you are China, look to the UK as a home that you can base some of your Western activities in. Let’s hear what you have got to contribute to some of the latest thinking in civil nuclear engineering or the internet’.”
Diplomatic relations between Beijing and Westminster had been strained by David Cameron’s meeting with the Dalai Lama, but Mr Osborne stressed that the Prime Minister was “not planning to meet the Dalai Lama” again.
Efforts to repair the damage have included a relaxation of the visa regime, as Britain seeks to reap the benefits of a boom in Chinese tourism.
Mr Osborne said: “What we want to see is Chinese tourists, just as a generation ago we had a whole wave of Japanese tourists, the new phenomenon in the world is Chinese tourism. That’s fantastic for the British hospitality and tourist industry.
“We also want to see Chinese investment in our energy, in our finance and the like.
“We also want to see this increasingly prosperous Chinese nation buying engines from Rolls-Royce for their aeroplanes, British pharmaceuticals.
“One hundred and sixty million Chinese are watching Downton Abbey, which is more than double the number of people who live in the UK.
“So it is a two-way relationship, it’s a hugely important relationship. I think we can take the next big step in that relationship which is about more than just trading with each other but actually working with each other to develop the technologies and the medicines and the financial architecture of tomorrow.”