The North of England is reaping the rewards of its ever-stronger ties with China, according to research released today.
Driven by two years of direct flights between Manchester Airport and Beijing, levels of growth in trade, tourism and knowledge exchange between the North and the Far East are outstripping national averages.
This “golden era” of relations between the North and China was revealed in an independent study launched at the British Embassy in Beijing this morning by Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham.
“The China Dividend: Two Years In” has tracked the economic, social and cultural benefits that have been felt across the North in the two years since direct flights began.
Mr Burnham launched the report ahead of participating in the World Economic Forum, in Tianjin, where he was due to meet with global leaders and speak on a range of subjects, including smart cities, healthcare and green manufacturing.
He said: “Greater Manchester has an ambition to sit at the heart of a productive, culturally rich and internationally competitive Northern economy.
“To do that, it is vital the North has strong connections with high-growth markets like China, which we have been working hard to develop over the past five years.
“Central to our ambition are direct air links, and the China Dividend study demonstrates that good connectivity is not just about getting people and products from A to B, but the wider impacts that they have on so many aspects of peoples’ lives at both ends of the route.”
The report was launched at an event hosted by Her Majesty’s Trade Commissioner for China, Richard Burn, who said: “UK-China bilateral trade links have never been stronger: in 2017 UK-China bilateral trade expanded by 15.1% to reach a record £67.5bn, whilst UK exports of goods and services to China grew by 28.5%. This report demonstrates the clear benefits of direct UK-China linkages for facilitating flows of trade, investment and people between our two countries. I’m delighted to see Manchester and the surrounding region benefit so much from this flight connection to Beijing.”
There has been a major increase in the number of students from low-income backgrounds who have been given the opportunities to complete internships in China, while there has been a surge in the number of world-leading academics attracted to carry out research at Northern universities over the past year.
Meanwhile, Chinese investors have committed hundreds of millions of pounds into big infrastructure schemes across the North over the past 12 months, including projects in Greater Manchester, Sheffield, Liverpool and Lancashire.
Manchester Airport CEO Andrew Cowan said: “This is important research because it demonstrates the power of direct connectivity to fast-growing economies like China.
“While people could always travel to China by transferring at other airports, we were clear in our minds that securing a non-stop service would unlock a wide range of benefits for our city and the wider North.
“SDG’s study shows that this has proven to be the case, with the route serving as a catalyst for significant increases in trade and investment, tourism and academic collaboration.”
The China Dividend report predicts rapid growth in demand for travel to the UK, as the Chinese economy continues to expand.
It suggests Manchester and the wider North is well placed to capitalise on this, with a wealth of natural, cultural, sporting and economic assets that appeal to the Chinese traveller.
But it underlines the importance of the UK being seen to be “open for business,” in terms of encouraging the stimulation of further air links, maintaining an welcoming visa process and investing in technology that improves the visitor experience.
David Percival, managing director of Deloitte’s China International Business Development Group and chair of the Forum, said: “The findings of this reportmake clear the tremendous progress made in advancing Manchester and the wider North’s relations with China.
“As the benefits highlighted in this study reveal, there is significant potential for Manchester and the North to play a leading role in progressing the next phase of bilateral ties between our nations.
“Nonetheless, in order to ensure the benefits of this golden era of relations are felt throughout the UK, it is critically important that national strategy reflects the vital role regional economies and assets like Manchester Airport play in bringing our people, businesses and institutions closer together.”