The Rampant Rooster: China’s Increasing Influence In the British Economy:

DSC_0331There’s a Chinese proverb which advises: “When you want to test the depth of a stream, don’t use both feet”. The People’s Republic, however, appears to have dispensed with such caution in its dealings with the UK. As the “China Daily” newspaper has reported, the appetite of Chinese companies for acquiring British assets has continued unabated despite the supposed uncertainty caused by the Brexit vote on June 24th 2016.

Since then, according to journalist Dai Tian, there have been eight major investments in the UK, among them: The Dalian Wanda Group’s purchase of Odeon & UCI Cinemas, Europe’s largest cinema operator, the takeover of the Midland’s football club, Wolves, by the conglomerate Fosun for £45 million and the decision by the Sichuan Guodong Construction Company to pump more than £1 billion into the northern city of Sheffield over the next 60 years.

The Daily Telegraph has estimated that more than 500 Chinese companies (not including those from Hong Kong that were already established here before the territory was transferred back to China in 1997) have investments in Britain and it has expressed concerns that this “exclusive focus on economics” has curtailed Britain’s ability to express its views on issues such as human rights.

The Guardian columnist, Rob Davies, has noted that in recent years, China has spent more in the UK (around £29 billion) than in Germany, France and Italy combined . This money has been put into “everything from prime London real estate to banks and football clubs, as well as traditional British brands – such as Weetabix (60% owned by Shanghai-based Bright Foods), Pizza Express (bought by Hony Capital for £900 million), Hamleys toy shop in Regent Street ( sold to footwear firm C. Banner International for £100 million) and the House of Fraser department store (89% owned by Nanjing Cenbest). The Chinese Investment Corporation has bought a 10% stake in Heathrow Holdings,9% of Thames Water and 1% of Diago, the maker of Guinness and Johnnie Walker whisky, while the Wentworth golf club in Surrey now belongs to the Reignwood Group.

Davies has pointed out that “alarm bells have started ringing” in the British intelligence community regarding China’s proposed 30% involvement in the Hinkley Power Station project, which might give Beijing “the potential to shut down” Britain’s future nuclear energy supply, and that there is also unease about the enthusiasm of the Chinese telecoms company Huawei, to expand in the UK. In Davies’s opinion, the Chinese don’t invest here out of affection for Britain, but mainly because there is money to be made and because of the UK’s stable regulatory and legal system”.

The Sun newspaper’s sports correspondent, Tom Barclay, is not at all concerned that “China’s super-rich are taking over English football”. On the contrary, he has declared, this “Friendly invasion should be welcomed with open arms because it is bringing both genuine passion and big bucks to our game”. Much of Midlands football is now under Chinese control after the recent takeovers of Aston Villa, West Bromwich, Wolves and Birmingham and “that number is only likely to rise with Far Eastern consortia linked to Sunderland and Hull”. An exception is Middlesbrough FC in the north-east: It s chairman, Steve Gibson, has turned down the offer of £50 million from Chinese businessman Chien Lee, who already owns the French football club Nice.

None of these factors seem to have deterred the estimated 50,000 people who packed into London’s West End last Sunday 29th January to participate in the Chinese New Year Celebrations. As the organisers, the London Chinatown Chinese Association (LCCA) emphasized in their advance publicity, the event marked “the arrival of the Year of the Rooster, which represents loyalty, courage, warmth and tireless perseverance of excellence (though the rooster is also depicted as “pugnacious” in some dictionaries). Included in the “highlights of the day” following the Opening Parade at 10 am were the “Dragon Dance and Flying Lion Dance performance” on the Trafalgar Square Stage, the Festival of Springs variety show, the Hong Kong Drum Ensemble, the Guangdong Puppet Theatre and a Cantonese Operatic recital, all concluding with a grand Finale of “pyrotechnics and a spectacular lightshow in Trafalgar Square”.

“” denotes Chinatown as the unofficial name for the streets around Gerrard Street, just below Soho in the three blocks between Leicester Square and Shaftesbury Avenue – though it also observes that few of London’s 60,000 Chinese population actually live there. The LCCA proclaims the area as “a bustling cultural destination, home to more than 100 different restaurants, bars, cafes, shops, authentic Asian supermarkets and 20 different delicious regional cuisines.

However, the London Evening Standard has predicted that the capital’s Chinatown “could disappear in five years” due to the oriental restaurants being “squeezed out by rising rents and soaring property prices”. The Guardian likewise has warned that the area could be in “big trouble” and that the “charms of Chinatown don’t necessarily fit into a city where the annual rental can cost £838 per square foot”.

Both newspapers have cited the case of Jon Man, whose parents emigrated from Hong Kong in the 1950’s: He has seen his rent for his restaurant in Wardour Street rise from £66,000 pa to £244,000 pa over the past 17 years:  “Since the congestion charge and with the lack of parking, even those coming for the theatre don’t stay  afterwards for a meal. They run off to catch their train or bus home. While the rent has gone up, our turnover has gone down”. The response of Shaftesbury PLC, “whose real estate portolio includes 575 properties in Carnaby Street, Covent Garden, Soho and Charlotte Street, as well as in Chinatown”? Rent rises are “just a reaction to market forces. There are plenty of restaurants, Chinese or otherwise, willing to come in and pay the higher prices”. 20170129_13074920170129_151513 (3)20170129_121543 (1)

Filed under: Music & Dance, Politics | Posted on January 31st, 2017 by Colin D Gordon

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