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The Manchester China Forum Turns 5

Categories: China

“Five years on since Forum establishment, the city has seen tremendous progress in its engagement with China” – Quote From Senior City Rep

This April the Manchester China Forum celebrates its 5th year anniversary. Rhys Whalley, Executive Director of the Manchester China Forum speaks about the success of the Forum and Manchester’s relationship with China.

How has the Manchester China Forum aided the city of Manchester in its engagement with China?

In 2013, Manchester set up the Forum as a means of taking a new and innovative approach to increasing its strategic engagement with China. Since its launch, the Forum has received acclaim as an innovative and successful platform that has helped ensure that Manchester is equipped and ready for China’s continued global ascendancy. The Forum’s unique public-private partnership model enables strong links across the city and puts the organisation in a unique position to drive forward the interests of the Manchester-China agenda.

What sort of investment have you seen enter the city since the Forum’s inception?

Investment into infrastructure has formed the cornerstone of first wave Chinese investment into the city, totalling close to £4bn. Over the past five years notable projects include Beijing Construction and Engineering’s involvement in Airport City and Middlewood Locks and Far East Consortiums investment in Angel Meadows and the Northern Gateway.

As Manchester’s relationship with China becomes more mature, MCF anticipates the further diversification of investment into the city. Increasingly, Chinese companies are bringing innovative technology into Manchester. During the summer of 2017, Mobike selected Manchester as their first city outside of Asia to launch into, a prime example of a Chinese firm recognising the city’s openness and willingness to engage with Chinese partners in testing innovative technology.

We now have two direct flights to Beijing and Hong Kong from Manchester, how have you seen this connectivity shape the city’s relationship with China?

A year and a half after the establishment of the Manchester China Forum, Cathay Pacific launched direct flights to Hong Kong. The success of this route has recently been reinforced by the airline’s decision to operate daily from December 2017.

In October 2015, The Manchester China relationship was further deepened when President Xi visited the city. During President Xi’s visit a number of announcements were made, none more important than the planned launch of the Manchester-Beijing route.

The impact of the route on the region’s engagement with China cannot be underestimated. Since the Hainan service started, UK export values from Manchester Airport have increased 265% to £200m per month with visitor spend into the region more than doubling pre-flight projections to £140m - results that were captured in the recently commissioned Economic Impact Study. The continued success of these routes, paired with a recent announcement by the CAAC to allow for an additional 50 flights a week between China and UK airports outside of London, makes for a strong case in favour of increasing long-haul connectivity from China into Manchester.

How do you see the China relationship evolving over the coming years?

The work undertaken over the past 5 years have given us an excellent foundation to continue our work of building longstanding links with Mainland China. Nonetheless, the road ahead will undoubtedly present many opportunities and challenges as we endeavour to sustain the momentum of the past few years.

Whilst Brexit negotiations remain focused on the deal itself, further thought and planning must be given to the post-exit landscape. Now more than ever, nations such as China must be prioritised in order to ensure that the UK economy is well prepared for the continued rise of the East. Whilst this may sound simple; shifting focus away from the familiar territories of Europe and North America to the less familiar markets of China and India will likely be a generational undertaking. This is why our engagement with China must be both long-term and holistic in its approach - incorporating softer elements that are essential in breaking down misconceptions and building up trust and understanding.

China’s continued economic growth presents huge opportunities for us all, globally. As we look ahead to an unclear future outside of the European Union, one thing that is for certain is that China will become an increasingly sought after strategic partner internationally. A long-term approach focused on building mutual-trust, engaging in honest and constructive dialogue whilst innovating in our collaboration, will allow the UK to position itself as a leader in the West.

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