China: UK policy — [Sir Edward Leigh in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 4:50 pm on 7th May 2019.

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Photo of John Howell John Howell Conservative, Henley 4:50 pm, 7th May 2019

No, I do not find that strange at all. It gives me the flexibility I need as the trade envoy to Nigeria to deal with the Chinese in the way that best suits the opportunities that are available. That is certainly what I have done.

As I was saying, I am a friendly sort of individual, and I would like to see relationships built with the Chinese. However, doing that is difficult for a number of reasons. First, I quickly found that, whatever the product is, it is often quite shoddy. Do we want to be associated with that? Secondly, I found that no projects can be changed without a reference back to Beijing. That makes it difficult to deal with the projects on the ground as flexibly as I would like. Nobody on the ground has the ability to make the decision.

The last thing that I found, which is by far the most important, is that the Chinese leave nothing behind. When they come over to do a project, they bring an army of people to do it. They do not involve the local community or leave behind anything in the way of knowledge transfer or anything tangible. That is so different from the approach of British companies. For example, Unilever, which I know is a hybrid company, has taken on board the modern slavery agenda, and has largely eradicated these problems from not only the company itself but its supply chain. I have met some of the individual non-governmental organisations that have been involved with that.

My overall feeling is that we should treat the Chinese with caution, and examine the details of projects carefully to ensure that we can add value to the local community. Otherwise, there is no point doing them. There is no point helping to develop a country if we cannot involve people in the project itself.