China, UK can do much more together

Updated: 2016-01-15 07:42

By Alan Barrell(China Daily Europe)

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Closer collaboration will propel joint efforts toward even bigger accomplishments and expansion into international markets

A combination of British R&D, technology and innovation, expanding overseas Chinese investment, and financial expertise in London is enabling transcontinental bridge building as part of an overall China-UK joint development strategy.

China and the United Kingdom are on a path to a great and exciting collaboration since autumn's eventful visit of President Xi Jinping to Britain.

As a businessman committed to "making things happen", I see great prospects in the current environment of practical progress being made to turn the visions, policies and strategies developed and announced as a result of the visit, into hard action and measurable outcomes. It is our job, as business executives in the UK and China, to take advantage of the great opportunities offered in the present climate.

My own field of interest is the commercialization of research and bringing to market new products and processes within existing companies, and through the formation of new ones fuel for economic and social growth.

A visit to Beijing just six weeks ago confirmed to me that China and UK are essentially of a single mind regarding the imperative of growth through investment in innovation. While China is still clearly generating its own innovative products, processes and companies, it has a need for much more. Capital for investment is readily available in China to hasten technology and commercial developments in the UK and other parts of the West, thereby gaining rapid access to new technology, products and processes to support domestic development.

China, UK can do much more together

I am delighted to report that one of my own young high-technology companies is close to securing an equity investment from a well-established midsize independent Chinese company seeking to enhance its technology base and to reach new markets.

And I am privileged to be involved in discussions that we believe will lead to substantial Chinese capital being invested in highly innovative, fast-growing companies in the bioscience sector where we have so much great technology being commercialized, in centers such as London and Cambridge.

This technology will be of great benefit to China. It will be extremely encouraging to see more investments from China being directed to sectors such as technology, bioscience healthcare and the emerging "fintec", or financial technology, industry.

Traditionally, much investment in the UK from China has been in real estate. There are excellent signs that this is extending more into infrastructure projects, including some of major proportions.

But there exists another world of opportunity for Chinese investors and companies in the fast developing technology sectors. Portfolio managers in locations such as Cambridge, London and elsewhere can offer world class companies with growth potential that also offer innovative products for Chinese markets.

And the bridge to be built to enable more China-UK collaboration and trade, will accept two-way traffic. Growing Chinese technology-based companies can find new markets not only in the UK but also through the UK gateway to all of Europe and beyond.

I have been advocating for some time that midsize Chinese companies in the mid- and high-tech sectors should take steps earlier than historically to "go international" and establish their brands outside China. I remain convinced that middle-sized companies in both China and UK should be bolder in seeking earlier expansion into international markets.

Both economies need to aim at far greater success in having more companies grow substantially in size, thus able to compete in global markets. For this to happen, investors will also need to broaden their interest bases and adopt innovative and more courageous approaches.

Are there obstacles to be overcome in achieving the progress that I believe can be significant?

As ever, there are legal, regulatory, cultural and educational challenges. But none will be insurmountable. And the financial environment is highly favorable, with London remaining such a vital and vibrant international center. Add to that the progressive evolution of the renminbi as an internationally traded currency. Of course there are still reservations to be overcome and work to do to show ways that risks can be mitigated. We should tackle that work together.

In China the free trade zones, including Shanghai, in my view still need to be put to the good uses for which they were intended and planned. The prospect of establishing a joint UK-China venture investment fund, with the UK side fundraising in China together with Chinese partners, and investing in UK/European-based portfolios, is highly attractive. On a practical level we still have to make it happen in many more cases. Working together it can be made possible. Many amongst us would prefer to operate this way than resort forever to offshore operations.

In summary, working closely as I do with established and emerging companies in the UK, around Europe and in China, I see and feel a great willingness on all sides for open innovation and collaboration, and rich sources of commercial opportunities with global potential offering investors in China, the UK and other locations prospects that will profit from closer collaboration, joint investments and real working partnerships. "Win-win" can indeed be the outcome if the efforts are made and time taken to develop mutual understanding.

The author is a professor at the Judge Business School, University of Cambridge. The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.

( China Daily European Weekly 01/15/2016 page11)