Steel City forges solid China links

Updated: 2016-07-29 08:04

By Cecily Liu(China Daily Europe)

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Chengdu developers to give $1.3b to Sheffield, adding to existing business and science ties

Sheffield in northern England is to receive the largest Chinese investment in the United Kingdom outside of London, the latest sign of the industrial city's strong links with the Asian nation.

Sichuan Guodong Construction Co committed in July to investing more than 1 billion pounds ($1.31 billion; 1.19 billion euros) over the next 60 years.

 Steel City forges solid China links

Keith Burnett (second from right), vice chancellor of Sheffield University, and Xu Lin (third from left), director general of Hanban at the 9th Confucius Institute conference in Beijing in 2014. Provided to China Daily

The announcement coincided with British Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond attending the G20 finance ministers meeting in Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan province and a sister city to Sheffield.

The planned investment, which will focus mostly on commercial property development, comes after 18 months of negotiations and could create hundreds, if not thousands, of jobs, according to the company.

No specific projects were identified. The Chinese developer says it will rely on suggestions from Sheffield City Council.

The deal is the latest tie-up between the so-called Steel City and China.

Last year, Hualing Industry and Trade Group agreed to fund the second phase of the Sheffield Digital Campus, a site for information technology and knowledge-based industries.

Work is also underway to construct a 65 million pound, 20-story "Chinatown" development with shops, food and drink outlets, student flats and offices.

The city's links with China began to burgeon in 2012, when Leigh Bramall, deputy leader of the city council, first visited Chengdu.

"I was so impressed with its economic growth, high-tech zone and creative digital industry, and thought we really could do a lot more with our sister city link," he recalls. Frequent two-way exchanges between governments followed, and "we realized that developing personal relationships and trust is so important".

The deal with Guodong Construction is also being touted as a demonstration that China-UK business relations can hold firm in the face of Brexit.

"At a time of unprecedented uncertainty and turmoil on the national political scene, we've taken the bull by the horns and led by example here in Sheffield," Bramall adds.

In addition to development projects, the Yorkshire city's close connection with China also includes collaboration in science and technology.

The Nuclear Advanced Manufacturing Research Center, led by Sheffield and Manchester universities, has held extensive discussions with Chinese companies to help shape China's nuclear technology for the UK market.

The center has an agreement with China National Nuclear Corp to help develop its small modular nuclear reactors should the company succeed in a competition run by the British government to select technology for future reactor programs.

Small modular reactors are prefabricated in a controlled environment and assembled on site, with the intention to reduce costs and increase efficiency. Britain is an advocate for such technology.

The University of Sheffield, which already has about 9,000 Chinese students and a Confucius Institute, has rapidly developed its links with China.

"I've seen for myself the warm welcome extended to China in this city," says Keith Burnett, the university's vice-chancellor, who visits China frequently and speaks Mandarin. He was a vocal opponent of the British government's decision to tighten visa regulations for international students after they complete their studies.

"The desire to work together as partners in the interests of the citizens of both our nations is mutual and sincere," he adds.

In 2014, the university joined with Nanjing University to establish a joint research center to develop nitride semiconductor materials and devices.

Wang Tao, a professor of advanced optoelectronics and one of the directors of the center, says academics at the two universities have already achieved results, and that his team is now talking with Chinese businesses to commercialize its pioneering technology.

"Sheffield's reputation as an advanced manufacturing center gives it a great advantage to work with China in commercializing new technologies and helping China's manufacturing industry move up the value chain," he says.

The University of Sheffield's engineering department is also training teachers from Shanghai's Tongji University for its two-year vocational program for Chinese high school graduates.

(China Daily European Weekly 07/29/2016 page30)