Some thoughts from China (1)


The modern City of Huangzhou in South – Eastern China as seen from my hotel room! It seems to stretch for miles!

I had never heard of Hangzhou until 3 months ago. It’s a relatively small city in China. It only has about 4 million people living here!! As I flew in over it from Shanghai I was struck by how there is to see and how much of that is new. The taxi ride from the airport is about 20 miles. I did not see one old building in that drive which was mostly in a built up urban environment. I saw houses that look like French; English; German and Dutch houses as they try to copy different architectures. I saw block after block of apartments which could have been anywhere in the World and I saw buildings that were unmistakably Chinese. They were all new.

The hotel that I am staying in has 5 tower blocks each with about 250 rooms in. It is, by some measures, a small hotel! The one I stayed in at Haikou 3 years ago had almost 3,000 bedrooms ( and an Executive Chef from Anfield!) Everywhere I go there are staff. This is a hugely luxurious hotel which I would never stay in anywhere else in the world but it is costing less than the rather dismal hotel I stay in during my visits to London. Although the price is a little reduced because of the number of us staying here it would still not be expensive in our areas.

Everyone I meet is so courteous to us and seem to desperately want to please. The staff have an eye for detail which keeps everything in its place and everything tidy. Most of this seems to stem from an earnest attempt to be friendly. I did, however, notice a staff meeting in a little restaurant where I had a coffee yesterday morning at Shanghai Airport. I can’t speak Chinese but I can read body language. There was an incredible authoritarian effort for a place that was clearly running well and at the end of the day was only a snack bar.

There is no depth to the ambition of the Chinese nation. On the plane between Amsterdam and Shanghai I watched a documentary (fortunately subtitled) about how the Chinese entrepreneurs are moving some operations to African Countries like Somalia. The working day seems to start with the same sort of compulsory drill that they use in China. Basic PE performed en masse at the start of the working day. BUT the Chinese owners accept that the African workers will only deliver at 70-80% of the efficiency of their Chinese counterparts.

Even in the airline magazine which I read from cover to cover as my book was in the hold the management was talking about the delivery of the 10-year plan to increase European visitors. This was not specifically an airline plan but a Government plan that the airline was proud to deliver their part in. There was a huge article about the recent Congress of the Communist Party. The airline was proud to talk about this and talk about its relevance to them and their work.

Everywhere I can see a bigger threat to Western business than the cheap labour that has been the competitive advantage of this Country for 5 decades. There is now a huge intellectual effort  particularly in the field of IT and other technologies. They are not copying either legally or illegally other people’s products they are developing their own.

It seems to me that there are a number of lessons here for the UK and for Liverpool in particular.

  1. We have been making great efforts to attract the Chinese to invest in our Country. It is now absolutely clear that with minor exceptions they will not invest in manufacturing. We are too expensive for them. We are not going to work in their way. The UK will never be as productive as they are. They want to invest in infrastructure that will give them a long-term relatively risk-free yield. Is that really what we as a City or we as a nation require? I see dangers here.

Even without the disgraceful way that the Council has been complicit in marketing             dodgy financial deals for private and corporate investors from Hong Kong and the             PRC we need to ask basic questions about what investment is in our long-term                     interests.

  1. We must maintain very friendly links with this Country so that we can share their technological advances. Of course, some of that can best be done by industry but there is also much that can be done by Universities. Liverpool has a huge number of Chinese students. We must look after them properly and ensure that they love our City and our Country. We might need them as friends.
  2. They are one very important Country. When you compare the competence of their leadership with that of Trump’s USA there is no question which Country is the real Leader. Trump is all bluster and waffle. The Chinese leadership is quiet, competent and determined. There is no doubt which Country will come out on top. In fact having seen Trump on television this week I would be embarrassed to be an American.

This may sound like gushing approval for China. No, it is not! There are things here which are very different from ours. They have a culture that has built up over thousands of years which is different from our Country which has also developed a culture over thousands of years.

Last night I was watching the BBC and was listening intently to Paddy Ashdown talking about a recent trip to Hong Kong. Suddenly the screen went blank. I tried to find it again only to find that the BBC was no longer available! I’ve often wanted to turn Paddy Ashdown off our down but never wanted to censor him in what was clearly an unbiased programme which included the Chief Executive of Hong Kong.

I am very proud that Liverpool has the oldest Chinese community in Western Europe and that the Chinese Community are a very important part of business and cultural life in our City. I hope that we will continue to foster strong and appropriate links with the PRC but we need to be careful. China is a dragon – there are dangers if we tweak the dragon’s tail.


About richardkemp

Leader of the Liberal Democrats in Liverpool. Deputy Chair and Lib Dem Spokesperson on the LGA Community Wellbeing Board. Married to the lovely Cllr Erica Kemp CBE with three children and four grandchildren.
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