What on earth is David Cameron's China junket for?

Dec. /4/2013
By Simon Jenkins

Such 'trade missions' are a costly waste of time. Why doesn't he do something useful, such as making it easier for Chinese tourists to visit Britain?
David Cameron talking
to the Chinese premier, Li Keqiang

David Cameron's trade missions are bordering on the ludicrous. He has been on more than 50. Today a grand entourage of 131 friends, party associates and celebrities is in China at public expense on a vastly enjoyable escape from reality. No one has ever shown that politicians' trade visits add one penny to the balance of payments that a good exporter could not have added unaided. They are a gigantic perk, of which Cameron has received far too many.

This is Cameron's second mission to China. Yet he still refuses to ease the Home Office visa barrier that does more than anything to stifle Britain's most promising real export to China, which is tourism. That industry must sit at home like Cinderella, fighting the border controls, regulations and taxes to sustain what is now Britain second biggest overseas earner after banking.

Meanwhile Cameron is forced to eat humble pie. The visit itself is a virtual apology for his daring to meet Tibet's Dalai Lama last year, to China's fury. Beijing demanded he "correct the mistake". Cameron could hardly have grovelled lower. Downing Street sources say Britain has now "turned a page" and is "looking to the future"; it will show "mutual respect and understanding".

It was absurd for Britain to interfere, even allusively, in China's internal politics when craving its inward investment. What would Cameron say if Beijing met Ed Miliband and issued stern injunctions against the bedroom tax? But having taken such a stance, it is humiliating for Britain to climb down now so publicly, merely to dab some cosmetics on "UK plc".

Britain will sell to China – rather than just buy from it – when its goods and services merit it and when it has built up sales and marketing strength in China itself. Cameron's "offer" to ease China's passage into EU markets has enraged other EU states who understandably fear Chinese dumping. Why is a British leader going to China to promote its exports to Europe?

Nor is such dumping in Britain's interest either. Indeed it is hard to see what this junket is really about, other than to have a thoroughly good time. Is that really what Cameron most needs just now?

NOTE-- Sir Simon David Jenkins, FRSL is an English newspaper columnist, editor and author. He is the son of Daniel Thomas Jenkins, theologian and United Reformed Church minister. 

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