Britain in or out of Europe: How will it affect the British Chinese community?

By Nee Hao’s Political Editor – Tom Pang 

EU Referendum: How will you vote?

It is official: 23rd June will see the British people decide on whether to remain or leave the EU.

The opposing campaigns – for and against the EU – have deployed very heated rhetoric against each other. With much emphasis having been placed on how the City of London will negatively or positively cope with the aftermath of the referendum. However, a much overlooked thought is how the Chinese community would be affected by the referendum’s result.

The EU has had mixed results for the Chinese people – arguably its biggest impact has been to aid businesses.

Consequences of remaining in the EU

One of the core principles of the EU is the freedom of movement. This right enables every European to safely and freely travel through other EU countries without the requirement of a passport. Chinese people, like so many others, have taken advantage of this privilege and travel frequently to their most desired places. The Chinese Outbound Tourism Agency states that Chinese people enjoy visiting France and Italy – in fact, the countries scored fifth and sixth respectively in a list of the top 10 destinations for Chinese people.

Moreover, the other positive outcome of the principle of freedom of movement is Chinese people receive permission and support to fill any job vacancies in other European countries. It has often been argued that this principle eliminates the complexities with finding employment in other EU countries. The UK and Germany, in particular, have seen mass employment for Chinese people, especially in the fields of cookery and the arts.

Since 2000, Chinese businesses have invested more into the UK than anywhere else in Europe. And just last year, in October, China signed £30 billion pounds’ worth of commercial deals with Britain. Yet, Chinese businesses not only invest considerably in the UK, but have also set up European headquarters in Britain. The UK is seen as particularly attractive to Chinese business owners as there is not excessive amounts of regulation and in comparison to some European countries tax is substantially lower.

In 2003 the EU over took the US to become the world’s biggest economy. With this in mind, British-Chinese businesses are at the forefront to economic advantages due to having membership of the EU. Recently, economists have urged small and large British-Chinese businesses to develop their relationships and contacts with more European countries.

Europhiles assert that the above have been possible solely because of the UK’s membership of the EU.

Consequences of leaving the EU

On the one hand should the UK decide on relinquishing its EU membership the freedom of travel privilege would be lost and China’s relationship with Britain would not automatically open up new doors to other EU countries. On the other hand eurosceptics state that the alternatives to the EU outweigh the status quo.

In economic terms, and as many proponents of leaving the EU argue, there is no suggestion that Chinese businesses would lose out on trade should there be a Brexit. Like any business, the simple objective is to generate a profit; one of the biggest reasons for the Chinese companies doing business in the UK is for precisely this reason. Chinese and British companies have secured ‘win-win’ results, especially in the financial sector. With or without the EU, profit making will continue to make head-way in Chinese and British companies.

It is often noted that the UK has managed to quadruple (150%) its exports to China within the last 5 years. Furthermore, the UK is the second largest investor in China. There is no suggestion that British exports would suddenly hinder should the UK divorce itself from the EU. In fact, the British-Chinese community can continue trading with European countries as they wish.

Within the last 2 years, the UK has taken previously un-seen steps at trying to foster closer links with China. Just last year it was announced that Britain would be the first country outside of China to issue RMB bonds and that the UK would be a founding member of China’s AIIB bank. During President Xi Jinping’s visit to Britain he encouraged the Chinese-British community to conduct more business with China. These are just a handful of examples which reveal ways the UK could potentially become even closer to China should it leave the EU.

What ever the result of the referendum, it must be understood that the vote on whether to remain a member of the EU is a once in a life-time opportunity. Should people believe what the referendum’s opposing groups are claiming, then a lot is at risk – from greater economic links with China without the EU to the freedom of movement inside of it. One thing is for definite, though, the UK will continue in its efforts to forge ever closer relations with China.

What people have to say

There has been mixed reviews by China’s community on EU membership. Below is a sample of many people voicing their views.

President Xi Jinping and Premier Keqiang:

Most interestingly, China’s top 2 most powerful politicians – president Xi Jinping and premier Li Keqiang – unanimously declared their support for continued UK membership of the EU. The reason behind their decision is that increasingly the UK is seen as a supporter of Chinese issues. Many EU countries, especially Germany, have voiced concern at the suggestion of signing a free trade agreement with China. Germany fears that Europe could be flooded with cheap Chinese exports at the expense of German exports. Conversely, Britain has for many years advocated such an agreement.

Sonny Leong, Leader of Chinese for Labour, said:

“20 million people are employed by 5 million SMEs [ ], and many UK Chinese businesses need Britain to be in Europe to provide a level playing field for their businesses to compete, grow and invest. If we are outside Europe, business and regulatory costs will go up, we will be less competitive, and our markets will shrink – this will be a disaster.”

Jackson Ng, Director of Conservative Friends of the Chinese, said:

“This is without doubt a very important decision for our country and I would urge everyone to understand the arguments for both camps. I am naturally pro-Europe as I was born and lived in the Netherlands for a few years of my life but I am British to the core. But being pro-Europe is not the same as being pro-EU. There are many issues that I am unhappy with the EU, as a lawyer and political advisor, I see on a daily basis how the EU erodes the sovereignty of our Parliament and Courts. But is leaving it the right decision, would it be simply a too big leap into the unknown? I remain undecided, painfully.”

Justine Yerng, restaurateur, said:

“Britain should pull out of the EU so we can ensure our national sovereignty is protected and that we can set our own rules without the EU regulatory framework encroaching on our financial servcies and in turn our local businesses. This will also allow us to make our own trade deals, rather than having this sense of judicial activism from the European Court of Justice as well as the European Commission where EU Regulations and Directives are passed… Our elected ministers, here, are powerless to do the job they were elected to do… Essentially we can make what is already a Golden Age in UK and China relations even better. Remember: the UK and China relations were forged precisely between both nations, without the EU.

Sir David Tang, founder of Shanghai Tang fashion chain, said:

“A Brexit would not isolate Britain into an insignificant island of insular little Englanders.”

We want to hear about what you think about the EU Referendum and what your opinion are on this.

How will you vote?

Please email: [email protected]

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