Why Chinese companies want to buy British businesses

A new MG6 vehicle is unveiled at the Chinese-owned MG factory in Longbridge on 13 April 2011
Image caption Car manufacturing in Birmingham has been revived since SAIC bought the MG plant at Longbridge

The indelible stamp of "Made in China" has made an impressive mark on world trade, but this country's ambitions are proving to be much higher.

No longer content to be known for their cut-price efficiency in stuffing Disney toys, Chinese companies now want to own high-end global brands and be at the forefront of major technological projects

As Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao's latest visit shows, China is pushing hard for a much bigger foothold in Europe.

His trip may be set against the backdrop of the European debt crisis but the region still has a huge amount to offer to the Chinese.

Europe's markets are mature, full of established brands but ripe with investment opportunities and in the UK in particular, Chinese companies have been fast to realise their potential.

According to consultants Dealogic, Chinese firms have acquired stakes in 33 UK companies since 2008, acquisitions totalling almost £12bn.

They include mining, logistics and financial services companies.

A visit to the MG plant at Longbridge in Birmingham is at the top of Wen Jiabao's itinerary in the UK.

The car factory is now part of the Shanghai Automotive Industry Corporation (SAIC), an investment which has revived the city's motor manufacturing industry and given SAIC an established brand in return.

Educated labour market

But buying well-known names is only part of the strategy.

Mr Wen's administration has also hinted that China is keen on helping build the controversial high speed rail link between London and the north of England.

Image caption Oxford University's Dr Karl Gerth says China needs to participate in higher-end industries

China's interest in such projects does not come as a surprise to Dr Karl Gerth from Oxford University, who has been researching how social changes in China are pushing global growth.

''China is becoming less and less competitive in manufacturing, those same jobs are moving to Vietnam and other places," he says.

"At the same time there are millions of unemployed, college educated Chinese looking for work, who don't want to work in factories; they want technically sophisticated jobs.

"In order to employ all those people the Chinese economy needs to move up the value chain and start participating in higher-end industries.''

Buying into established brands and pitching for large infrastructure projects abroad is seen as key to providing that upwards trajectory the Chinese economy needs to take.

And with Premier Wen working hard on the diplomatic front and his country sitting on a vast surplus of cash, it is likely that the number of Chinese European tie-ups will escalate.

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