Has George Osborne made a bad bet on China?

Richard Edgar

Former Economics Editor

Has the chancellor made a rare miscalculation? George Osborne has made it one of the key policies of his time as chancellor: get in with China.

He and the prime minister have spent a lot of time and effort cultivating relations with the second largest economy in the world in an effort to win investment from China and to encourage our exports the other way.

Many years of hard work culminated last October when they pulled out all the stops for President Xi Jinping of China's state visit to the UK.

Those warm relations between our two countries are being tested, at least in some parts of the UK, as our steel industry suffers from cheap imports from China.

The Chinese government is widely thought to be subsidising production at factories which would otherwise go bust as steel prices hit the floor.

Instead, our factories are shedding jobs or even closing altogether as it becomes uneconomic to operate.

Job losses this week in Sheffield and Port Talbot are just the latest symptoms of an industry in crisis - an industry which looks accusingly at George Osborne and his long flirt with Beijing.

China's stock market and economic woes have prompted global uncertainty. Credit: Reuters

I put this to the chancellor today in Davos. The thrust of his message is to look at the big picture. He regretted the job losses in the UK but pointed to "tens of thousands" of jobs which are directly related to trade with China.

At a speech earlier, he made the point that even at slower rates of growth "China will add an economy equivalent to the size of Germany’s to work output by the end of this decade.”

Britain, he says, needs to be involved in that growth.