Birmingham is first stop for Chinese Premier on UK visit

By on 21/06/2011 in News

Midlands city set to build on strong relationship for investment and jobs

Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao will visit Birmingham this weekend on his first stop on a reciprocal visit to the UK following Prime Minister David Cameron's trip to China in November last year.

Premier Wen's decision to begin his UK visit in Birmingham reflects the strength of the city's strategic relationship with China following significant investments in the region's industry-leading automotive sector and long-standing, collaborative culture and civic programmes.

The Chinese Premier will be landing at Birmingham Airport and visiting the Longbridge MG Motors car plant, home to recent major investment by the Shanghai Automotive Industry Company [SAIC].

With an extension of Birmingham Airport's runway creating direct routes from the city to China, and further opportunities uncovered by its inward investment programme, Business Birmingham, many believe the visit could lead to further significant investment and jobs in the region.

Birmingham will welcome Premier Wen Jiabao ahead of his visit with the Prime Minister and German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Mike Whitby, Leader of Birmingham City Council, who will be amongst those welcoming Premier Wen to the UK, said:

“This visit is an endorsement from the very top of the Chinese state of the importance of the relationship between Birmingham and China.

Over the last seven years we have made great strides to ensure Birmingham's connections with China were prioritised and enriched, helping to build a strong relationship for this city with a growing economic superpower.

“We have been working with the Chinese Ambassador, his Embassy and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) to ensure that Birmingham gives the best possible welcome to the head of the Chinese people and we are looking forward to renewing our friendships with China as a result of this historic visit.”

Premier Wen Jiabao's visit will build on Birmingham's strong business ties with China, clearly demonstrated by SAIC's long term commitment to Birmingham and ownership of MG and its site at Longbridge.  SAIC, one of the 10 largest car makers in the world, has made significant investment in the MG plant at Longbridge, and recently announced its decision to resume MG production at the site – retaining 400 jobs in the UK.

The company also announced the opening of a £5m design studio and technical centre at Longbridge - demonstrating its commitment to the area's talent and entrepreneurial environment. The attraction of SAIC, and its predecessors NAC, to the site was in large part due to the high level relationships formed by Birmingham's civic leadership.

The West Midlands has a strong reputation for automotive excellence, with 100,000 employed in the sector across the region, accounting for over 30 per cent of all UK manufactured automotive production and over 60 per cent of all UK automotive R&D. Business Birmingham uses this strength to showcase local talent, innovation and expertise, and attract further investment to the area.

Since 2003, after London, Birmingham has attracted more Chinese investment projects than any other UK city, receiving £76.59m in capital investment and creating 596 jobs during this period.  In 2010, Birmingham received £8.68m in capital investment from China creating 320 jobs.

As Birmingham Airport looks to extend its runway, investing £40 million in infrastructure to bring more passengers from distant locations, the potential for further investment from China in the region is growing.

Paul Kehoe, Chief Executive of Birmingham Airport, said:

“Birmingham and the wider West Midlands is known, not only for its automotive and manufacturing innovations and expertise, but for its wider business talent and entrepreneurial attitude. The city's well established ties with China are extremely important to Birmingham's development as a leading European business hub. The Premier's decision to visit Birmingham reflects China's recognition of the city's growing stature.

“The new runway extension at Birmingham Airport will play a central role in bringing Birmingham closer to its Chinese colleagues as direct flights connect the city to the Far East. This level of connectivity cannot be overstated - direct links bring direct investments closer.”

The city's business ties with China have also been strengthened by those of cultural appreciation. The city is twinned with Guangzhou, the capital and largest city of the Guangdong province in Southern China, and in 2004 the two cities signed a Memorandum Of Understanding to develop links in education and culture. In 2006 City Leader, Mike Whitby led a delegation to Guangzhou to sign a Sister-City agreement and also visited Nanjing, home of original Longbridge investors NAC [Nanjing Automobile Corporation] to promote Birmingham as the natural home for automotive investment. 

Building on this in 2008, the Lord Mayor of Birmingham visited Guangzhou, and in January 2009, Birmingham Royal Ballet (BRB) successfully toured China – as Birmingham's sister city, Guangzhou was the first city in which BRB chose to perform.

His Excellency, Mr. Liu Xiaoming, Chinese ambassador to the UK said:

“This visit will be the first by a Chinese Premier to the UK since the coalition government was in place. The meetings will provide another important top level exchange between our two countries following Prime Minster David Cameron's visit to China last November. It is expected that the meetings in London will set the shape and direction of China-UK relations in the months and years to come.

“In my role as Chinese Ambassador to the UK, I have been to Birmingham several times. I have learned first hand how Birmingham has built on its heritage to create one of the most vibrant cities of Europe. Council Leader, Mike Whitby, proudly told me about the city's leadership in sports and culture, and I have seen for myself the strengths of Birmingham as an industrial and education centre. I hope and I’m confident that the ties between China and Birmingham will continue to flourish.”

City Leader Mike Whitby added:

“Building strong relationships with economic global heavyweights such as China take time, consideration and commitment. However, the potential for investment and jobs, as well as improving our international reputation and cultural and civic appreciation are immeasurable. Our relationship with China has been of significant value and learning to the city and we look forward to building on it with Premier Jiabao during his visit.”

Premier Wen Jiabao's visit to Birmingham is part of a tour designed to strengthen China's relations with the UK, Hungary and Germany following recent visits to France, Portugal and Spain.




Media contacts

Andrew Dunbar, Aide to Leader, Birmingham City Council

07826873483 or

Chinese investment in Birmingham

Since 2003, after London, Birmingham has attracted more Chinese investment projects than any other UK city, receiving £76.59m in capital investment and creating 596 jobs during this period. 

In 2010, Birmingham received £8.68m in capital investment from China creating 320 jobs.

Top Chinese investors in the region include:  

  • June 2010 – SAIC (China) invested £64m in the city of Birmingham, creating 300 jobs
  • June 2007 – Nanjing Automobile Group (China) invested in the city, creating 200 jobs


Background on Birmingham and the wider region's automotive strength

  • Birmingham retains a sizeable, specialised and experienced workforce in automotive with 11,500 people employed in the sector and around 100,000 in the wider region. The city provides top class companies in the automotive, train and aerospace sectors, and a strong and supportive research base to enhance innovation.
  • The transport technology sector contributes £360 million to the city's economy.
  • The transport sector employs approximately 12,700 people, representing around 6 per cent of the regional transport  technologies business base.
  • The wider Birmingham locality accounts for over 30 per cent of all UK manufactured automotive production and over 60 per cent of all UK automotive R&D.          
  • 215 transport technology companies are located in Birmingham.

University specialisms

  • Birmingham City University – The School of Technology Engineering and Environment houses a leading automotive research centre with a long running interest in the control of automotive power trains, with a particular focus on emissions reduction in vehicle
  • University of Birmingham- Has expertise in the research areas of Vehicle Technology and Advanced Materials. It undertakes leading research into future power systems and vehicle dynamics, and the development of materials, processes and manufacturing applications
  • Coventry University - The University has the largest School of Engineering in the UK and offers a number of automotive-specific courses. It is the only university in the world with a full-scale automotive design facility giving it a unique vehicle styling and design capability
  • University of Warwick - Home to internationally renowned WMG (formerly known as Warwick Manufacturing Group) and the International Automotive Research Centre
  • CABLED is the UK’s largest trial of electric and ultra-low emission vehicles. Led by Birmingham and Coventry, the project is making ultra-low carbon vehicles available to a wide cross section of real world users. This is followed by Plugged in Places, which has important implications for R&D of the market for zero emissions vehicles including establishing and enabling infrastructure such as charging points

Birmingham and Guangzhou, China - 'sister cities'

  • 2004

    • The Memorandum Of Understanding was signed between Birmingham and Guangzhou to development links in education and culture.
    • along with the MOU, 10 Birmingham Schools signed an agreement with 10 Guangzhou Schools and became sister schools.
    • 2005
      • Mr Li Zhuobin, Vice Mayor of Guangzhou led an education,  culture and sport delegation visit Birmingham to enhance the links in the areas
      • Guangzhou Culture week took place in Birmingham
      • 2006
        • Guangzhou Municipal Government proposed to elevate the relationship between two cities to a “Sister City” relationship, in order to provide greater opportunities for engagement and a more strategic reflection of the relationship which both cities could be mutually benefit from. “Sister City” status with Chinese cities affords greater status than other “Partnership / friendship” relationships.
        • Leader Cllr Mike Whitby led delegation visited Guangzhou and furthered the advancement of a Sister-city relationship between two cities.
        • Mayor of Guangzhou visited Birmingham on the occasion of two-year anniversary of the MOU between two cities. The Agreement between City of Birmingham and City of Guangzhou on the Establishment of Sister City Relationship has been signed in Birmingham.
        • 2009
          • Under the initiative developed, Birmingham Royal Ballet had a successfully toured China. Guangzhou as Birmingham's sister city was the first city that BRB choose to perform.


  • Since 2004, the number of Chinese students in Birmingham has increased from 2500 to 3500. During Leader's recent visit to Guangzhou, Mayor Zhang confirmed the Birmingham is and will be the preferable place for Guangzhou students to go and study.
  • Since 2005, a significant number of junior civil servants from Guangzhou municipal Government, Guangzhou university teachers, Guangzhou schools teachers have come to Birmingham to improve English language and professional skills.
  • In October 2006, CPPCC Chiarman Jia Qinlin visited Birmingham. This was the most significant international visit Birmingham hosted since 1998 G8 Summit.
  • Birmingham also provides opportunities for Chinese exporters, playing host to the China Brands European showcase, which takes place at the NEC every year. The showcase sees over 200 Chinese enterprises attend the fair to promote economic and trade cooperation between China and Europe. The showcase is part of the city's Spring Fair which attracts over 70,000 visitors.

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