Boris Johnson: The first London Mayor of ‘Muslim extraction’

Addressing the 9th World Islamic Economic Forum, the London Mayor told the story of his great-great-grandfather Ahmed Hamdi, a Muslim entrepreneur.

"I am very proud to be here this morning because I am sure that I am the first Mayor of London of partly Muslim extraction, and indeed the descendant of a Muslim entrepreneur by the name of Ahmed Hamdi.

"My father’s father’s father’s father - a pious man of Anatolia who made the Haj and who more or less cornered the beeswax market in Istanbul, which was a very good idea because you needed beeswax candles to light the mosques.

"So he was in the same commercially agreeable position as the big six energy companies in Britain today, though his prices were obviously more reasonable.

"He flourished mightily minding his own beeswax, as we say in England."

Make a song and dance about this maestro of the musical

Let’s be clear: I am not that much into musicals, not as a rule. The last one I remember seeing was called Chicago, and I only went because I was told that (a) my wife would love it and (b) because it was meant to be sizzling hot. It was such rauncherama that if you had tried to put the show on in the Sixties, you would have fallen out with the Lord Chamberlain. They said it was about a series of sex-mad sirens in black tights and bustiers and cigarette holders. I was warned that they would remove many of these accoutrements before my stunned eyes, and prance around in a cruel, amoral and, above all, breathtakingly erotic fashion.

So it became like one of those nightmare university lectures when you are in the front row and you realise there is nothing you can do to stop your eyelids stealing slowly south – and you know that the don is watching you. I started to dream that I was awake, and everything was fine, and that I was really rather enjoying things; and then I would jerk convulsively and discover that I had been snoring, and as I swam in and out of consciousness I found that time seemed to expand in some horrific Einsteinian way – and a five-minute song and dance routine would turn into an hour of hell, and I grew more and more confused about who these leotarded women were, and what they were on about, and why they insisted in behaving in this ghastly and endlessly erotic way. By the end of the show I was being given some very disapproving looks, and received a general dressing down for my poor response to culture.

And now it was being put to me that I might enjoy a wholly new effort – ie with no familiar tunes – by a man who might once have possessed orphic gifts, but who had not put a big new musical on the West End stage for more than 10 years. The title of the show was From Here To Eternity – which sounded ominous enough. Worse still, I had just come back from China and the thing was meant to start at 2.30 am Beijing time. And to cap it all, I was suffering from some kind of avian flu that required huge opoid dosages. I couldn’t see this ending well. In fact, I couldn’t see any power on earth that was going to keep me out of the arms of Morpheus beyond Act One Scene One. I saw embarrassment and recrimination ahead.

Well, folks, I shouldn’t have worried. I not only stayed awake. I followed the entire plot like a bloodhound, and decided that it was really rather brilliant. In case you don’t know, it is one of those stories about decadence-under-the-shadow-of-destruction – a bit like Pompeii except in this case the disaster is the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor. There are lots of good tunes, and by half time I was roaring along with the chorus of Hawaii prostitutes who sing a number called You Got The Money, We Got The Ass. In the erotic frisson stakes, it knocks Chicago into a cocked hat.

At the end of the whole thing, Tim Rice turned to me and said apologetically, “You know, I think we could have cut five minutes from the first half.” I don’t think I agree with you there, Tim, and nor by the look of it did the audience. They were giving the cast a long and hearty standing ovation, and as we all went off into the night – he to feed hamburgers to his crew – I thought about Tim’s amazing achievements. It is a high calling to write the lyrics for musicals. P G Wodehouse – the 20th century’s greatest English phrasemaker – spent a huge amount of time and effort in trying to do what Tim does. I don’t think he succeeded half so well. Who can recite the lyrics of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat? We all can. What did Joseph tell Pharoah about his dream? “All those things you saw in your pyjamas are just long-range forecasts for your farmers.” Brilliant.

Tim Rice’s lyrics can carry a big emotional punch (what is The Lion King, after all, but Hamlet with tunes?), and somehow he can turn an excruciating rhyme into magic; and into gold, by the way. Heaven knows how many millions he has brought to the country or how many jobs he has helped to create.

It is amazing that he and Andrew Lloyd Webber are both producing world-class stuff, and I hesitate to choose between them. But if you have nothing else to do on a wet and windy night, give From Here To Eternity a go. If you’ve got the money, they've got the ass.

The great Chinese takeaway

What they offer us is a deep pot of money that is also an addictive remedy for past under-investment and a shortage of domestic players, especially in infrastructure and industry. Boris Johnson, franker than Osborne, speaks of “projects that simply wouldn’t happen” without Chinese support. It’s no coincidence that as soon as the Grangemouth petrochemical plant in Scotland was threatened with closure last week by its owner Ineos, the whisper was of Scottish ministers seeking a Chinese buyer. As it happens, Ineos already has a 49 per cent Chinese partner in its oil refinery next door.

What else do the Chinese already own over here? It’s an eclectic catalogue, from the iconic Richard Rogers-designed Lloyd’s building in the City to Manganese Bronze, the manufacturer of London’s black taxis, and Gieves & Hawkes, the Savile Row tailor. There are Chinese stakes in Heathrow, in Manchester’s “airport city”, and in Thames Water. One Chinese tycoon is promising to rebuild Crystal Palace, another plans a seven-star hotel on London’s South Bank. The Weetabix brand on your breakfast table belongs to Bright Food of Shanghai. And in London’s nascent property bubble, though all the talk is of money from Greece and the Middle East pouring into our safe-haven bricks and mortar, it was Chinese buyers who (according to Savills) snapped up more than a quarter of new-build buy-to-let properties in the capital last year.

The impetus for it is simple enough. China has at least $3.4 trillion of foreign exchange holdings accumulated as a result of its success as an exporter, and has been on a mission since the turn of the millennium to invest in ways that generate better returns, in know-how and connections as well as dividends, than the low-yielding US Treasury bonds of which it is already by far the largest non-US holder. China also recognises that its low-cost manufacturing prowess has not created global brands or cutting-edge technologies: those it has to buy abroad.

Much of this spree has happened through state-owned entities according to a strategy directed by Communist Party leaders – most apparent in efforts to corner supplies of mineral and energy resources from Africa and elsewhere. But much of it is also, as one China consultant put it to me, “more higgledly-piggledly and opportunistic”, often reflecting the whims of new-rich tycoons and the troubles that cause corporate assets to be put up for sale in the first place, rather than their attractions: witness the last‑ditch disposal of the crippled MG Rover car group in 2005 to Nanjing Automobile.

Some of China’s overseas investing looks odd to Western eyes. We might ask what Gingko Tree Investment Co, a subsidiary of China’s state foreign exchange regulator, is doing investing half a billion pounds in UK student housing. And some really have been interpreted as sinister – at least by US congressmen, if not by our own ministers.

The concern here relates to China’s lack of respect for intellectual property and patents, and its allegedly world-beating skills in the field of cyber-hacking. A case in point is Huawei (pronounced by wags “Who Are We?”), which is now the world’s biggest manufacturer of telecoms equipment and which has UK operations in Ipswich and Banbury. As a supplier to GCHQ in Cheltenham, Huawei had to go to great lengths to prove that its kit does not incorporate hidden chips designed to eavesdrop on our state secrets. The company has also had to deny rumours of a close connection to China’s People’s Liberation Army, declaring itself to be wholly owned by its workforce. In the US, Huawei has struggled to win contracts with the federal government and mobile networks; in the UK the company’s black boxes are everywhere, and David Cameron used a post-Olympic announcement of a £1.3 billion Huawei investment programme as his cue to declare that “the UK is open for business”.

He’s right: the UK has always been open for business – certainly more so than the protectionist and inward-looking US. Our car industry, brought to its knees in the Seventies, was transformed in the Eighties and Nineties by the arrival of Honda, Toyota and Nissan from Japan and BMW from Germany. It’s now fighting fit again and its export champion is Jaguar Land Rover, enjoying a renaissance under the ownership of Tata of India. It was Tata that also took on the challenge of what was left of our steel-making industry by acquiring Corus, the descendant of state-owned British Steel. Meanwhile, London has long welcomed financial input from all over the world and is the destination of choice for Russian oligarchs and Gulf sheikhs. This is globalisation at work, and there can be no doubt that Britain is a net beneficiary.

But is there cause to be especially wary of the Chinese, who are likely to loom larger and larger in our economic lives in the decades ahead? Campaigners for higher standards of business behaviour will remind us that China is an autocracy that pays little heed to the rule of law or freedom of speech; in the Transparency International index of perceived corruptness it ranks 80th in the world, just above Serbia and 63 places below the UK; its commercial reputation in poorer countries is rapacious; its environmental record is shocking; its contracts and company accounts sometimes seem barely worth the paper they’re printed on.

That list applies to many countries besides China – but in an imperfect world, we sometimes have to trade with unsavoury partners, while doing our best to keep our own hands clean. What we can say, in chorus with Osborne and Johnson, is that Chinese money flowing into the British economy is broadly to be celebrated. But there are sectors where it would not be appropriate beyond the level of passive minority shareholdings. In retail banking, the Chinese rely on uncompetitive state institutions that may be insolvent by Western standards – so they’re hardly ready to take control of ours. In the defence and aerospace sectors, and in bioscience, we still have secrets to protect.

Ministers and mayors are right to put out the welcome banners at Heathrow, but we’re so open for business these days that it’s worth asking whether we have the apparatus or the will to stop any foreign investor from taking a step too far. And the test of that question might be whether we’d want our next new nuclear reactor to be 100 per cent owned by China.

Martin Vander Weyer is business editor of 'The Spectator

Boris: I am the only British politician who will admit to being pro-immigration

However, he said: “I’m probably about the only politician I know of who is actually willing to stand up and say that he’s pro-immigration.”

“I believe that when talented people have something to offer a society and a community they should be given the benefit of the doubt,” Mr Johnson added.

Some backbenchers have voiced the opinion that Mr Johnson is the only Conservative capable of combating the threat to the Tories from the UK Independence Party.

However, the Mayor’s views on migration could distance him from backbenchers if he was to ever attempt to become the Conservative leader.

Earlier this year, Mr Johnson called for a one-off amnesty for illegal immigrants.

He challenged the Coalition’s opposition to an amnesty and said that illegal immigrants should be allowed to stay after 12 years in Britain.

Mr Johnson said on Wednesday: “I’m not going to resile from or going to dismiss the notion that you’ve got to be tough on illegal immigration.

“Frankly it was, if I may so, the active decision of the Labour government to turn a complete blind eye that undermined immigration in the eyes of many people in this country.

“And you should think about that because it did serious social damage.”

He added: “I go back in a pedantic way to this distinction between legal and illegal immigration. It is vital that we do make that distinction. I’m probably about the only politician I know of who is actually willing to stand up and say that he’s pro-immigration.”

Mr Johnson then jokes that the only other people backing immigration are the Green Party.

“I’ve got the support of the Greens, great,” Mr Johnson added. “We can build on that. Labour being very quiet, I notice. I believe that when talented people have something to offer a society and a community they should be given the benefit of the doubt and I speak as the descendant of immigrants and all the rest of it.

“But you’ve got to be very, very tough in dealing with people who break the law. They are undermining the credentials and the hard work of everybody else.”

Boris: I am the only British politician who will admit to being pro-immigration

However, he said: “I’m probably about the only politician I know of who is actually willing to stand up and say that he’s pro-immigration.”

“I believe that when talented people have something to offer a society and a community they should be given the benefit of the doubt,” Mr Johnson added.

Some backbenchers have voiced the opinion that Mr Johnson is the only Conservative capable of combating the threat to the Tories from the UK Independence Party.

However, the Mayor’s views on migration could distance him from backbenchers if he was to ever attempt to become the Conservative leader.

Earlier this year, Mr Johnson called for a one-off amnesty for illegal immigrants.

He challenged the Coalition’s opposition to an amnesty and said that illegal immigrants should be allowed to stay after 12 years in Britain.

Mr Johnson said on Wednesday: “I’m not going to resile from or going to dismiss the notion that you’ve got to be tough on illegal immigration.

“Frankly it was, if I may so, the active decision of the Labour government to turn a complete blind eye that undermined immigration in the eyes of many people in this country.

“And you should think about that because it did serious social damage.”

He added: “I go back in a pedantic way to this distinction between legal and illegal immigration. It is vital that we do make that distinction. I’m probably about the only politician I know of who is actually willing to stand up and say that he’s pro-immigration.”

Mr Johnson then jokes that the only other people backing immigration are the Green Party.

“I’ve got the support of the Greens, great,” Mr Johnson added. “We can build on that. Labour being very quiet, I notice. I believe that when talented people have something to offer a society and a community they should be given the benefit of the doubt and I speak as the descendant of immigrants and all the rest of it.

“But you’ve got to be very, very tough in dealing with people who break the law. They are undermining the credentials and the hard work of everybody else.”

It’s mad to blame our housing crisis on ‘blooming foreigners’

But we won’t get any of these schemes going if we are so demented as to tell foreign investors to bog off – because it is precisely this overseas demand that is critical to the economics of many of the developments. In case you hadn’t noticed, our UK banks’ balances were shot to pieces in 2008, and we have a huge national deficit. We need to keep that investment flowing, and those who argue against such funding – or who foment, blatantly or furtively, the anti-foreigner mood – are as wrong as those who protest against people buying second homes in the countryside.

As Kris Hopkins MP pointed out at the weekend, it is those townie second homes that bring cash and jobs to the rural economy. He is brave and right to say it. The same point should be made, analogously, about international investment in London. That cash brings jobs, as well as homes. And we will only find it harder to build the homes we need if we are so foolish as to turn against legal foreign workers. Go to any London building site and listen to the languages being spoken. Yes, native Britons are right to observe, sadly, that huge numbers of jobs in catering, retail and construction have been taken by people from the EU accession countries. They are right to think those jobs might in principle have gone to native people. But that is very largely a function of a British welfare and education system that is only now being reformed.

We need to help our young people – not beat up on Johnny Foreigner. Yes, we should be tough on illegal immigration; and yes, there may well be a case for looking at the relative attractions of British benefits and the median incomes in some European countries. In my view, national governments should have more flexibility in deciding how long EU migrant workers must have been in employment before they can claim benefits.

This is an obvious area where we could see some restitution of national sovereignty, and I hope it will be on the table in the coming process of renegotiation. But it makes no more sense to exclude talented and legally established foreign workers than it does to exclude foreign investment. Before we all collapse in a xenophobic frenzy, let me ask: which European nation provides the most foreigners? It’s us! The British. We live abroad in greater numbers than any other country; we have been pushing up the prices in some European destinations for decades. Should we have a crazed exchange of populations – kicking the French out of Kensington in retribution for what they have done to house prices, while they kick us out of the Dordogne? What a miserable, blinkered, pointless and fundamentally stupid way of looking at the world.

Both sets of incomers bring money and jobs to the community. And don’t think, by the way, that we Britons are above claiming benefits in other EU countries. A spectacular report just out shows that one in 10 Brits in Germany is on benefits – about 10,000 in all. There were some hilarious quotes from British claimants about how simple the German system is, how generous and non-judgmental.

They get up to £23,318 a year from the German taxpayer. I suppose we could just urge the Germans to stop being so soft-hearted and kick out our kids as soon as they lose their jobs. But then what if it was your kid, and what if they were married to a German and had their own children in a German school? Suddenly it’s not quite so clear-cut, is it? That’s one of the problems with bashing the bloody foreigners. We have our own share of irritating British rich people, pushing up house prices abroad and cheesing off the natives. We have our own share of bludgers, living off benefits in other countries. The Brits: we’re the biggest load of bloody foreigners on earth. It’s been good for us, and on the whole it’s been good for the world.

Friends: The One with Boris Out of the Way…

“What have you got to be so happy about?” asked Nick.

“It’s funny – I’m always happy the moment Boris is off the scene.”

“Not sure that’s true,” said Nick, opening a paper to see pictures of Boris foxtrotting with Darcey Bussell, Boris conducting a Chinese Tea ceremony with a delightful Chinese Tea hostess, and Boris in a helicopter over Hong Kong, squeezed up next to a ravishing Air China pilot.

“Oh, that doesn’t matter,” said Dave. “Totty pictures go down very badly in the polls. And, talking of polls, I’m not doing so shabbily.”

Nick turned the page, flicking past another picture of Boris – this time jogging along the Great Wall of China in Hawaiian shorts and a Chairman Mao jacket, flanked by two lovelies in Red Guard costumes.

“Cameron soars!” boomed the headline. “Red Ed slips. And it’s bye-bye, Clegg…”

The temperature in the drawing room seemed to tumble a few degrees. Even the picture of Boris in a Chinese dragon outfit – next to an extremely fetching Chinese dragoness, a few well-positioned scales preserving her modesty – failed to lift Nick’s mood.

“It’s just not fair!” said Nick. “The further you move to the Right, the better you do. And the punters loved Ed’s Commie price-control stuff. But poor old piggy-in-the-middle gets thumped again.”

“Oh, do cheer up,” said Dave, thumping Nick on the back. “It isn’t just you who’s doing terribly – Nigel’s collapsing, too. Lynton’s a flipping genius. He always said it – Right is right. It’s like the Eighties all over again.”

“Yup – staggering social inequality. The rich get richer, the poor get…”

“Richer!” chirped Dave. “150,000 postmen sitting on shares worth three-and-a-half grand.”

“Something to keep them going when they’re on strike.”

“A wonderful double whammy!” said Dave. “Even Maggie never pulled that one off – a successful privatisation and a strike at the same time. The moment the voters see a bunch of postmen – rich postmen – in high-vis tabards standing round a brazier, we’re laughing all the way to an overall majority.”

God, Dave was insufferable when he was in a good mood, thought Nick, casting his eyes over a picture of Boris in a Last Emperor costume, being tended to by a harem of winsome imperial maidservants.

Clutching his jacket around his shivering frame, Nick found himself praying for the swift, safe return of the blond king over the water.

Boris and George, a pair of Chinese characters

If any seeker of tax-reducing write-offs is looking for a British film to back, I believe I have the perfect hearse. The purpose of investing in movies that are virtually guaranteed to fail spectacularly has long been that – for reasons far beyond me – the tax relief massively dwarfs the initial layout. Stick in £100,000, and so long as it does not become an accidental smash in the style of Springtime For Hitler, you get a cool £1 million in relief. Something like that, anyway.

The Chancellor may already have closed this gaping loophole – as I said, my knowledge of the tax system is hardly exact. But if so, he may wish to reopen it and invest some collateral from the wallpaper empire himself, since the movie will largely concern him.

“Boris and George’s Excellent Chinese Adventure” is the working title for an exceedingly minor motion picture dramatising last week’s richly bizarre joint visit by Mr Osborne and the Mayor of London. While it is almost certain that this will be the worst buddy movie since the Dustin Hoffman-Warren Beatty motorway pile-up that was Ishtar, there remains that faint chance that it would be a triumph. It might even emulate the massive success of Rain Man, that other Hoffman road movie, though with the Mayor and the Chancellor it would be in poor taste to speculate as to which is the Tom Cruise pretty boy, and which the one fixated with Abbott and Costello’s “Who’s on first?” routine.

In strictest sooth, both of them looked a little peculiar while making merry in the People’s Republic. The nominal purpose of this trip, planned long ago by Boris and far more recently by George, was to prostrate themselves before the new Chinese Empire, and snaffle some dosh (in the form of loaded Chinese students given visas to spend their renminbi here, and energy firms capable of doing what this country cannot by building nuclear power plants). This they both did splendidly. We may not have seen such elegant sycophancy to a repressive regime by a Western democracy since Donald Rumsfeld went to Baghdad, long after the gassing of the Kurds, to tell Saddam he was a force for modernity and a dear, dear friend – though Mr Tony Blair’s bear-hugging of Colonel Gaddafi will have its fans as well.

Britain and China have not been mates themselves since David Cameron met the Dalai Lama 18 months ago. But even if his old Bullingdon compadres thawed diplomatic relations a smidgen, there was a humiliating end-of-the-pier flavour to their abasement. Once, you felt, watching the uneasy body language as they sat side by side on a university dais, chaps like these were trained to run an empire. When that went, the route to self-abasement was going to America to be patronised in the Oval Office and ignored by the US media. Now, they grovel to the Chinese (not a dickie bird about human rights or Tibet) in the hope of diverting bright 17-year-olds from Apple factories, and inveigling Chinese firms into saving us from the coming energy nightmare of which this week’s price hikes offered a handy hint.

The subtext to this jolly, in which our heroes strove to outshine one another in the twin fields of ingratiation and wit, was wholly domestic. This was so transparently a rehearsal for the next Tory leadership battle that the only surprise was Theresa May’s failure to gatecrash the party, explaining that she somehow mistook a Boeing 777 to Beijing for a black cab from Whitehall. Had she done so, on her colleagues’ showing, she would doubtless have emerged from a guided tour of secret police headquarters to say something admiring about them.

In the absence of Mrs May to play the Katharine Ross eye candy to Boris and George’s Butch and Sundance, the lads had the ring to themselves – though which took a tight split decision is a tough one to call. George looked as puny and uncomfortable as usual (Michael Heseltine, who always managed to look powerful in a hi-vis jacket and hard hat, should tutor him). Boris went that step too far in the quest for laughs by sporting a pudding bowl haircut that would, if administered by a parent in the bath, persuade any judge to grant a child’s application to be declared an emancipated minor.

Curiously, both men did adduce their daughters in the cause of pleasing their hosts. Fresh from an ego-boosting meeting with the No 6 in the Chinese treasury, George threw the first blow by mentioning that his 10-year-old has been teaching him Chinese characters. Boris came back with a haymaker, revealing that his girl is not only learning Mandarin, but will be in China this coming week.

What the Chinese people and media made of their honoured guests is anyone’s guess – mine being very little indeed. Now that China has purchased Africa, the relevance of begging-bowl-carriers from a broke little island with no mineral resources must be minimal. Not, of course, that impressing China was the primary concern of an embryonic double act – potentially the most hilarious since Cannon and Ball, or possibly Burke and Hare – more concerned with electrifying the audience back home.

Whether cinema audiences will be wowed by Boris and George’s Excellent Chinese Adventure, only time will tell. But even with the Oscar-festooned double act of Tom Hanks as the Chancellor and Boris-doppelganger Philip Seymour Hoffman as the Mayor, it looks every inch a banker for the tax dodgers to me.

Boris Johnson visits M&S in Shanghai

The Mayor, who is just over halfway through a six-day trade mission in China, took the opportunity to visit the M&S branch.

"It's so great to see a brand like Marks and Spencer, which is something I grew up with all my life, here in Shanghai", Mr Johnson said.

"It's a real sign of the strengthening of economic ties between London and Shanghai." Mr Johnson is visiting the country to promote investment ties between London and China.

Earlier in his visit the Mayor of London, who is learning Madarin, said British schoolchildren should be given the opportunity to learn Chinese.

The Chancellor George Osborne is also on a visit to the country to promote investment in the UK.

China buys up Britain as politics takes a back seat

For example, Beijing’s state sovereign wealth fund, CIC, has used part of its £300 billion in assets to snap up 8.7 per cent of Thames Water. That is on top of its 10 per cent stake in Heathrow. If a new airport materialises in the Thames Estuary, Chinese investment will certainly be sought – not to mention for HS2, wind farms and a new sewer network for London.

MG Rover, Manganese Bronze (the black-cab maker) and the company that produces Weetabix are among other investments in the Chinese portfolio – though a bid for United Biscuits, home to Jaffa Cakes and McVitie’s digestives, failed. Wanda, the firm behind the Nine Elms project (which has annual revenues of £15 billion), has also purchased Sunseeker, the UK’s leading luxury yacht-maker. Its chairman, Wang Jianlin, celebrated on a stage shaped like a boat with a troupe of dancers in glittering dresses behind him. “We wanted to buy 30 Sunseeker yachts because we are planning to build three marinas here in China,” he explained. “So then we thought it would be a better deal if we just bought the company.”

In all, some 500 Chinese companies have invested in Britain, not counting certain long-standing Hong Kong firms that have been here since before the hand-over. The Chinese see Britain as being on a growth path, and value the legal standards here as well as the openness of our economy. Mr Osborne, keen to take advantage of this, has laid out plans for London to become the international centre for trading in the Chinese currency, the renminbi.

There are other explanations for China’s interest, of course. Some companies hemmed in by fierce competition and price controls at home think they can enjoy bigger profit margins by investing abroad. Others want to acquire technology, management and marketing expertise. For property firms, Britain is something of a bargain compared with the soaring price of land in big cities on the Chinese mainland – right now, according to Wanda, London is cheaper than Beijing.

Yet this week’s back-slapping cannot hide some more fundamental issues. For example, it is clear who is in the driving seat of the British-Chinese relationship: this current entente follows Beijing’s decision to remove Britain from the 18 months of purdah imposed after David Cameron and Nick Clegg met the Dalai Lama. However much Messrs Osborne and Johnson talk of China valuing Britain, the power is tilted very much Beijing’s way. And the exclusive focus on economics gives the impression that Britain has, in effect, given up seeking a meaningful political relationship with a regime that is going to play a growing global role. The Chinese have been allowed to set the parameters on the level of concern they will allow Britain, along with other foreign powers, to express about their human rights record, Tibet or other sensitive matters.

There also the question of how far we should let certain Chinese investments go. National security concerns have impeded the expansion of the telecommunications giant Huawei, given constant allegations – especially in the US – that it is connected with the Chinese military (which the company stoutly denies). And would involvement in nuclear power be a step too far? Also, how large a stake should state enterprises from the People’s Republic be allowed to build up in our key industrial sectors?

Then there is the issue of reciprocity. Having an open market is good for the inward investment Britain needs – but China, with its 1.3 billion population and relatively underdeveloped market, offers a huge opportunity for our businesses to invest in turn. Yet managers of British and other Western firms report increasing difficulty in operating freely, and recent crackdowns over alleged corruption have mainly targeted foreign enterprises.

Our politicians should not simply be relieved to be out of Beijing’s doghouse, as they welcome the rush of Chinese money. During their trip, the Chancellor and the Mayor need to press for British companies to have the kind of freedom to operate and expand in China that Chinese companies enjoy here. They must make clear that this relationship has to be a two-way street – if it is not already too late.

Jonathan Fenby is the author of 'Tiger Head, Snake Tails: China Today, How it Got There and Where it is Heading’ and 'The Penguin History of Modern China’