Make and Benoy join Cameron in China
Trip controversy as artist Ai Weiwei speaks out over human rights
Make, Arup and Benoy were among the firms chasing work on this week’s high-profile business trip to China spearheaded by prime minister David Cameron.
The trio were the only companies from the construction industry to have made the 10-hour flight from the UK, although John Whittaker, chair of £5.5 billion Liverpool Waters developer Peel Holdings, was also at the event.
Also in the delegation was Alan Penn, dean of the Bartlett school of architecture, which has signed an agreement with Changsha-Zhuzhou-Xiangtan City Cluster and Central South University Business School, both in the country’s Hunan province, to foster exchange of expertise in city masterplanning.
Make opened up an office in Shanghai four years ago but founder Ken Shuttleworth said the practice, which recently had to shed staff after a project in Saudi Arabia was cancelled, was looking for more work there.
“There’s a huge appetite for British design in China,” he added. “It’s a great marketplace. This trip is about opening doors and finding relationships.”
Shuttleworth said Make had “no problems at all” with being paid by Chinese clients, in contrast to the Middle East where it recently lost £1 million because of bad debt.
Benoy chair Graham Cartledge said China would account for more than half of its company revenue in 2010, which is expected to be about £27 million.
He said: “From no projects in China just nine years ago, this year China will contribute 53% of our global turnover. UK creative companies cannot underestimate the opportunities of the China market.”
The firm has recently won three schemes, including the mixed-use Tongzhou Centre in Beijing, which includes office and hotel space, and a Raffles City complex in Shenzhen, southern China, which will feature office, residential, hotel and retail space.
According to UK Trade & Investment, goods exports from the UK to China rose 44% to £4.5 billion in the first eight months of this year.
But the prime minister’s trip was thrown into controversy after Chinese dissident artist Ai Weiwei said on Tuesday that westerners working in China who did not speak out about the country’s human rights record were “committing some kind of crime”.
The co-designer of the Bird’s Nest Stadium, who was released from house arrest at the weekend, told Radio 4’s Today programme: “Many people are under house arrest during this prime minister’s visit. We are dealing with a country that has sacrificed a lot of human rights just for the growth of business, and anybody who is dealing with China in business has an obligation to emphasise that, otherwise they are committing some kind of crime.”
Cameron promised to raise human rights but said he would not “hector” Chinese leaders.