Chinese premier's visit awakens bitter memories

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The Independent Online
THE CHINESE PREMIER, Zhu Ronji, arrives in London today with British business leaders lobbying furiously to win access to the most populous market in the world.

Royal & Sun Alliance hopes to become the first UK insurer to gain approval to operate in China, while Burmah Castrol yesterday announced new plans for expansion in the region.

But not everyone thinks China is the land of opportunity. It is also one of danger, according to Richard Gosling, a London-based entrepreneur. He invested millions of pounds only to find himself cheated out of money and legal judgements ignored.

He told The Independent yesterday: "When I first became involved I thought I was dealing with a normal commercial environment. By the end it was like a James Bond movie with car chases and people following me on foot round London."

That was not his view 10 years ago. Then Mr Gosling's Zoneheath Associates was looking for a low-cost facility to produce printed circuit boards for a new generation of car alarms.

Mr Gosling had potential contracts for equipment from Selmar Alarms when he was introduced to Zhai Zhi Ming, a representative from China Tianjin International Economic and Technical Co-operative Corp (CTIETCC).

This Chinese company is the 14th-largest state-owned corporation in China and its senior management were all government officials. It had London offices in the commercial office of the Chinese embassy.

Mr Gosling was invited to Tianjin where he was feted by the local major. Zoneheath signed a joint venture agreement with CTIETCC and immediately invested pounds 250,000 to help re-equip one of CTIETCC's factories for producing circuit boards.Zoneheath also entered into a second deal to produce footpumps for cars.

But time passed and no circuit boards materialised. A consignment of footpumps arrived four months after they were supposed to. Their quality made them unsaleable.

Alarmed at the lack of progress, Mr Gosling told CTIETCC he wanted to come over to Tianjin and discuss the issue. but was told such a visit was inappropriate. After further stalling Mr Gosling realised he had been "shafted". He asked the British Foreign Office for help and was told by Richard Needham, the then trade minister, that he would raise the issue on a forthcoming visit. He didn't.

In exasperation Mr Gosling started High Court proceedings against the Chinese for breach of contract. In January 1992 he won his case and by September had compensation, costs with interest awarded in his favour.

But the judgment was ignored and Mr Gosling found himself being forced to hire lawyers in the UK and Far East in a bid to seize CTIETCC's assets.

Gosling visited Beijing for further talks with CTIETCC. He was warned by the British embassy there not to leave his hotel alone. Mr Gosling returned to London with only promises.

The picture only began to change when Wilde Sapte, the law firm, obtained a winding up order against CTIETCC assets in Hong Kong. CTIETCC officials told Mr Gosling they were prepared to pay up.

By September 1995, Mr Gosling had obtained enough compensation to cover the costs of hiring lawyers. But his struggle has left him feeling outraged.

He said last night: "CTIETCC officials were not governed by any legal, moral or commercial considerations. They were above the law and this has not changed."