City sets out its stall in China: British mission aims to catch up on US

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A 30-STRONG delegation of British bankers, insurers, fund managers, lawyers and accountants leaves for China today in an attempt to drum up business for the City from the opening of the country's economy.

Led by Lord Alexander of Weedon, chairman of National Westminster Bank, the British Invisibles mission will visit Peking, Shanghai and Shenzhen.

At today's opening seminar in Peking, Lord Alexander will stress the importance of the City not only as the financial centre of Europe but also as a strong rival to Tokyo and New York. He will point out there are more US banks in London than in New York.

The mission is partly a move by British firms to catch up. Many US investment banks and law firms already have offices in the country. Chinese companies are listed on US stock exchanges as well as the Hong Kong exchange.

Robin Fox, vice-chairman of Kleinwort Benson, who is on the mission, said: 'An enormous number of Chinese companies will be looking for capital and will need to spread the demand across a number of centres. We hope it will be possible for them to list soon in London.'

The London Stock Exchange has been on two missions to China this year and has signed a memorandum of understanding with the Shanghai stock exchange.

Mr Fox also pointed to the burgeoning investment management industry.

'There is a tremendous job to do to channel the savings of the Chinese people in a controlled way,' he said. 'We hope foreign firms will be able to participate.'

Lord Alexander said that despite differences between Britain and China over Hong Kong there were many areas of common ground, including British support for China's application to become a founder member of the World Trade Organisation.