WAR IN THE BALKANS: Trade: Businesses fear the fall-out

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The Independent Online
IN HER shop full of Ming vases and antique opium beds, Suzanna Murray has spent the past few days anxiously watching events in China.

Running her own import and sales business specialising in Chinese artefacts, she is one of many British business people fearing fall-out from the Nato bombing of the Chinese embassy.

"It's just so awful. I just hope that they will be forgiving," said Ms Murray, 28, recently returned to her shop in Fulham, west London, from a five-week buying trip to China. "My work is based on personal contact and trust so I just hope things will be OK."

Most Peking-watchers believe trade will not be adversely affected. But the concerns of people such as Ms Murray underline the way in which events in the Balkans can have wider and unexpected repercussions.

China is one of the world's biggest potential markets and also one of its leading foreign investors. Transformed over the past decade from a managed economy with limited exports, China is now a producer of goods ranging from clothes to office machinery.

Last year British exports to China were worth almost pounds 870m while the value of goods imported from China totalled pounds 2,960m, compared with 1991 when the figures were pounds 322m and pounds 707m respectively.

"The economy in China has grown at an extremely fast rate and we are looking for it to open up even more," said Peter Nightingale, chief executive of the China British Business Council, a body set up to help British companies operating in China. "Britain is the largest European investor in China."

Professor David Wall, head of the Asia programme at the Royal Institute of International Affairs, believes Peking will blame the United States more than Britain. "The reaction from senior military people I have spoken to in China is that Britain is just America's poodle," he said.