The North of England is reaping the rewards of its ever-stronger ties with China, according to research released today.

Driven by two years of direct flights between Manchester Airport and Beijing, levels of growth in trade, tourism and knowledge exchange between the North and the Far East are outstripping national averages.

Chinese companies are increasing their investments in the North of England, furthering a trend sparked by President Xi Jinping’s historic visit to Manchester nearly three years ago.

This “golden era” of relations between the North and China was revealed in an independent study launched at the British Embassy in Beijing this morning by Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham.

The study “The China Dividend: Two Years In” has tracked the economic, social and cultural benefits that have been felt across the North in the two years since direct flights began.

The study shows there has been a 38% increase in the number of Chinese visitors to the North since 2016 – a growth rate higher than both London and the UK average (30%). The Manchester-Beijing route has grown faster than any other UK-China route that has been in operation for more than 12 months.

The number of Chinese students in Greater Manchester has grown 9% in two years, compared to national growth of 4%, and there has been a 114% increase in Northern students gaining Chinese internships, with more than 70% from low income backgrounds.

Export values from Manchester Airport to China grew 41% to £1.29bn in the two years after route launch, while national values fell 30%.

“Greater Manchester has an ambition to sit at the heart of a productive, culturally rich and internationally competitive Northern economy,” said Mr Burnham, who launched the report ahead of participating in the World Economic Forum in Tianjin, where he was due to meet with global leaders and speak on a range of subjects including smart cities, healthcare and green manufacturing.

“To do that, it is vital the North has strong connections with high-growth markets like China, which we have been working hard to develop over the past five years.

“Central to our ambition are direct air links, and the China Dividend study demonstrates that good connectivity is not just about getting people and products from A to B, but the wider impacts that they have on so many aspects of peoples’ lives at both ends of the route.

“All parts of the North are benefitting from the economic, social and cultural connections that have forged as a result of the region’s first ever direct service to mainland China launching two years ago.

“We’ve really seen the success of the first route to China from Manchester Airport, so we hope to see more being added in the future.”

President Xi announced the Manchester-Beijing route, with Hainan Airlines, during his state visit to the UK in October 2015, with the service starting in June 2016.

The China Dividend report has shown that, in the second full year of its operation, the positive impacts associated with the route have become more pronounced and more widespread – benefitting more people and businesses and spreading to new parts of the North.

“UK-China bilateral trade links have never been stronger,” said Her Majesty’s Trade Commissioner for China, Richard Burn.

“In 2017 UK-China bilateral trade expanded by 15.1% to reach a record £67.5bn, whilst UK exports of goods and services to China grew by 28.5%. This report demonstrates the clear benefits of direct UK-China linkages for facilitating flows of trade, investment and people between our two countries.

“I’m delighted to see Manchester and the surrounding region benefit so much from this flight connection to Beijing.”

The China Dividend report predicts rapid growth in demand for travel to the UK, as the Chinese economy continues to expand.

“This is important research because it demonstrates the power of direct connectivity to fast-growing economies like China,” said Manchester Airport CEO Andrew Cowan.

“While people could always travel to China by transferring at other airports, we were clear in our minds that securing a non-stop service would unlock a wide range of benefits for our city and the wider North.

“SDG’s study shows that this has proven to be the case, with the route serving as a catalyst for significant increases in trade and investment, tourism and academic collaboration.

“We are committed to driving growth across the North by connecting it to the world’s most important markets, and we are confident of securing links to other high value economies in the months and years ahead.”

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