Fringe Box



Updated: Inscrutable Progress on Dongying Partnership

Published on: 23 Jan, 2019
Updated on: 24 Jan, 2019

Left Dongying, right Guildford

By Will Parsons

More than a year since signing a controversial partnership deal with Dongying, a city in north-east China, Guildford Borough Council (GBC), the details of progress in the development of the partnership, claimed to benefit Guildford’s economy, are less than clear.

See update below.

The partnership was questioned by Cllr Bob McShee (Independent, Worplesdon) at the Independents’ meeting last week. He said: “Dongying is a major oil town, with a population of between one and two million people, has an airport and a significant industrial area, and is one of the largest producers of tyres in the world. What are the common areas with Guildford?”

Signing the partnership agreement, left James Whiteman, GBC managing director, right Cllr Paul Spooner, standing behind left, Cllr Matt Furniss.

The deal was signed in Dongying by representatives of the Chinese city and GBC in October 2017. In the text of the signed agreement, it was claimed the partnership “signals the intention of Guildford Borough and Dongying City to enhance the understanding and friendship between their places and people”.

The Guildford Dragon NEWS approached GBC in October for comment on how the partnership was being developed and how much it had progressed.

A spokesperson said: “Building on the visits to Dongying and Beijing, we are exploring how we can deliver economic benefits from the relationship and capitalise on contacts made from the visit to identify opportunities for both inward investment and export that would benefit not only the local economy but also the wider economic area.

“Sectors of focus include oil and gas (where both historically and currently Guildford and Woking still have a number of companies operating in international markets), agricultural technologies and creative industries including gaming, China being one of the most important markets for the sales of video games in the world.”

The Dongying agreement

But when asked by The Dragon to specify how these objectives will be met, for instance, how GBC is identifying opportunities for investment, or whether any contact has been made with local businesses in the focus sectors, GBC refused to comment, referring to the statement above.

The spokesperson said: “There are no staff dedicated to the partnership, but staff would be involved as part of their normal roles (eg economic development and policy and partnerships).”

But there are no plans to visit Dongying a second time, the spokesperson added, refusing to say how GBC would be able to fully ascertain the business opportunities on offer in Dongying without another visit.

The spokesperson also claimed the partnership was being used to “promote tourism”, but would not reveal how.

Development of the partnership would presumably require some budgeted expenditure for relevant activities, such as promotional material for tourism or planning of visits by Chinese delegations. But GBC would not say how much public money was being spent on developing the partnership.

Council Leader Paul Spooner (Con, South Ash & Tongham) has himself avoided divulging details about the Dongying partnership. Asked about it by Cllr McShee at the council meeting on October 9 last year, Cllr Spooner echoed the statement above and referred Cllr McShee to a report on the partnership from October 2017.

Cllr Spooner also mentioned work by the University of Surrey to cement a partnership with Jiangnan University, which is unrelated to the partnership deal in question and with a university more than 400 miles south of Dongying.

Cllr McShee said: “At [the] council meeting I had asked the leader of the council why Guildford chose to partner Dongying, an industrial city, on an oilfield and a producer of rubber tyres, and part of his answer was that GBC  ‘will continue to support the University of Surrey in forging new relationships’.

“I was expecting to hear about the benefits for Guildford from the partnership and was surprised to learn about the possible opening of a trade office in Guildford.  I wonder where it will be?

“I will continue to monitor the partnership and look forward to Cllr Spooner’s further reports.”

UPDATE: SCC Chairman Meets Chinese Ambassador

Today (January 24, 2019) Surrey County Council reported that chairman Tony Samuels (Con, Walton South and Oatlands) has discussed future investment in the county with China’s ambassador to the United Kingdom.

Surrey County Council Chairman Tony Samuels with China’s ambassador to the UK, Liu Xiaoming

Cllr Samuels said: “I had the privilege of meeting Ambassador Liu Xiaoming at a Guildhall (London) reception recently. I commented that there were no multi-national Chinese companies in Surrey. He investigated further and subsequently invited me to meet with him at their embassy, where I spent an hour in discussion.

“It’s obviously very early days but this was an encouraging meeting and hopefully it will be the start of something special for both Surrey and China.”

Share This Post

Leave a Comment

Please see our comments policy. All comments are moderated and may take time to appear.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *