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Britain to ease China visa restrictions

Britain's Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osbourne, speaks during a Conference in Manchester, north-west England on September 30, 2013
Britain's Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osbourne, speaks during a Conference in Manchester, north-west England on September 30, 2013

Britain is to make it easier for Chinese nationals to obtain visas in an effort to boost business between the two countries, finance minister George Osborne announced.

Osborne, who is in China leading a British trade delegation, promised the new measures would help the tens of thousands of Chinese visitors hoping to visit Britain.

"Have announced new measures to simplify + speed up visa applications for visitors from #China," the chancellor of the exchequer wrote on his official Twitter account.

"Good for tourism and British business," Osborne said.

Under the proposals, Chinese tourists visiting the European Union using selected travel agencies will no longer have to file a separate application to visit Britain, which is not part of the EU's "Schengen Area" for border-free travel.

Business people will also be able to apply for a "super-priority" visa, which will be processed within 24 hours rather than a week.

Chinese tourists shop at Harrods department store in London, on December 10, 2012
Chinese tourists shop at Harrods department store in London, on December 10, 2012

Osborne also said the government was looking at a nationwide rollout of its "mobile visa service", which is currently being piloted in Beijing and Shanghai.

The service -- aimed at business executives -- enables visa teams to go to applicants' workplaces to collect their forms and biometric data.

Some 210,000 visas were issued to Chinese nationals in 2012, adding around £300 million ($480 million, 250 million euros) to the British economy.

During his visit, Osborne is trying to win over a Chinese government that has rebuffed Britain due to a meeting last year between Prime Minister David Cameron and the Dalai Lama.

In a speech at Peking University on Monday, Osborne said his visit was "the next big step" in UK-Sino relations and insisted "there is no country in the West more open to investment -- especially from China" than Britain.

"There are some in the West who see China growing and they are nervous," he said.

"They think of the world as a cake -- and the bigger the slice that China takes, the smaller the slice that they will get.

"I totally and utterly reject this pessimistic view. If we make the whole cake bigger, then all our peoples will benefit.

"I don't want Britain to resent China's success, I want us to celebrate it. I don't want us to try to resist your economic progress, I want Britain to share in it."

At the weekend a deal between a Chinese construction group and British firms to develop a business district around Manchester airport, Britain's third busiest, was announced.

Meanwhile Energy Secretary Ed Davey said "huge progress" had been made in efforts to secure Chinese and other foreign investment in Britain's power sector, including atomic energy.

"I think it is really possible we will see massive Chinese investment, not just in nuclear but across the board," he said.

Osborne is in China with London mayor Boris Johnson, who welcomed the visa plans.

"You need to get more visas for talented Chinese people to come to the UK," Johnson told the BBC.

"When Chinese tourists come to London classically they spend very considerable sums of money -- it's good news for the city.

"If it doesn't happen it's a missed opportunity and I don't want to see that business going to Paris," he added.

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