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Mayor 'not clear' on visa change
Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne addresses staff and students at Peking University in Beijing
Boris Johnson has voiced doubts over George Osborne's plans to relax visa rules for Chinese visitors to Britain but said he broadly welcomed the progress being made.
The Chancellor had announced a change to the rules which meant Chinese visitors would now be able to apply for a UK visa by filling out a form that would in the past have got them into 26 European countries under the Schengen agreement, but not the UK.
But the Mayor of London, who is leading a trade delegation to China at the same time as Mr Osborne, said it was not clear whether Chinese visitors would still need to fill out the Schengen form and the UK form.
He told BBC Radio 4's World at One: "We will have to see how this scheme actually works. The detail is a little bit unclear to us at the moment.
"I'm initially obviously very supportive and would hope that it will make sure that we are able to get large numbers of Chinese students, of tourists, people who are going to bring who are going to bring income to our city.
"It's not clear that it's a single form either because there seems to be two forms but at least they are moving, at least they are showing signs of progress and that's what I want to see as well."
Mr Johnson did not voice his concerns during a speech at Beijing's Peking University this morning when he shared a platform with the Chancellor, hours after the changes to visa rules were announced.
After the speech they were all smiles as Mr Osborne described the pair as being like "the yin and the yang", while Mr Johnson said they were like "a pair of harmonious doves".
But the Mayor's comments will raise further questions over the timing of the Chancellor's visit - revealed after Mr Johnson's plans.
During a speech at the university, the Chancellor urged the West not to harbour "outdated" and "nervous" attitudes about China as he announced the changes to visa rules.
Mr Osborne later stressed the need for a better understanding of China to harness the potential economic benefits of trade with the country, telling BBC Radio 4's Today programme that Britons sometimes see it as "a sweatshop on the Pearl River".
Home Secretary Theresa May, who has led a crackdown on "bogus" student visas, said Britain would continue to make improvements to the visa system to allow more Chinese visitors into the country.
And Mr Johnson stressed the changes did not amount to a slackening of the border but merely created a more sensible system to smooth the passage for those who "have a lot to contribute".
The Mayor was in a jovial mood at the university where he concluded that fictional British wizard Harry Potter's first kiss with Chinese Hogwarts student Cho Chang illustrated the future for London and the UK.
Drawing laughs from the crowd of Chinese students, he said: "Who according to JK Rowling, the author of the Harry Potter novels, was Harry Potter's first girlfriend? Who is the first person he kisses? That's right, Cho Chang - who is a Chinese overseas student at Hogwarts school.
"Ladies and gents I rest my case. I don't think I need to argue any further, that is the future of Britain and of London."
The CBI and British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) all welcomed the changes to visa rules.
Meanwhile, Mr Osborne broke the trade missions' silence on China's human rights record, which Mr Johnson has refused to be drawn upon.
Their visits, with separate delegations, come at a time of thawing relations following a diplomatic freeze over David Cameron meeting Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama last year.
The Mayor has repeatedly refused to be drawn into the debate on human rights, insisting he "doesn't run foreign policy", but Mr Osborne told the Today programme that China was "tackling its own problems" in the "way it thinks is appropriate" and spoke of the need to respect the country's ancient civilisation and way of doing things.
Amnesty International described the pair's attitude to China's human rights record on their visits as "disappointing".
Allan Hogarth, of Amnesty UK, said: "We are very concerned about continued use of the death penalty in China, police torture and harassment of human rights and political activists and minority groups, and restrictions on freedom of expression."
He added: "(Addressing human rights violations) is the role of government, this is about diplomacy. This is why you have the UN and the Human Rights Council. It should not be seen as optional.
"It is something governments are obligated to do."
Labour immigration spokesman David Hanson said Mr Osborne's announcement betrayed "chaos and confusion at the heart of the Government's immigration policy".
Mr Hanson said: "Chinese tourists, business investors and university students - who could bring billions of pounds into Britain - have been put off by long visa delays, Home Office incompetence and Theresa May's net migration target.
"The Treasury and BIS clearly want a faster process for Chinese visitors who will invest in Britain. However, under Theresa May, visa delays for business travellers and investors have doubled. There can be no confidence that this streamlined process will be delivered.
"While George Osborne and Boris Johnson say they want want more Chinese university students, Theresa May is still trying to reduce the number of Chinese students, as they are included in her target to cut net migration.
"Until this confusion is sorted out, delays, incompetence and mixed messages will undermine all George Osborne's claims about Chinese investment."