First of all can I thank Euromoney for having put on this Business Forum and thank so many of you for coming to listen to me, and I am absolutely delighted to be back in Shanghai again. I came here first in 1988. I don't suppose any of these buildings were here in 1988. Then I came back five years ago, and I have come back today and I have seen another remarkable transformation. It is a quite extraordinary city you have here, and congratulations to everybody who is involved in its development, because I think you are well on your way to being a world class city by 2015.
We fully support that ambition, and I should also say congratulations to Shanghai because they won their bids to host the Special Olympics in 2007, and then Expo in 2010. And the links between UK companies and Shanghai are getting ever closer, and actually between the people as well. When I was with the Mayor, walking along the Bund (phon) just a short time ago, there was a woman journalist who rushed up to me to ask me a question, she finished asking me the question, and I said to her - because I thought she spoke very good English - where did she learn the English. She had just been a Cambridge graduate and was returning to do her viva for her degree tomorrow. And it is an amazing thing to think now that you have more Chinese students coming to the UK than any other country, so the UK is your first destination for students from China, and that is a very important thing as well. And whereas in Shanghai just a few years ago, when I was last here in 1998, so they tell me that the student visas were around about 1,000, in 2002 we issued 5,000. So we are getting bound together in that way as well.
And there are other things that I think we are learning from each other too. Take urban development for example. Some development projects in China, such as the western development strategy, aim to meet the core infrastructure needs, and this is an area where we have got very particular strengths, because our experience in urban regeneration, and in particular in getting public and private sectors to work together, is something that I think we have to offer you by way of expertise here in Shanghai.
Your sister city in the UK, as you know, is Liverpool, which is a wonderful city for many reasons, not least my wife comes from there. And the links between those two cities are important obviously in a cultural sense, but they are also important because we can I think offer some good examples of how urban regeneration can transform a city. Now you are transforming Shanghai obviously in an extraordinary way already, but it is interesting that some of the same principles that we apply in the north west of England, in Liverpool, apply here as well. And we believe our expertise has something to offer you there too.
I was also delighted to see that my colleague, the Deputy Prime Minister, led a mission to China last year with some of the UK's leading building consultants, people who are keen to share their expertise and design and project management with you, and I hope this is just the start. And future visits of this nature will consolidate some of the partnerships that have been created. So I hope increasingly you will look to the UK as your natural partner in helping Shanghai achieve its ambitious development objectives.
There is another area in which we can help, and I have just been discussing this with some of your entrepreneurs and city officials upstairs. The UK is a world leader in the development of public-private partnerships, which involve the public and the private sector working together to provide infrastructure and services. And in the UK, the private financing initiatives have enabled us to develop our infrastructure more cost effectively, more quickly and to a higher quality than otherwise would have been possible. And it is playing a big part now, as I was explaining to your people upstairs, it is playing a big part in allowing us to have major public sector building programmes delivered on budget and on cost, which public sector building projects aren't always.
In addition to all of that, the Shanghai Foreign Investment Development Board set up its first European office in London, and we welcome this, and we also know and recognise that eastern China is a leader in higher technology academic and business expertise, and this again makes the UK your natural partner because our record on innovation and discovery is envied across the world. We have had 44 Nobel Laureates in the last 50 years, and the UK is renowned both for its entrepreneurial spirit and for believing that that entrepreneurial spirit is closely linked to the skills base and research environment. It is no wonder therefore that in figures out just a couple of weeks ago, the UK remains the premier location in Europe for software investments and high value research and development, and this is despite the global pressures on the information and communication industries.
So I hope very much that you see the UK as your central European partner in developing Shanghai. We have got a lot to offer in terms of education and cultural exchange, we have got a lot to offer in terms of urban regeneration, and in our public and private sector partnerships I like to think that we are leading the world in this area.
But I think there are other reasons too why it is important, not just that we develop strong links between the UK and Shanghai, but why we deepen the relationship between Britain and China as a whole. And I think there are key reasons why Britain and China are natural partners for each other. The first reason is that I think we understand as well as anyone that globalisation is having to make our economies more adaptable and more flexible in order to compete, that our economies are having to adjust to constant change, change being driven by competition, change being driven by technology. And you here in China are developing your economy at an extraordinary rate, but it is going to rely on partners who can assist the process of development and who understand the exact nature of the global markets in which we are competing today. The second reason is the emphasis that Britain is putting on science and technology. I think again people don't quite yet appreciate in many parts of the world the absolutely fundamental transforming nature of the scientific innovation and technological advance happening in our world today. And if we don't keep up with those changes, then we very quickly will be left behind. We have an expertise there in this area with a big investment in science, with our university base and our research base strong to help partner China. And then thirdly, I think that you know as well as any other country in the world that as you grow, that growth has got to be done in a sustainable way, in a way compatible with the development of your environment too.
Earlier today I opened a centre dedicated to clean energy research, and I think one thing that will happen as your development proceeds is that there will be an increasing focus, not just on the growth rates, which are very impressive, but also on the sustainability of that growth in a way that is compatible with the environment. Again, I think here is an expertise that we can offer.
And then finally I like to set our relations, not just in a commercial way, but in a political way, in a broader context. Coming to China in these last few days, I have been struck once again just by the sheer enormity of China's advance. My country - Britain - is a small land mass, 60 million people. Here you are in China, 1.3 billion people. China will be the largest economy in the world within the next 20 - 30 years. And yet one of the most interesting aspects of my visit, along with meeting business people, people like yourselves who are successful and doing well, alongside that I met people who are benefiting from a development project in the Gangzu Province in the west of China. And these people had taken 2 days to travel to Beijing, and it was the first time that they had ever been to Beijing, and these people are part of China too. And your one China policy is a way of trying to make China develop in a way that is not just commercially successful for people here in Shanghai, but which then allows that wealth to spread throughout the entirety of the country, to reach even those parts of China that are poor and under-developed. Here again, I think that we can help by offering some of our experience, not just in how we have tried to develop our own country, but as a leading player in Europe that is now part of the European Union, next year set to become 25 countries. Some of those countries were a few years ago far, far behind the rates of development in the wealthier parts of Europe. Yet I know that in years to come, all of Europe will share in the prosperity of the European Union. It is one important reason why my country should be part of Europe.
And I think here in China your challenge is of course economic, and that is a challenge you are meeting with growth rates and development far beyond the dreams of the developed world in terms of percentage increase. Your challenge is economic, but it is not only economic, your challenge is also to spread that wealth right throughout the country, to lift the standards of living even of the poorer parts so that in time they too are generating wealth and development. And I think that is the truly remarkable thing about China today. It is not simply your economic growth, it is not simply the marvellous development of the Bund and Shanghai, which every year sees enormous change, it is the fact that you are trying to do that within a country of many different traditions and many different cultures, but a country you want to keep unified as one China so that everybody in the end can participate in the wealth that you create. I think that is a fine and noble ideal to aspire to, and I would like to think in the years to come, that as well as helping you with these very practical measures of development, whether in science or in urban regeneration, or in public/private partnerships, we can help also, as your partner in Europe, explain to the world why China is more than just a remarkable achievement in economic growth, it is also a remarkable achievement as a country to be raising the standard of living of its people and insisting that no matter how wealthy one part of China is, all parts of China must benefit from the wealth created. That is a fine ideal, it is one we fully support.
And coming here to Shanghai, I want to say to you first of all how delighted I have been to see the enormous progress in this city; but secondly to express my profound admiration for what you are doing here, not just in Shanghai, but throughout the whole of China to bring progress and wealth to all your people.