George Osborne aims to make China Britain's second largest trading partner


George Osborne has announced his goal of making China Britain's second largest trading partner by the end of the decade.

The Chancellor set out his ambitious target as he became the first UK minister to visit the remote Xinjiang province - an area the size of western Europe in the country's north west, five hours' flight from Beijing.

As he arrived, the Chancellor came under pressure from human rights groups to use the sensitive trip to raise concerns about the treatment of the Muslim Uighur minority in Xinjiang, who have been subjected to what Amnesty International describes as "heavy-handed" security measures since an outbreak of unrest in 2009.

Britain's exports to China have increased fivefold since 2003 and the country has risen from ninth to sixth place in the global table of destinations for UK goods and services.

But Mr Osborne said the UK must "raise its game" and increase exports from £25 billion to £30 billion by 2030 to make China its second largest market behind the US.

Treasury officials acknowledged the target - part of a Government drive to increase total UK exports to £1 trillion a year - was ambitious, but said it chimed with China's position as the world's second largest economy in GDP terms.

Mr Osborne hopes British firms can secure contracts in cities like Urumqi, which are off the beaten track but are set for an explosion of development because they lie on the route of the "new Silk Road" linking China by rail and road with Europe.

He launched a report by the China-Britain Business Council and Foreign Office setting out how UK firms can get involved in the initiative, established by President Xi Jinping under the banner "One Belt One Road".

"China's emerging regions, like Xinjiang, hold enormous potential in the years ahead," said the Chancellor. "That's why I wanted to come here today to see this place for myself, and highlight Britain's absolute commitment to support the growth of Urumqi together with the whole of the Xinjiang region."

Amnesty UK director Kate Allen called on the Chancellor to press the Chinese government to end "the widespread discrimination Uighurs face, including in employment, education, housing and the severe restrictions on religious freedom".

She urged Mr Osborne to speak out publicly on the case of Uighur academic Ilham Tohti, who is marking the first anniversary of a life sentence.

"Not doing so would send the signal that the UK is willing to compromise its human rights values," she said.

Mr Osborne insisted he has raised human rights issues privately with his Chinese hosts during his five-day visit, telling the BBC: "Isn't it better to engage and to talk about these things rather than to stand on the sidelines and try and conduct some kind of megaphone diplomacy?

"Of course we're two completely different political systems and we raise human rights issues, but I don't think that is inconsistent with also wanting to do more business with one fifth of the world's population."

Xinjiang-based Hualing Industry and Trade Group used the Chancellor's visit to unveil plans for investment to unlock major property projects with a total value of £1.2 billion in Manchester, Leeds and Sheffield.

The three projects, being led by the UK's Scarborough Group, are expected to create 18,000 jobs and enable the delivery of 10,000 homes as part of the Chancellor's Northern Powerhouse scheme.

Scarborough Group chairman Kevin McCabe said: "As a family business with its roots in the North of England, we are now very proud to bring our partners in China to the UK to invest in our great northern cities and to accelerate the development of our major projects in Manchester, Leeds and Sheffield."