Maybe because they were heading in that direction for the G20 Summit in Seoul, unusually, someone in the Government must have hit upon the bright idea of taking along a fairly large business delegation for a stopover in Beijing. With the G20 conference widely expected beforehand to dissolve into a G2 summit between the world's two largest economies, Britain and America - sorry, a hundred year slip - China and America. With the UK playing a somewhat marginal role at best, this was splendid forward thinking.
Prime Minister, David Cameron and Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne were but two of several senior politicians to accompany a party of British businessmen representing a broad spectrum of UK industry both by location and company size. There were just a couple of minor criticisms by company representatives levelled at the Government's efforts. Firstly, they thought that the expectations expressed by politicians with regard to the number and size of probable orders generated by the meetings in China, given the short time there, were unrealistically high. Secondly, invitations had gone out with insufficient notice for many companies who would have liked to have come but couldn't make arrangements or change their planned schedule. Potential for another visit?
Some in the media had cherished higher expectations of the final outcome to and made known their disappointment, particularly as there appeared to be nothing substantial on the table after the £750 million Rolls Royce order was announced. Others doubted whether the Government's decision to go to Beijing played any part in the signing of the deal at all. Nevertheless, nearly all the business delegates thought that the trip was most worthwhile if only because of the insight it afforded them of doing business in China and what sort of products or services that country wants.
If the ensuing deals after Rolls Royce were not headline grabbing, it was still a solid start with potential long-term benefits. Most agreed that many new contacts had been made with much goodwill shown and it's a part of the world where the presence of senior politicians is able to add just that bit of gravitas. As Jim McColl, an engineer and chairman of Clyde Blowers told Alison Smith of the Financial Times last week: "It was business we were trying to win and when I said I was coming with the Prime Minister, it seemed to speed up the process. The benefit of senior politicians being seen to be supportive of your business is important in China."
Mr McColl secured a £2 million deal for coal injection technology. Another deal, which received much attention in the media last week, was the British pig industry winning a £45 million contract over five years for the export of breeding pigs.
Great news for Scotch Whisky distillers is that the term "Scotch" is recognised as a geographical indicator so the drink must be produced only in Scotland if so advertised and sold. This is likely to be worth several million pounds in additional revenue every year.
Just as important, lessons were learned by the Government delegates who attended meetings between businessmen and the Chinese. Ms Smith reports in the Financial Times on 13 November 2010: "Among those who did take part, there was widespread praise for how keen ministers were to understand what British companies wanted and how much they wanted to help."
The Government and its agencies were also keen to demonstrate that companies need not all be large household names in order to venture into the Chinese market. Many Chinese told politicians, delegates and British reporters that so few British household names were recognised in China. The Chinese recognised many French, Italian, German and Swiss companies but almost no British. Something Mr Cable might like to get his Department on to if Britain is to export its way to recovery.
China is not an easy market to enter and needs much patience, understanding, research and planning - as do the other Far East markets. It's a matter of what they want, not what the British want to sell them. Those already in this market know that and now, after this small beginning through the auspices of the Government, so do more of our politicians and industry and service providers. Let the adventure begin!