A CONFERENCE yesterday aimed at boosting links between China and the local area is expected to bring millions of pounds and new jobs into the Dorset economy.

Organiser Professor Richard Li-Hua, founder of China Embracing Innovation Theory, said the focus was on encouraging Chinese investment into the area.

"It was a great event and a platform to build on in future," he said.

Bournemouth West MP Conor Burns, who opened the event at the Hilton Hotel, said: "It was good to see a range of local, national and international businesses at this welcome event, which shows that Bournemouth, Poole and Christchurch are open to business and a good place to invest."

Referring to Brexit he added: "We are not turning our backs on the world but reaching out to old friends and seeking to make new ones."

Bill Cotton, executive director for environment and economy at Bournemouth council, said speakers including AFC Bournemouth chairman Jeff Mostyn and Bournemouth MPs Conor Burns and Tobias Ellwood were seeking to “showcase” the borough to Chinese investors.

"This is about helping businesses gain a better understanding of the opportunities available for those seeking Chinese investment," said Mr Cotton.

"We want to be outward facing, recognising the huge potential in the Chinese market.

"Chinese investors are very serious about places like Bournemouth, near to London. We have natural advantages and are seen as a beautiful, safe part of the UK."

In particular, Mr Cotton said, Chinese investors have expressed interest in the borough's booming creative and digital industries, in areas such as animation and virtual reality, as well as in more established sectors such as financial services.

"Only about 40 years ago China was basically a third world country, it is now the second biggest economy in the world with an impressive level of investment in infrastructure," he said. "Hopefully as a result of these links we will see our existing businesses expanding with access to Chinese markets, employing more people and increasing spending in the town."

Mr Cotton said the borough also wants to attract more tourists from China.

The China: Embracing Innovation Conference was supported by the council, Dorset Chamber of Commerce and Industry and firms including Poole accountants PFK Francis Clark, Bournemouth marketing agency Digital Storm and Amot.

Speakers included Roger Zhang of construction firm Huafa Group, Jamie Shaw of the China Britain Business Council, Tim Wang of Outlook China, Professor Yinshan Tang of the Henley Business School and Professor Xudong Gao of Tsinghua University.

Bournemouth council leader John Beesley said event would help the council and businesses to "form new relationships" with the growing superpower, but added "it is not about finding a success story next week".

Also, he said he did not expect Brexit to make much difference to these links.

"In the longer term we can make sure all of us benefit through increased trade," he said. "Certainly, I can say from the conference and the dinner last night, there is a lot of interest in renewing our existing relationships with China as well as forming new ones.

"Whether with or without Brexit that commercial opportunity would continue anyway. It is too early to say whether it makes it better or not."