Despite the economic slump, mainland information technology and financial services companies are pushing ahead with key investments in Britain, with an eye to accelerating their expansion across Europe, British trade officials said. Initiatives from Huawei Technologies, Alibaba.com, China Central Television, China Mobile, Crystal Digital Technology, China Construction Bank Corp and China Merchants Bank were just the cream of 59 new mainland projects in Britain in the past financial year to March, the UK Trade & Investment said yesterday. Britain's international business development and promotion group ranked China as the eighth-largest source of foreign direct investment during a strong year in which Britain saw a record 1,742 new projects from 53 countries, up 11 per cent from the previous financial year. 'China remains a significant investor in Britain despite the challenging economic climate,' said Tony Collingridge, the head of the Asia-Pacific team at UK Trade & Investment. 'Mainland firms see Britain as a gateway to international connections, including a huge market of 455 million consumers in Europe, and a centre of world-class creativity, innovation and research and development.' More than 400 mainland firms are in Britain, where about 85 have set up shop since April 2007. Total mainland investment figures were not provided, but Mr Collingridge said technology and financial services firms had stepped up their expansion and research and development programmes. 'Huawei grew its British business further through the addition of a marketing operation. It also forged research and development partnerships with four British universities,' Mr Collingridge said. Hangzhou-based Alibaba.com, the world's leading business-to-business e-commerce company, has set up its European headquarters in London. Crystal Digital, one of the mainland's largest computer graphics firms and the producer of the 3G imagery and animation used for Beijing's 2008 Olympics bid, also chose London as its launch pad for expanding across the continent. 'We expect mainland companies to increasingly look at merger and acquisition opportunities over the next 12 months,' Mr Collingridge said. There were 130 new foreign financial services projects in Britain during the financial year, of which 18 were credited to mainland firms. CCB's decision to set up a London subsidiary, which opened on June 1, was the biggest of those new mainland projects, he noted. It was the third wholly owned international subsidiary and the first in Europe for CCB, the world's second-largest bank by market capitalisation. 'CCB's decision to expand their presence in London sends a strong signal to the world's financial institutions, showing London remains the world's leading financial and business centre with easy access into Europe,' said chief executive Michael Charlton of Think London, the official foreign direct investment agency. Mr Charlton said the British capital was already 'the largest recipient of Chinese foreign direct investment of any city in Europe'.