Stansted is seeking to secure a direct air link to China in conjunction with local business leaders and politicians in the east of England.

The newly-formed East of England-China Forum will be open to all companies and organisations wanting to strengthen ties between the region and China.

A similar coalition has already proved successful in Manchester, where a partnership between Manchester airport, local government, tourism agencies, universities and the business community helped to secure direct links to Hong Kong and Beijing in 2014 and 2016 respectively.

The Beijing route alone helped exports from the north of England to China increase by 260% to £200 million a month while Chinese visitors to the north increased by more than 50%.

Ken O’Toole, chief executive of Manchester Airports Group-owned Stansted, said: “As China becomes an increasingly important force in 21st century global trade, it is of paramount importance that the east of England, plus north and east London, has in place a clear strategy that allows it to nurture long-term economic ties with the country.

“In the next few years China is expected to overtake the USA to become the biggest aviation market in the world and together with a relaxation of visa and flight restrictions for Chinese visitors, now is the time for the region to come together to secure new direct links between our region and China.

“We know there is significant demand for Chinese destinations and are confident we can secure new links over the next years but it is crucial we build a strong coalition of businesses, universities, tourism agencies and local government to demonstrate the size of the opportunity to airlines.”