Vince Cable is calling for more UK exchange students to visit China as part of a fresh bid to boost links with the nation.
The Business Secretary said he wants businesses to support a British Council programme which aims to see around 80,000 UK students take part in study or work experience programmes in China by 2020.
Last year just 5,400 UK students spent time studying in the country, while around 100,0000 mainland Chinese students come to the UK each year, according to Government figures.
Mr Cable's call came as he visited Sun Yat Sen University in Guangzhou.
"The global centre of gravity is shifting eastwards to major economic powerhouses like China," he said.
"But while China sends around 100,000 students each year to the UK, we send little more than 5,000 in the opposite direction - and that's two thirds more than we sent in 2010."
Mr Cable added: "We must raise our game. New independent research shows that a lack of language skills in the UK is costing our economy about £48 billion. The shortage of Mandarin speakers is part of the problem. I don't want young British people to get left behind.
"So today I've written to a range of leading UK businesses urging them to get behind the British Council's Generation UK campaign, which aims to increase the number of UK people studying or undertaking internships in China to 80,000 by 2020."
Carma Elliot, director of the British Council in China, said: " Generation UK creates incredible opportunities and access for young people in the UK to experience life in China's rapidly growing economy. By coming to China to work or study, UK students develop a global mindset and gain international experience and skills that will enable them to thrive in a globally competitive labour market."
Mr Cable also said that Sun Yat Sen University had signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the universities of Warwick and Glasgow to offer student exchanges.