BA’s chief executive Alex Cruz has urged the UK government to ease visa restrictions for visiting Chinese travellers, as the airline unveiled a new codeshare agreement with China Southern Airlines.

Cruz said that the deal – which sees BA customers now able to book seats on China Southern Airlines flights to Shentang, Harbin, Changchun and Dalian – will “help to drive tourism and economic and cultural exchange between the UK and China, by facilitating reciprocal leisure and business travel”.

But BA’s boss warned that the government needed “to take urgent action on its visa policy by making it easier for Chinese businesses and tourists to come to the UK”.

“China is the world’s second largest economy and we need to do all we can to encourage these trade links. This is even more critical post Brexit,” said Cruz. “We want to achieve our vision of becoming the most popular European airline among Chinese customers. Today’s agreement will help us build toward that vision and it is great news for us to be able to offer all our customers the chance to travel to new destinations.”

The codeshare means BA customers can now connect onto China Southern Airlines flights to Shenyang and Harbin through Shanghai, to Dalian through Beijing, and to Changchun through either Shanghai or Beijing.

In return China Southern Airlines customers will be able to book tickets on BA flights connecting through Heathrow to Edinburgh, Glasgow, Manchester, Newcastle and Belfast.

Executive Club members can also now earn Avios when booking on China Southern Airlines flights with a BA code.

British Airways recently added five Mandarin-speaking customer service staff at Heathrow T5, and earlier this year the carrier made a number of changes to the in-flight service on its routes to and from China and Hong Kong.