Hounded by Brexit rows at home, British Prime Minister Theresa May yesterday met Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) to seek deeper trade ties after Britain leaves the EU.
May began her trip with plans to announce ￡9 billion (US$12.7 billion) in business deals, an agreement to end a ban on British beef and promises to seek more trade opportunities, but criticism in London over her domestic agenda and her handling of Britain’s contentious divorce with the EU loomed large, prompting her to declare she was “not a quitter” before her arrival.
May held talks with Xi at the Diaoyutai State Guest House after visiting an agricultural sciences academy, but there were no immediate details of their meeting.
The BBC reported that May, who was expected to raise environmental concerns, would present Xi with a box set of the network’s Blue Planet II series, with a personal message from presenter David Attenborough.
Brexit crept into her talks with Chinese Premier Li Keqiang (李克強) on Wednesday, though her Chinese counterpart reassured her that their “golden era” of relations would not be affected by London’s EU departure.
“As a trade and strategic partner of both Britain and the EU, China certainly hopes that the result [of Brexit] will be good for both sides,” said Cui Hongjian (崔洪建), director of the European studies department at the China Institute of International Studies. “If it comes to a double-lose result, that will be also unfavorable to China.”
China worries that Britain’s EU exit would remove a pro-free-trade force from the bloc and give rise to protectionism, he said.
Wooing China is part of London’s broader strategy to seek deeper trade ties with nations beyond Europe’s borders after Britain leaves the EU next year.
Britain runs a ￡25.4 billion trade deficit with the Asian giant and only 3.1 percent of British exports go to the nation, IHS Markit Asia-Pacific chief economist Rajiv Biswas said.
“A key focus for PM May’s visit will need to be on how to improve market access for UK exports of goods and services into the Chinese market,” Biswas said.
May on Wednesday said that the two nations had agreed new measures to improve such access, including lifting a ban on British beef exports to China within six months.
She also cautiously welcomed China’s Belt and Road Initiative, a massive infrastructure project aimed at reviving ancient Silk Road trade routes, but she stressed that the two nations would continue to work together to ensure that the endeavor “meets international standards.”
The British prime minister was also under pressure to address the political situation in Hong Kong and human rights abuses in mainland China, but she had yet to make public statements about either matter during her visit, which ends in Shanghai today.
Before her trip former British governor of Hong Kong Chris Patten sent a letter to Downing Street saying the territory was facing “increasing threats to the basic freedoms, human rights and autonomy.”
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