ritish Prime Minister Theresa May made an official visit to China from January 31, 2017 to February 2, 2018, during which the two countries agreed to strengthen the “golden era” of Sino-British relations.
At a meeting with May at the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse in Beijing on February 1, Chinese President Xi Jinping said that his 2015 state visit to Britain had opened a “golden era” in the bilateral relationship, and that China hopes to keep and strengthen this relationship with Britain “when peace, development, cooperation and win-win results have become the mainstream of the times.”
May echoed Xi, saying that Britain shares similar viewpoints with China on many global issues and appreciates China’s important role in international affairs. She said that the UK supports free trade and wishes to cooperate with China on its Belt and Road Initiative.
In the wake of the Brexit vote, May’s visit is believed to be of strong significance to broaden cooperation and partnerships with China. The UK wishes to become a major partner of China beyond the EU, analysts said.
“The UK and China are both global powers with a global outlook and… as Britain leaves the EU and becomes ever more outward-looking, and as China continues to reform and open up, we are committed to deepening our strong and vital partnership,” May said during a joint press conference with Chinese Premier Li Keqiang in Beijing on January 31.
China, which supports globalization and is trying hard to promote the Belt and Road Initiative, welcomed May’s comments. At the same press conference, Li revealed that he and May had exchanged ideas on a wide range of issues, covering bilateral trade, investment, people-to-people exchange, intellectual property protection, human rights and the international situation, and witnessed the signing of several intergovernmental cooperation agreements. He pledged that the Sino-British relationship “will not change with the changes to UK-EU relations” and that China will “have assessment and discussion” on a bilateral trade relationship to push it forward.
According to Chinese customs data, bilateral trade volume between China and the UK grew to US$79 billion in 2017, growth of 6.2 percent year-on-year. As British exports to China comprised only 4.8 percent of the total from January to September 2017, and only 8.3 percent of its imports originated in China in the same period of time, according to British customs data, analysts believe there is great space to increase trade cooperation.
May has certainly taken note. She was accompanied by a large trade delegation, and in a written statement released before her departure, said that there are a great many trade opportunities in China and hopes British businesses will seize them.
As well as Beijing and Wuhan, May’s last stop was inevitably Shanghai, China’s economic center, where she attended a China-UK business forum alongside many Chinese business moguls, including Jack Ma, the high-profile head of Alibaba, China’s leading e-commerce company. Business leaders on both sides expressed their desire to increase bilateral cooperation and their belief that a strengthened Sino-British relationship will benefit the people of both nations.
The forum reaped rewards for May. Alibaba established a purchasing center in Britain to help British small- and medium-sized brands enter the Chinese market. The two sides also reportedly agreed to jointly develop a town in East China’s Jiangsu Province. China’s commerce spokesperson Gao Feng revealed at a press conference that the total value of cooperation agreements inked between China and Britain during May’s visit was around nine billion pounds (US$12.6b).