On China visit, Bri­tain’s May fo­cused on post-brexit fu­ture

The Myanmar Times - Weekend - - Asean Focus -

BRI­TISH Prime Min­is­ter Theresa May on Wednesday called for ex­pand­ing the “global strate­gic part­ner­ship” be­tween the United King­dom and China, at the start of a visit to the world’s sec­ond-largest econ­omy fo­cused on hash­ing out new trade ar­range­ments once the UK leaves the Euro­pean Union.

Meet­ing with Chi­nese Pre­mier Li Ke­qiang, May re­ferred to “a golden era” in re­la­tions be­tween the two coun­tries that Lon­don hopes will bring vast amounts of new job-cre­at­ing in­vest­ment from China’s fast­grow­ing global firms.

“This is an aus­pi­cious time of the year to ... think about and con­sider how we can build fur­ther on that golden era and on the global strate­gic part­ner­ship that we have been work­ing on be­tween the UK and China,” May said.

Of­fi­cials over­saw the sign­ing of a raft of agree­ments cov­er­ing trade — in­clud­ing the im­port of Bri­tish food prod­ucts to China — in­vest­ment, ed­u­ca­tion and other ar­eas. More than 155,000 Chi­nese stu­dents now study in the UK, ac­cord­ing to the Bri­tish govern­ment.

Brexit ap­peared to fig­ure promi­nently in the talks and May said that as Bri­tain pre­pares to leave the EU “we are com­mit­ted to deep­en­ing our strong and vi­tal part­ner­ship” with China.

“And that re­la­tion­ship is in­deed broad and deep and de­liv­ers ben­e­fits to both coun­tries,” May said.

As Bri­tain pre­pares to leave the EU, “we will be­come a coun­try that is able to op­er­ate an in­de­pen­dent trade pol­icy and is able to sign free trade agree­ments around the rest of the world,” she said at a later ques­tio­nand-an­swer ses­sion with Li.

Li said Brexit would not change the ba­sic trad­ing re­la­tion­ship.

“In EU-UK re­la­tions. We will have as­sess­ments and dis­cus­sions in our trade re­la­tion­ship to take it for­ward,” Li said.

As she makes her China visit, May’s job is un­der threat from ri­vals within her Con­ser­va­tive Party, who are di­vided over whether to make a clean break with the EU or seek to keep the clos­est-pos­si­ble eco­nomic re­la­tion­ship.

May in­sisted to re­porters fly­ing with her to China, “I’m not a quit­ter.”

She said there was “a long-term job to be done” by her govern­ment, ac­cord­ing to the Press As­so­ci­a­tion news agency.

“That job is about get­ting the best Brexit deal, it’s about en­sur­ing that we take back con­trol of our money, our laws, our bor­ders, that we can sign trade deals around the rest of the world,” she said. “But it’s also about our do­mes­tic agenda.”

In her meet­ing with Li, May said the two coun­tries, both per­ma­nent mem­bers of the U.N. Se­cu­rity Coun­cil, were also co­op­er­at­ing on North Korea and other se­cu­rity chal­lenges. North Korea’s nu­clear weapons pro­gram, she said, is “illegal, reck­less and poses an un­ac­cept­able threat to in­ter­na­tional se­cu­rity.”

Li said they also dis­cussed over­ca­pac­ity in the steel industry, while May said an agree­ment had been reached to open China to im­ports of Bri­tish beef this year. Busi­ness deals worth more than 9 bil­lion pounds ($13 bil­lion) would be an­nounced be­fore the end of the visit, May said.

May also ex­pressed sup­port for Bri­tish in­volve­ment in the “Belt and Road” ini­tia­tive, China’s mega-plan for trade and in­fra­struc­ture links across Asia.

How­ever, she said re­lated projects needed to ad­here to es­tab­lished global busi­ness prac­tices. Bei­jing has been crit­i­cised for un­der­min­ing those rules by agree­ing to fi­nance ma­jor in­fra­struc­ture projects on con­di­tion they were awarded to Chi­nese com­pa­nies with­out en­ter­tain­ing bids from com­peti­tors.

“We’ve dis­cussed how the UK and China will con­tinue to work to­gether to iden­tify how best we can co­op­er­ate on the Belt and Road ini­tia­tive across the re­gion and en­sure it meets in­ter­na­tional stan­dards,” May said.

“We will work to­gether to en­cour­age free and fair trade, en­sure a trans­par­ent, rules-based mul­ti­lat­eral trad­ing sys­tem, and build an open global econ­omy that works for all.”

May first vis­ited the cen­tral in­dus­trial city of Wuhan on Wednesday be­fore trav­el­ing to Bei­jing for talks with Li. On Thurs­day, she is sched­uled to meet with Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping, whose 2015 state visit to Bri­tain helped pro­pel what China refers to as the golden era in ties.

May is be­ing ac­com­pa­nied on her visit by 50 Bri­tish busi­ness lead­ers, in­clud­ing the chief ex­ec­u­tives of Jaguar Land Rover and drug firm As­trazeneca. She will also visit the fi­nan­cial hub of Shang­hai be­fore head­ing home Fri­day.

Bol­ster­ing ties with China be­came more ur­gent af­ter Bri­tain voted in 2016 to leave the EU, com­pelling it to forge new trade agree­ments out­side of the 28-na­tion bloc.

Bri­tish ex­ports to China are up 60 per­cent since 2010, and China is ex­pected to be one of the UK’S big­gest for­eign in­vestors by 2020.

Bri­tish fi­nance min­is­ter Philip Ham­mond vis­ited in De­cem­ber, pledg­ing to pro­mote Lon­don as a cen­ter for trans­ac­tions in China’s yuan cur­rency and an­nounc­ing up to 25 bil­lion pounds ($35 bil­lion) in sup­port for Bri­tish busi­nesses in­volved in the Belt and Road ini­tia­tive.

But May ap­pears more cau­tious about em­brac­ing Chi­nese in­vest­ment than her pre­de­ces­sor, David Cameron. She an­noyed Bei­jing in 2016 by tem­po­rar­ily de­lay­ing ap­proval for a Chi­ne­se­backed nu­clear power plant in south­west­ern Eng­land. – AP

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