Premier Li says Brexit won't affect China's relations with UK

China's relations with Britain will remain unchanged through Brexit, Premier Li Keqiang said yesterday, as British Prime Minister Theresa May began a three-day visit to China.

China’s relations with Britain will remain unchanged through Brexit, Premier Li Keqiang said yesterday, as British Prime Minister Theresa May began a three-day visit to China.

During her trip, she aims to sign 9 billion pounds (US$12.8 billion) in deals.

Britain is trying to reinvent itself as a global trading nation after a 2016 referendum decision to leave the European Union, and London hopes to sign a free trade deal with the world’s second-largest economy.

Speaking to reporters after meeting May in Beijing’s Great Hall of the People, Li proffered support for relations between the two countries, which both like to refer to as being in a golden era.

“Our relationship will not change because of changes in Britain-Europe ties,” Li said. But he acknowledged there would need to be an adaption.

“While we must adapt to these changes, we will assess and talk about future bilateral trade and investment arrangements, to continue to push forward China-Britain relations, including trade and business ties,” Li said.

May said she was committed to deepening the relationship in light of Brexit and would explore all options in future trade ties. “We are determined to deepen our trading relationship even further and we are ambitious for what our future trade relationship will be.”

May is accompanied by her husband Philip and a delegation of 50 business leaders and organization representatives, which her office said was “the largest” her government has ever taken overseas.

May said the two countries would agree on more than 9 billion pounds worth of deals during her visit, and that China had agreed to lift a ban on British beef exports within six months.

“We have also agreed to open up the Chinese market to enable our great UK financial services expertise to reach more Chinese consumers.”

Speaking earlier on her way to the central Chinese city of Wuhan, May said Britain was seeking a free trade agreement with China, adding that more should be done immediately to open up market access for British firms.

“China is a country that we want to do a trade deal with,” May told reporters aboard her Royal Air Force jet on the way to Wuhan.

“But, I think that there is more we can be doing in the interim ... in terms of looking at potential barriers to trade and the opening up of markets to ensure ... British businesses able to do good trade into China.”

China accounts for just a small proportion of British exports, 3.1 percent in 2016, versus 43 percent for the European Union.

While diplomatic sources say China has expressed willingness to talk about a future free trade deal with Britain, formal talks cannot begin until Britain officially leaves the EU next year.

Britain has also pushed a strong message to Chinese companies that it is fully open for business.

Notable Chinese investments in Britain include the Hinkley Point C nuclear power station which is being built by China General Nuclear Power Corp and the British arm of France’s EDF, while British firms, such as Rolls-Royce, have won large deals from Chinese firms to supply items like plane engines.

Britain was the first Western country to sign up to the China-backed Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank and it sent finance minister Philip Hammond to a Beijing summit last year about the Belt and Road initiative.

May said the Belt and Road had huge potential and that Britain was a “natural partner.”

“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,” she said in Beijing.

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