China Daily

30 Jan 2018

With the largest-ever trade delegation in her entourage of any overseas trip made by a British prime minister, Theresa May’s three-day visit to China certainly means business.

The 50 or so business leaders, who May said represent all parts of the UK economy, are expected to garner a sizable bunch of deals during the visit. Something the embattled UK leader will be glad to return with.

But while business deals are essential for enriching and consolidating relations, the more important part of the visit for May will be in what way, and to what extent, the visitor and her hosts can advance the theoretically fine agreement to make the UK China’s closest partner in the West, which was one of the outcomes of President Xi Jinping’s visit to the United Kingdom in 2015.

Then, the two governments pledged to build a “global, comprehensive partnership oriented at the 21st century”, in anticipation of which, her predecessor David Cameron predicted a “golden era” for China-UK relations. May’s visit is thus being viewed as an opportunity to reboot that golden era in the wake of the UK’s changed circumstances.

Thus May’s first formal visit to China as prime minister carries special significance because as the visit by a British leader since the country voted to leave the European Union, it is being viewed as determining what the “golden era 2.0” the two countries attempt to formulate will be like.

The UK is expected to terminate its EU membership on March 29, 2019, and upgrading China-UK relations and securing Chinese investments would effectively help to ease the ensuing withdrawal pains the UK is expected to suffer.

As the first major Western power and European country to join the China-proposed Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, the UK is still regarded in Beijing as a potentially meaningful international partner.

And since Downing Street has its eyes on the “huge trade opportunities” in China’s market of more than 1.3 billion consumers for UK businesses, there is no reason for it not to take advantage of China’s pro-globalization efforts, those under the Belt and Road Initiative in particular. UK exports to China have grown over 60 percent since 2010. UK businesses will be rewarded even more handsomely given the worldwide reach of the Belt and Road.

Although it remains to be seen how May’s visit plays out, fostering a closer partnership would undoubtedly be rewarding for both parties.

(First published in China Daily –