British Prime Minister Theresa May is expected to visit China this year in a move meant to cement ties with Beijing as she negotiates Britain’s departure from the European Union.
The visit is an indication of the importance of China in Britain’s foreign policy, and its growing significance to London with Brexit talks coming up soon, observers said.
May’s aides confirmed that she would visit China this year to discuss trade ties, the latest in a series of foreign trips to strengthen relations with major powers, Reuters reported.
“It would be a renewed expression of the close relationship between Britain and China, something that you have seen obviously develop over the past few years,” May’s spokesman told reporters on Feb 7.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang said at a daily news conference that “China welcomes Theresa May to visit China at an appropriate time”, without commenting on whether she would be attending a planned Belt and Road Initiative summit in Beijing in May.
Lu said the China-UK relationship will see new development opportunities this year, the 45th anniversary of their establishment of full diplomatic relations.
“China is willing to work together with Britain and keep the two countries’ global comprehensive strategic partnership for the 21st century moving forward in a sustainable, healthy and steady way,” he said.
May attended the G20 summit in Hangzhou and met with President Xi Jinping in September, shortly after she became prime minister following June’s referendum approving the United Kingdom’s exit from the EU. The two leaders agreed to continue to build the “golden era” of the bilateral relationship.
Huang Ping, director of the Institute of European Studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said the China-UK relationship is a priority in Britain’s foreign policy.
“The visit to China, one of the global powers, is especially important as Britain aims to become a ‘global Britain’ after Brexit,” he said.
While the timing and topics to be addressed await further negotiation, Huang said he believes that both sides will push to make the visit happen.
Cui Hongjian, director of the Department for European Studies at the China Institute of International Studies, said financing issues and a free trade agreement are among the possible topics during a visit by May.
“Britain hopes to preserve London’s status as a financial center after its departure from the European Union, which might affect financial services,” he said.
Beijing and London should find ways to encourage smoother communication to ensure the continuation of projects already agreed upon, Cui said.