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Brexit will accelerate UK-China relations: UK Ambassador

Ahead of British Prime Minister Theresa May’s Visit to China, the British Ambassador to China Barbara Woodward briefed Chinese media on Jan. 29, 2018 at her residence, saying a post-Brexit Britain would be able to “move a bit faster towards” deepening cooperation with China as well as jointly expanding Sino-UK commercial partnerships into third countries along the burgeoning Belt and Road.

The U.K. and China both support a strong and united Europe as being in the interests of both countries; yet leaving the EU means “Britain will be free to make its own decisions over its trade and investment partnerships,” she said.

Prime Minister May will be focusing on assessing the scope to work with China towards a more ambitious trading relationship during the visit, the ambassador stressed, adding: “The U.K. in the E.U., traditionally has been at the forefront in encouraging engagement [with China], so I think we may be able to move on our own a bit faster.”

She added that the U.K. is seeking opportunities in sectors where China is set to further open its market, and which are suited to the British economy, such as agriculture and food, health and life sciences, as well as financial services.

In 2015 the “Golden Era” was launched and fully backed by the former Prime Minister David Cameron and Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne. However, some observers have felt Prime Minister May and her leadership team at times have appeared more cautious with regards to deepening cooperation with China.

Yet, Ambassador Woodward emphasized the UK’s commitment to the Golden Era relationship with China remained “constant, steadfast and steady”, citing that Prime Minister May announced at last year’s Hangzhou G20 summit that she wanted to continue to develop this project.

She highlighted three areas of cooperation, namely: trade, building an open global economy which is suitable to the 21st Century and working together as permanent members of the U.N. Security Council to tackle a range of global challenges, including climate change.

Chancellor of the Exchequer Phillip Hammond has also made it clear that the U.K. is a “natural partner” for the Belt and Road, announcing there would be a special envoy as well as a Belt and Road Council of senior business leaders in the Britain interested in helping to realize further progress in the Initiative.

In response to questions over how a “Global U.K.” can link with the Belt and Road Initiative, the Ambassador said: “We would like to collaborate on practical projects, whereby currently Chinese companies are working on over 90 percent of projects but there are British companies very keen to develop their partnerships which already exist with Chinese companies and take them into the third countries along the Belt and Road.”

“They are big projects requiring complex funding, and some of them will not be obviously profitable and hence require financial design, in which the City of London has great experience.

“Therefore, there is scope for a close working relationship between the experts in the City of London and the people who are designing and developing the projects to put them on a sound financial and legal footing and to help future sustainability by ensuring they are up to international standards so that, should things go wrong, there can be appropriate redress,” the Ambassador stressed.

On her second visit to China, Prime Minister May will visit Wuhan, Beijing and Shanghai to hold discussions with the Chinese leadership while leading a large business delegation containing both SMEs and large enterprises, including companies from both London and other parts of the country from a range of industries.

In addition, the “Great Festival of Innovation” will be held in March in Hong Kong, following on from the festival held in Shanghai in 2015. Last year, the U.K. issued over 660,000 visas for Chinese people to visit Britain, with an issue rate of 97 percent.

In terms of trade, British exports to China have grown by 60 percent since 2010, and, in 2016, trade grew by 30 percent year-on-year, according to statistics provided by the Ambassador.

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