UK′s Theresa May eyes post-Brexit trade ties as China′s Xi Jinping touts ′Belt and Road′ | News | DW | 01.02.2018
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UK's Theresa May eyes post-Brexit trade ties as China's Xi Jinping touts 'Belt and Road'

UK Prime Minister Theresa May and Chinese President Xi Jinping held talks to lay the groundwork for trade deals after Britain leaves the EU. Xi used the meeting to win support for his "Belt and Road" initiative.

Chinese President Xi Jinping told British Prime Minister Theresa May on Thursday that their countries should take trade ties to "a new level" as London aims to reshape its international trade agreements after it leaves the European Union in 2019.

The two leaders agreed to hold a joint trade and investment review, a move May's office heralded as the "first step towards delivering ambitious future trade arrangements."

Read more: Theresa May looks to China for post-Brexit future

May's three-day visit to China is part of the UK government's task of establishing deeper trade ties with China.  

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"As the United Kingdom is leaving the European Union, we're going to be more outward looking and looking to enhance our relationships around the world, and this relationship with China is an important part of that," May told Chinese state broadcaster CCTV.

Xi touts mega-project

Xi struck a similarly enthusiastic tone, telling May that it was time the two countries took their trade ties to "a new level."

"We must strengthen the pragmatism of Sino-British relations in the golden era and push economic and trade cooperation between the two countries to a new level," Xi was quoted by CCTV as saying.

Read more: 'New Silk Road' and China's hegemonic ambitions

The Chinese president also used May's visit to tout his cherished "One Belt One Road" project, which aims to revive the ancient Silk Road trade routes from China, across Asia and into Europe.

The project has both piqued interest and spurred anxiety, with many countries claiming it is mainly designed to benefit Chinese state firms. Others also fear that it shows signs of China's expansionist ambitions. 

British business going home happy

According to May's office, the prime minister plans to announce some 9 billion pounds ($12.7 billion, €10.3 billion) in new business on the back of her China visit.

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Part of those arrangements includes China ending its ban on British beef products, while Chinese Premier Li Keqiang also vowed on Wednesday to further open the market to British products, specifically "higher-quality agricultural products."

The UK will be conscious of the enormous deficit in runs with the Asian nation. In 2016, trade between the two countries totaled 59 billion pounds with UK exports making up 17 billion pounds.

The UK, by contrast, exported 236 billion pounds of goods and services to the EU that year, making up 43 percent of all the country's exports.

May quiet over other concerns

By the second day of her China visit, however, May still appeared reluctant to address several points, including the political situation in former UK colony Hong Kong and human rights abuses on the Chinese mainland. 

Ahead of May's trip, former British governor of Hong Kong, Chris Patten, sent a letter to the prime minister's, saying the semi-autonomous city was facing "increasing threats to the basic freedoms, human rights and autonomy."

However, the BBC did report May would address global environmental concerns during her meeting with Xi. The prime minister even reportedly presented the Chinese leader with the network's Blue Planet II series, along with a personal message from presenter David Attenborough.

The final stop on May's tour takes her to Shanghai on Friday.

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dm/sms (AP, Reuters, dpa, AFP)

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