Sieren′s China: A stable relationship with post-Brexit Britain | NRS-Import | DW | 04.07.2016
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Sieren's China: A stable relationship with post-Brexit Britain

Brexit will not make a big difference to British-Chinese relations, according to DW's Frank Sieren. While Beijing will have one partner less in Brussels, London will remain important.

Nobody in Europe can really predict what the impact of Brexit will be but the forecast seems grim. Britain is by no means as important to China as Europe is. How fitting then that the World Economic Forum met in Tianjin, China, not long after the British referendum took place, with Chinese Prime Minister Li Keqiang as chair. The premier acknowledged that the vote had had a strong influence on the international markets but made it clear that he did not expect major consequences for the Chinese markets. The Shanghai stock market fell only by 1.3 percent on the day of the results while other Asian markets, including Japan's, fell by around 8 percent.

There is no doubt that it would be easier for China if Britain were to stay in the EU but whatever happens, the damages will be limited because the bilateral relationship is too strong. Although Britain was late to seek to cooperate with China, it is now Beijing's most important European partner after Germany. This is largely thanks to British Prime Minister David Cameron, who brought along the creme de la creme of Britain's business and financial world during an official visit in 2013. Since then, an important partnership has arisen. Not only are London's taxis now made in China but a high-speed railway costing 16 billion euros ($17.8 billion) is being built by China in the UK as well as a nuclear power station costing 7 billion. China is also providing help to expand both Heathrow Airport in London and Manchester's airport.

Beijing is pursuing a dual strategy

Apart from the electronic goods manufacturer Huawei, which has its European headquarters in Germany, most major Chinese companies and institutions - including China's two telecoms giants, the Bank of China and the oil giant Sinopec - have their European head offices in London. Furthermore, in Brussels, Britain has defended China's interests over and over again. Now, Chinese companies will have to decide whether to relocate to other European states.


Frank Sieren

Will they have to move? Not necessarily. Britain is bound to remain an important partner in the foreseeable future. The fact that it will no longer be a voice for China in Brussels is not necessarily that much of a problem. Beijing has been pursuing a dual strategy for some time now: On the one hand, it is good to keep the EU strong as a counterpoint to the US; on the other its bilateral relationships with individual countries are also important. Thanks to Germany and certain eastern European states, China has other representatives that can defend its interests in Brussels.

But Britain will become more dependent on Beijing and this might make its business dealings with China more difficult. London will no longer be able to count on the EU with help building up its infrastructure.

London is already the number one destination for Chinese tourists. Rich Chinese citizens like having second homes in Britain. The language makes it easier for them to communicate, some of the best universities in the world are there and the shopping is great. None of this will change because of Brexit.

DW's Frank Sieren has lived in Beijing for over 20 years.

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