Britain’s prime minister will touch down in Beijing today to begin a three-day visit—Ms May’s first to the Middle Kingdom—amid high hopes of a free trade deal.
China-UK bilateral trade hit $83 billion in 2016, up almost 9% on the previous year. Chinese investment has been bullish since the Brexit vote and by 2020, China is expected to become one of Britain’s largest investors on the back of buying into businesses, real estate and infrastructure—up from the current $20.8 billion in 2017, which itself is more than double the 2016 figure of $9.2 billion.
However, London may have to wait in line for a free trade deal. Ms May has delayed approval for a Chinese-funded nuclear plant which has ruffled Beijing’s feathers. While France and Germany have also tightened scrutiny on Chinese investments, Beijing wishes to court both EU giants as partners for President Xi Jinping’s signature Belt Road Initiative as the European market is more lucrative. Unlike Downing Street, France’s Emmanuel Macron has conditionally backed the Belt and Road Initiative. Regardless, the Chinese market is significant for Ms May’s post-Brexit Britain—especially for financial services—so she is likely to tell Beijing that the UK is still open for Chinese business.
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John is a Senior Analyst with an interest in Indo-Pacific geopolitics. Master of International Relations (Australian National University) graduate with study focus on the Indo-Pacific. Qualified lawyer (University of Auckland, NZ) with experience in post-colonial Pacific & NZ legal systems.