Theresa May is completing her three-day trip to China with a visit to the country’s commercial centre Shanghai, where she will talk up Britain as a partner for investment and trade.
Downing Street said that £9 billion worth of deals were expected to be signed over the course of Mrs May’s visit, including plans for an Eden Project attraction in the coastal city of Qingdao and a £2 billion drive to sell UK products to internet shoppers in China.
In talks with President Xi Jinping on Thursday, the Prime Minister held up Britain and China as “outward-looking countries” resisting the tides of protectionism seen elsewhere in the world.
International Trade Secretary Liam Fox, who is travelling with the PM, announced the appointment of Richard Burn as trade commissioner for China – the first of nine to represent and promote the UK in key markets around the world.
Mrs May will address business leaders in Shanghai before returning to the UK later in the day.
In her talks with Mr Xi on Thursday, the PM stressed the importance of the joint trade and investment review launched during her visit, which she hoped would act as a launchpad for “ambitious” future trade arrangements.
However, Dr Fox cautioned that this might not involve a full free trade agreement, saying he was discussing “improvements, whether it’s done with a gold standard free trade agreement, whether it’s done by a series of measures for market access and mutual recognition”.
And he acknowledged that the UK’s membership of the EU customs union had not prevented important trade deals being sealed during the trip.
Seated opposite Mr Xi in the opulent Diaoyutai State Guesthouse, Mrs May said Britain and China were enjoying a “golden era” in their relationship, and added that she wanted to “take further forward the global strategic partnership that we have established”.
She said there were issues on the global stage where the UK and China could “work together” as permanent members of the UN Security Council and fellow “outward-looking countries”.
During their 80-minute meeting, Mrs May and Mr Xi discussed their shared determination to end illegal nuclear activity by North Korea and agreed that denuclearisation of the secretive state was their objective.
In the wake of democracy protests in Hong Kong, they restated their commitment to the “one country, two systems” arrangement in place since the former colony was handed back by the UK to China in 1997.
They also discussed the environment and China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) to improve overland transport links to Europe and the West.
In an apparent sign that Mr Xi may be willing to take on board Western concerns about access to BRI contracts for non-Chinese companies, Downing Street said they talked about “the importance of international standards and transparency to ensure the initiative’s success”.
Mrs May told the Chinese president that the trade side of her visit had been “very successful”.
And she added: “The links between us go beyond trade. I’m very pleased with the people-to-people links we have been able to build on in education and in culture too.
“Also, as you say, we are both significant players on the world stage of outward looking countries.
“And as we both sit together as permanent members of the Security Council of the United Nations, there are global challenges which we both face, as do others in the world.
“As you say, there are areas in which we can work together.”
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