Brexit bringing Beijing and London together
Britain’s decision to leave the EU is making its free-trade talks with China a priority, observers says
Britain is expected to speed up negotiations on free-trade agreements with nations including China to alleviate anxiety over its economy and gain more leverage in Europe after leaving the European Union, observers said.
British Prime Minister Theresa May vowed on Tuesday that the country would leave the EU’s single market to restrict immigration in a “hard exit” from the bloc, triggering dismay among those who fear the impact it will have on Britain’s economy.
In Beijing, foreign ministry spokesman Hua Chunying said China hoped a mutually beneficial agreement could be reached between Britain and the EU.
“Our stand on the EU is consistent, that we support Europe’s integration. We also value Britain’s place and role, and are willing to continue enhancing mutually beneficial cooperation with the UK,” she said on Wednesday.
In setting out her 12 objectives for Brexit, May vowed to make Britain a stronger, fairer and truly global country.
She said her vision of the nation’s exit from the EU would not be “half in, half out”, and that Britain could not remain a full member of its tariff-free zone but would seek unfettered trade with the bloc.
The deal to leave the EU must be approved by votes in both chambers of Britain’s Parliament, she said.
Professor Zhang Jianping from the Chinese Academy of International Trade and Economic Cooperation at the Ministry of Commerce said Britain would have the freedom to negotiate trade deals with countries individually after leaving the EU.
“It could be really good news for China. Britain is one of the biggest economies in the world, and is likely to be a significant European economy to have a bilateral trade deal with China,” Zhang said.
“We are important to each other. For China, if we want to achieve historical success in Europe, the UK is our best possible ally to help us reach that.”
Tim Marshall, a London-based foreign affairs analyst, said a close relationship with China would be strategically essential for the British government.
“The UK wants a new and bigger trading deal with China for two reasons; Economically, the various hits the UK economy is going to take in Europe, as it ‘Brexits’, can be partially alleviated by the deals it will simultaneously be making with the rest of the world. As a major world economy, the deal with China will be crucial.”
Securing a trade deal with China would give Britain greater leverage in its discussions with the EU, and create a good impression with the British public, he added.
“Ignore the ‘rule’ that we can’t do deals before officially leaving the EU,” Marshall said. “The UK can and will try to nail almost all the details down, only leaving the signing to be done upon Brexit.”
Lai Suet-yi, a visiting fellow at the Carnegie-Tsinghua Centre in Beijing, said China was important to Britain. “Britain wants China’s investment, but it doesn’t designate areas or projects that China really cares to invest in. There’s a conflict, and it will pose a challenge for the British government to persuade Chinese investors,” she said.