British PM invited to Silk Road summit in Beijing, sources say
Theresa May keen to talk trade ahead of Brexit
China has invited British Prime Minister Theresa May to attend a major summit in May on its “One Belt, One Road” initiative to build a new Silk Road, diplomatic sources said, as London announced she would visit China this year.
“One Belt, One Road” is President Xi Jinping’s landmark programme to invest billions of yuan in infrastructure projects including railways, ports and power grids across Asia, Africa and Europe.
China has dedicated US$40 billion to a Silk Road Fund and the idea was the driving force behind the opening last year of the US$50 billion China-backed Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank.
China has so far given few details about who will attend the summit, to be held in Beijing.
The country’s top diplomat, State Councillor Yang Jiechi, told state-run China Daily last week that leaders from about 20 Asian, European, African and Latin American countries had confirmed their participation. He did not give names.
One Beijing-based diplomatic source said May was among those invited.
“China is choosing the countries it sees as friends and who will be most influential in promoting ‘One Belt, One Road’,” the source said.
Two other diplomatic sources confirmed May had been invited.
“It’s China’s most important diplomatic event of the year,” one of the sources said.
The Foreign Ministry in Beijing did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Sri Lanka has confirmed its prime minister will attend, and China says Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte will also be at the summit.
Speaking in London, May’s aides confirmed she would visit China this year to discuss trade ties, the latest in a series of foreign trips to cement relations with major powers as she negotiates Britain’s divorce from the European Union.
May’s aides gave few details about the trip, but she is keen to strengthen her hand by securing foreign support before launching complicated Brexit talks.
“It would be a renewed expression of the close relationship between Britain and China, something that you have seen obviously develop over the past few years,” a spokesman for May said on Tuesday. “I would imagine that trade would form some part of the discussions that we have.”
The Ministry of Commerce has said China has an open attitude towards a free-trade deal with Britain once it leaves the EU and is willing to study it.
May attended a summit in China of the G20 leading economies in September, shortly after she became prime minister following June’s referendum vote to leave the EU, and was invited by Xi to visit again.
With May having made clear she plans for Britain to leave the EU’s single market, trade has dominated her talks with foreign leaders in recent months.
She has secured assurances from US President Donald Trump, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and other world powers that they are keen to start talks on boosting links.