Stronger China ties forecast after British elections

Opinion polls show Labour party edging ever closer to ruling Conservatives as polling day approaches

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 07 June, 2017, 10:57pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 07 June, 2017, 11:24pm

China may not loom large in Britain’s campaign trail but frontrunner Theresa May’s vision for a post-Brexit UK will inevitably feature stronger cooperation with the world’s second biggest economy, analysts say.

But even that looks to be up in the air as Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour party approached the Conservatives in opinion polls leading up to Thursday’s elections, with the terror attack on London Bridge on Saturday adding uncertainty to voters’ intentions.

In a brief mention of the future move to detach the UK from the European Union, May told voters: “Give me your backing in the polling station tomorrow to battle for Britain in Brussels. Get those negotiations wrong and the consequences will be dire.”

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Unlike American presidential elections, China was not a topic on the British campaign trail.

But analysts say May, if she wins, will have to continue to push for stronger UK-China ties.

“British public opinion would not be tilted towards anti-globalisation following Brexit,” Feng Zhongping, vice-president of the China Institute of Contemporary International Relations, said. “In contrast, more attention will be placed on cooperation with new economies, such as China.”

While Feng said both former premier David Cameron and May were aware of the importance of UK-China relations, the two may have more subtle differences.

“I believe May – although she is by no means hostile to Beijing – would take a more discriminatory look at things,” said Professor Steve Tsang, director of the China Institute at London University’s School of Oriental and African Studies.

“May probably would not have approved of China’s bid to build the nuclear plant at Hinkley Point considering what was best for UK business interests if it was not already backed by Cameron’s government.”

Political pundits in the UK and the European Union are waiting to see if May will far surpass Cameron’s 12-seat majority won in 2015. If she fails, her electoral gamble will have failed and her authority will be undermined both inside her Conservative Party and at talks with the 27 other EU members.

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A YouGov poll shows Conservatives are 22 seats short of a majority, while a Survation poll showed late on Monday that the Conservative party lead over Labour stood at just one point.

May made a last-ditch move to highlight her plan for new anti-terror measures, vowing to toughen up human rights laws in order to ensure public security.

“If our human rights laws stop us from doing it, we will change the laws so we can do it,” she said to cheers and applause at an election rally on Tuesday.

Corbyn continued to criticise her policy to scale down the police while she was home secretary.

Meanwhile, British police hunting for a Frenchman missing since Saturday’s attack on London Bridge said they had found a body in the River Thames, potentially taking the death toll to eight.