China-UK ‘golden era’ may truly dawn if British voters give Theresa May the mandate she seeks

Mark Logan says endorsement for the prime minister’s ‘global Britain’ vision in the June 8 general election would strengthen UK ties with China, now a leading champion of globalisation

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 27 April, 2017, 10:38am
UPDATED : Thursday, 27 April, 2017, 7:17pm

The pollsters predict a landslide victory for the Conservative Party in the British general election on June 8. But what would such a win mean for UK-China relations?

The Conservatives have come under attack at home for not bringing immigration numbers down, while simultaneously battling accusations of being anti-immigration in sentiment towards students. Aware of the need to balance domestic and foreign policy, Prime Minister Theresa May should scrap any conflation that suggests studying in the UK equals immigration. This would be a warm signal to China that the UK means both business and friendship – there are over 150,000 Chinese students in the UK.

To be sure, much has to be done to propel the UK and China forward in this “golden era”. The delay of the nuclear power project at Hinkley Point had created some friction in bilateral relations. But, as the UK leaves the European Union, China matters more than ever.

Britain’s Theresa May lauds ties with China in Lunar New Year video

A day after May’s general election announcement, the Chinese embassy in the UK published a news release highlighting that she would visit the country later this year for the annual China-UK prime ministers’ meeting. Following May’s first visit to China for the Hangzhou G20 summit last September, this would be a great opportunity to further define UK-China relations.

A free trade agreement between the two countries would help to burnish Britain’s credentials of being a ‘global Britain’

A free trade agreement between the two countries would help to burnish Britain’s credentials of being a “global Britain”.

This also makes sense for China; China and the UK are, respectively, the world’s second- and fifth-largest economies.

China is, or on the verge of being, a world superpower. As a former superpower and a current “respected power” with continuing influence in world affairs, the UK helps China on the world stage. Its friendship gives China extra prestige. This was best illustrated by the pomp on display when President Xi Jinping (習近平) visited the UK in 2015.

If May delivers a landslide victory in June and propels the UK to “go global”, this could very well dovetail with Xi’s ambition to safeguard globalisation. The UK, which has already joined the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, can work with China to develop a new “rising/respected powers” model.

Post Brexit, a more nimble Britain may prove useful to Asia

Given that the China aficionado, George Osborne, is retiring from politics, it is now time for someone else in the prime minister’s team to take up the mantle of China cheerleader. This would have an immense impact on UK-China relations.

Mark Logan was head of communications and spokesman at the British consulate general in Shanghai from 2012-16 and a global communications adviser to Chinese organisations