British PM Theresa May sets date to visit China as Brexit looms

Country’s planned exit from European Union means trade will be high on agenda

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 25 January, 2018, 6:22pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 25 January, 2018, 10:10pm

British Prime Minister Theresa May will visit Beijing next week, China said on Thursday, as her country looks to bolster trade links ahead of its departure from the European Union.

The relationship between the two countries has grown in importance as London contemplates its economic future after it officially leaves the EU in March 2019.

It “will be a historical visit,” foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told reporters during a regular press briefing.

“We attach great importance to our relations with the UK,” she said.

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“We hope we can continue to further deepen our political mutual trust, expand our cooperation and to elevate our bilateral relations to a new high.”

The visit to China will be May’s first as her country’s prime minister.

During her trip, she will travel to Shanghai and Hubei, Hua said.

Britain has proposed leaving the EU’s single market and customs union so that it can strike its own trade deals with countries outside the bloc, making China’s huge market an attractive target.

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In preparation, a parade of top officials have travelled to China in recent months.

Britain’s international trade minister Liam Fox recently returned from a trip to China, where he discussed market access for British exports, including its key sector of financial services.

In December, finance minister Philip Hammond visited the Asian giant to work out final preparations for a “stock connect” linking the London and Shanghai exchanges, and had agreed to examine the possibility of connecting their bond markets as well.