Theresa May

China’s door will open ‘wider and wider’ to UK, Li Keqiang tells Theresa May

British beef will be back on the menu within six months, and the two sides say they’re exploring potential free-trade arrangements after Brexit

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 31 January, 2018, 10:34pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 31 January, 2018, 11:29pm

China and Britain are looking at potential free-trade arrangements post-Brexit, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang and visiting British Prime Minister Theresa May said in Beijing on Wednesday.

The two leaders also told reporters they would work together to open markets and build on their “golden era” in relations after they signed a dozen deals at the Great Hall of the People.

“Sino-UK relations will not change because of the change in UK-EU relations,” Li said. “The two-way openness will deepen. And China’s door will be open to Britain wider and wider.”

Their talks came after US President Donald Trump in his state-of-the-union address named China as a rival that challenges United States interests.

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One way China will open the door wider is with more imports of agricultural products from the UK, including lifting a ban on British beef within six months that has been in place since the BSE – or “made cow disease” – crisis in 1997. A broader range of dairy products would also be allowed to be imported from the UK into China.

“We have agreed new measures to improve market access in China and remove barriers to trade,” May said, adding that the Chinese financial market would also open further.

Li said China would like to expand trading with Britain and would encourage Chinese companies to invest in the UK and vice versa.

“Through our cooperation we would like to send a clear message to the market and the world that we will continue to promote free trade, easy investment, globalisation and be against protectionism,” Li said.

The two sides were assessing and exploring options for trading arrangements after Brexit, the leaders said, although talks on a free-trade agreement could not begin before the UK’s formal departure from the EU.

“As we leave the European Union, we will become a country that is able to operate independent trade policy, to sign trade agreements with the rest of world. And that is exactly what we are looking to do,” May said.

During the three-day trip, May’s first official visit to China, the two sides are expected to sign commercial deals worth a total of £9 billion (US$12.68 billion), she said.

Apart from trade, May discussed “a wide range of topics in an open way” with Li, including North Korea, aviation security, counterterrorism, countering organised crime and human rights, she said.

But she did not mention on Wednesday whether she had raised concerns over erosion in Hong Kong of the “one country, two systems” principle – an issue she had promised to raise with the Chinese leadership.

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Speaking to reporters as she flew out to China, May vowed to broach the politically sensitive issue.

“We believe that the future of Hong Kong should be a ‘one country, two systems’ future and we are committed to that,” said May, referring to the formula that guaranteed the former colony’s political freedoms after the handover in 1997.

May will meet Chinese President Xi Jinping on Thursday.

Earlier on Wednesday, May visited the city of Wuhan, in central Hubei province – a university town with more than a million college students – where she announced £500 million of education deals.

She was greeted by local officials at Wuhan University and welcomed by Chinese and British students. May also visited the Yellow Crane Tower on the Yangtze River for a Peking opera performance.

Additional reporting by Reuters