BEIJING (AP) – British Prime Minister Theresa May on Wednesday called for expanding the “global strategic partnership” between the United Kingdom and China, at the start of a visit to the world’s second-largest economy focused on hashing out new trade arrangements once the U.K. leaves the European Union.
Meeting with Chinese Premier Li Keqiang, May referred to “a golden era” in relations between the two countries that London hopes will bring vast amounts of new job-creating investment from China’s fast-growing global firms.
“This is an auspicious time of the year to … think about and consider how we can build further on that golden era and on the global strategic partnership that we have been working on between the U.K. and China,” May said.
May first visited the central industrial city of Wuhan before traveling to Beijing for talks with Li and later with President Xi Jinping, whose 2015 state visit to Britain initiated what China frequently refers to as the golden era in ties.
May is being accompanied on her visit by 50 British business leaders, including the chief executives of Jaguar Land Rover and drug firm AstraZeneca. She will also visit the financial hub of Shanghai before heading home Friday.
In Li’s opening comments, he said he believed May’s visit would “bring new fruits, which will further elevate the golden era in China-Britain relations.”
Bolstering ties with China became more urgent after Britain voted in 2016 to leave the EU, compelling it to forge new trade agreements outside of the 28-nation bloc.
British exports to China are up 60 percent since 2010, and China is expected to be one of the U.K.’s biggest foreign investors by 2020.
British finance minister Philip Hammond visited in December, pledging to promote London as a center for transactions in China’s yuan currency and announcing up to 25 billion pounds ($35 billion) in support for British businesses involved in the “Belt and Road” initiative, China’s mega-plan for trade and infrastructure links across Asia.
But May appears more cautious about embracing Chinese investment than her predecessor David Cameron. She annoyed Beijing in 2016 by temporarily delaying approval for a Chinese-backed nuclear power plant in southwestern England.