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On China visit, Britain’s May focused on post-Brexit future


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BEIJING — British Prime Minister Theresa May arrived in China on Wednesday on a visit focused on hashing out new trade arrangements once the U.K. leaves the European Union.

May first visited the central industrial centre of Wuhan before travelling to Beijing for talks with Premier Li Keqiang and President Xi Jinping.

May is accompanied 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.

May wants to burnish the “golden era” between the countries announced by Xi during a state visit to Britain in 2015.

“There are huge trade opportunities in China that we want to help British businesses take advantage of,” May said ahead of the trip.

Bolstering ties with China, the world’s second-largest economy, became more urgent after Britain voted in 2016 to leave the EU.

China is key to the government’s plans for a “global Britain,” forging new trade deals and diplomatic partnerships around the world.

British exports to China are up 60 per cent 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 centre 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.