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May pledges to 'step up' relationship with China

31 Января 2018

Facing several questions about her leadership at the start of a three day trip to China to meet President Xi Jinping, the PM acknowledged "yes, we need to ensure that we do speak about the achievements that we've seen", pointing to changes to stamp duty, historically low levels of unemployment and falls in public borrowing.

She promised to raise the concerns of United Kingdom industry about over-production of steel and the protection of intellectual property against the piracy for which China is notorious.

But she sounded a note of caution about President Xi Jinping's flagship Belt and Road Initiative to establish overland transport links between China and Europe, which some investors believe could be a goldmine for Western construction companies.

Her first stop was Wuhan, in central China, which is home to the largest number of students of any city in the world.

"That agenda will not be delivered in one visit: it must be our shared objective over the coming years".

"China is a country that we want to do a trade deal with", said the Prime Minister. "British businesses able to do good trade into China".

The trip comes against a backdrop of tension between May's government and the Chinese, a record she's keen to improve upon as the United Kingdom looks for trade partners around the world as it prepares to leave the European Union next year.

The International Trade Secretary Liam Fox is formally heading up the business delegation.

The Prime Minister has promised "frank discussions" during the talks, but she is seeking concessions on a range of issues.

Mrs May told reporters the government's job was "about getting the best Brexit deal, it's about ensuring that we take back control of our money, our laws, our borders, that we can sign trade deals around the rest of the world".

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"But, I think that there is more we can be doing in the interim ... in terms of looking at potential barriers to trade and the opening up of markets to ensure ..."

"What I would like to see is ensuring that we have transparency and worldwide standards being adhered to, and I will be discussing that with my Chinese interlocutors", she said.

Before her trip, the former British governor of Hong Kong, Chris Patten, urged May to address concerns about the political situation in the semi-autonomous city, which London handed back to Beijing in 1997.

In another clear message to her concerned backbenchers, the PM played down the leaked impact assessments showing a hit to the economy in all broad end state scenarios with the European Union from extra impediments to trade with our main partner. So at least in this respect, Mrs May has to impress not only her hosts, but also her domestic audience.

The PM was also asked about whether she would contest a no confidence vote if one, as some MPs suggest, is very close, and if 48 letters to the 1922 Committee chair were received.

May's future as leader of the ruling Conservative Party has been subject to heightened speculation after she gambled on a snap election past year which went badly wrong and cost her party its majority in parliament.

"Are you asking me is there more for us to do, talk to people about, more generally about what we are achieving and what we are doing?"

During a similar trade-focused visit to Japan, a year ago May first used the "I'm not a quitter" phrase, vowing to fight the next British election as leader in 2022.

But said there was "always more for us to do" on issues such as housing and schools.

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May pledges to 'step up' relationship with China