Britain seeks “closer collaboration” with China on its Belt and Road infrastructure project, finance minister Philip Hammond said on Friday in Beijing on a trip expected to secure more than £1 billion in deals.
China is one of Britain’s largest trading partners, and the relationship has grown in importance as the U.K. looks forward to its economic future once it leaves the European Union in 2019.
China’s Belt and Road infrastructure project seeks to revive ancient trade routes through a massive rail and maritime network via $1 trillion in investments across Asia and Europe. “I was privileged earlier this year to represent the U.K. at the first Belt and Road Forum and one of the things we will discuss tonight and tomorrow is the opportunity for closer collaboration in delivering the ambitions of the Belt and Road Initiative,” Hammond said as he met with Chinese Premier Li Keqiang at Beijing’s Great Hall of the People.
Li said that the Chinese people were following developments in the U.K. and the E.U. “very closely.”
“We believe that no matter how the situation in the U.K. and Europe may evolve, China will continue to hope that there will be steady and sound growth of China-U.K. ties and relations between China and Europe,” Li said.
Hammond’s trip seeks to “establish the next steps for a deeper trade and investment relationship as the U.K. builds an economy fit for the future,” according to a statement from the British treasury.
China and U.K. proclaimed a “golden era” of Sino-British relations when Chinese President Xi Jinping paid his first state visit to the U.K. in 2015, during which he enjoyed a glittering banquet at Buckingham Palace hosted by the Queen. But ties were strained in 2016 when Prime Minister Theresa May, shortly after taking office following the E.U. referendum, ordered a review of a $22-billion deal to build a Chinese-backed nuclear power point in England.
She subsequently approved the project to build Hinkley Point, Britain’s first nuclear plant in a generation, but not before Chinese state media accused the country of suffering from “China-phobia.”