UK-China relations entering ‘diamond era’, says premier

One of China’s most senior leaders has said his country’s relationship with Britain is entering a “diamond era”.

Premier Li Keqiang was speaking as he met Prime Minister Theresa May for talks at the Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM) in Brussels.

Building commercial ties with China was one of the top foreign policy priorities of Mrs May’s predecessor David Cameron and former chancellor George Osborne, who declared a “golden era” of warm relations with the far eastern giant at the start of the decade.

Mr Li – who holds second place in the Beijing hierarchy beneath President Xi Jinping – took the slogan a step further as he told Mrs May: “Your visit to China in January was a big success. We enjoy this golden era and usher in a diamond era.”

Mrs May used the opportunity of the ASEM summit to press her Global Britain agenda for closer trade links with the fast-growing economies of Asia following Brexit.

She told Mr Li: “I am very pleased to have this opportunity to speak with you and to talk about the many interests we have and how we can build further on the golden era of UK-China relations.

“I was very pleased to visit China earlier this year and that for me was important in strengthening our global strategic partnership and I look forward to discussing with you how we can build on that further.”

China is the UK’s sixth-biggest export market, spending £22.3 billion on British goods and services in 2017, while Chinese imports were worth £45.2 billion the same year, according to the Office for National Statistics.

UK exports of goods and services to China increased by 114% between 2010 and 2017, making the country Britain’s seventh fastest growing overseas market.

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Theresa May during a meeting on the sidelines of the EU-ASEM summit in Brussels (Piroschka van de Wouw/AP)

During the two-day summit, Mrs May has also held talks with Thai PM Prayut Chan-ocha, Singapore’s PM Lee Hsien Loong and South Korean President Moon Jae-in.

Following a European Council dominated by proposals for an extension to Britain’s post-Brexit transition out of the EU, the 12th ASEM summit brought together 51 countries from across Europe and Asia in the Belgian capital.

On the agenda were measures to improve connectivity between the continents, as well as co-operation on trade and investment, sustainable development, climate change, terrorism, nuclear proliferation, cyber security and migration.

Participants in the summit enjoyed a gala dinner on Thursday evening before spending Friday in talks on deepening the partnership between the continents.

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