The following article was published on CGTN.com on August 1 2018
British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt visited Beijing on July 30 in his first major overseas trip since taking office. The occasion, the 9th China-UK Strategic Dialogue, is an event that has served to reinforce the ties between the two countries.
An extensive range of topics was discussed during the meeting, including the reaffirmation of the “Golden Era” raised by the previous British prime minister, the agreement to defend free trade and multilateralism, and the expectation from China’s side of the UK’s ambitious participation in the Belt and Road Initiative.
Both countries have apparent drives to deepen bilateral partnership. For the UK, the Brexit has raised many concerns about its economic growth potential, which largely depends on its future relations with the European Union.
“Brexit is hanging over everything,” said Nathan King, a CGTN correspondent based in Washington, DC. “The UK was attractive to China before Brexit because it was the door to the EU market. Now it’s less attractive.”
Other experts expressed similar concerns. Martin Jacques, a senior fellow at the Department of Politics and International Studies at Cambridge University, said that no one knows where the UK is heading to in this post-Brexit period.
In the middle of this uncertainty, the British leaders are being much more cautious towards China, whose attitude he thinks should actually be reversed.
From a Chinese perspective, the trade friction with the US has inevitably influenced its economic performance, making it important to strengthen financial cooperation with other major countries.
However, there are also concerns from experts that the UK is not as an ideal partner for China as it seems to be. “China should not rely on the UK for anything,” said Philippe Le Corre, a senior fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School.
While China wants to use WTO as the platform for globalization, Washington thinks otherwise. The Trump administration has spoken against WTO, and is in favor of bilateral deals with the EU.
Martin Jacques disagreed, saying that the EU-US deal is just a conversation, which is not finalized.
Looking forward, the UK could largely benefit from China’s strategy of reform and opening up. King suggested that the biggest export of the UK is essentially financial services like insurance, gamut, and health, which will benefit most once China opens up.
According to Peter Ho, economist and research fellow at the London School of Economics, the UK is now the second largest platform for RMB. Therefore, if the UK is able to sustain its global financial impact, it will play an important role in the internationalization of RMB.
Moreover, being the first major Western country to join the Belt and Road Initiative, the UK could act as an endorser of the initiative.
“The UK is a country with a long history of trading across a different continent, and this could help to explain to the rest of the world what the Belt and Road Initiative is and calm people’s nervousness about the rising Chinese power,” King said.