Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 June 2019

Theresa May and Xi Jinping agree on new golden era

British prime minister flattered to be called 'Auntie May' on Beijing visit

Theresa May, the British Prime Minister, and Xi Jinping, the Chinese president, vowed to enhance trade and diplomatic cooperation between the two countries as London promises closer ties with the Communist state after it leaves the European Union next year.

Pledging to secure a new “golden age”, Mrs May has set her sights on China playing a key role as Britain carves out an independent role in the global economic and political sphere.

After shaking hands for the cameras, Mrs May and Mr Xi led talks between the delegations at the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse in Beijing. The pair then relaxed over the course of a Chinese tea ceremony, along with their respected spouses.

Britain and China enjoy annual trade amounting to £59 bn (308 billion Dirams) and officials said that deals worth almost £9 bn would be brought “over the line” by the trip.

“As the United Kingdom is leaving the European Union we're going to be more outward looking and looking to enhance our relationships around the world, and this relationship with China is an important part of that," Mrs May told Chinese television in an interview.

"I'm very pleased with the people-to-people links we have been able to build on in education and in culture too,” she added. "Also as you say we are both significant players on the world stage of outward looking countries. And as we both sit together as permanent members of the security council of the United Nations, there are global challenges which we both face, as do others in the world."

The BBC reported that May, who was expected to raise environmental concerns, would present Mr Xi with a box set of the network's Blue Planet II series, with a personal message from presenter David Attenborough.

The Chinese leader made a state visit to Britain in 2015 when he and the then-prime minister, David Cameron shared a selfie with Manchester City’s Sergio Aguero.

In comments on Thursday, Mr Xi set out four goals for improved ties. He proposed a joint and “strategic” policy approach to the bilateral relationship. This could be achieved by enhanced economic and trade cooperation. Beijing and London could also join forces as permanent members of the United Nations Security Council and at institutions like the World Trade Organisation and G20. Lastly he looked for more tourist and other personal contacts between the two states

"We must strengthen the pragmatism of Sino-British relations in the golden era, and push economic and trade cooperation between the two countries to a new level," Mr Xi said.

The Chinese have been keen to secure greater British involvement in the One Belt, One Road initiative which has seen Beijing back infrastructure projects that would revive the ancient Silk Road that once connected east and west.

On Mrs May's first official visit to China since she took office in 2016, officials have been keen to portray the trip as a breakthrough for the self-effacing prime minister. A cabinet minister on the visit, Liam Fox, the international trade secretary, said he wished the people of Britain could see Theresa May as the rest of the world sees their leader.

She herself appeared surprised when the state TV interviewer said she was known as “Auntie May” in the world’s most populous country.

“A lot of Chinese people would affectionately call you, in Chinese, ‘Auntie May,” he said. “You’re one of the members of the family. Do you like that?”

After a momentary pause, Mrs May smiled. “Oh, thank you,” she said. “Thank you very much indeed. I’m honoured by that. Thank you.”

There was more of the personal touch at tea ceremony with Xi and his wife Peng Liyuan. Philip May cheered when he was served Lapsang Souchong tea. “We drink that,” he told Mrs Peng.

Updated: February 1, 2018 07:00 PM