The visit of Jeremy Hunt to Beijing

By George N. Tzogopoulos
0 Comment(s)Print E-mail, August 3, 2018
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Jeremy Hunt, the U.K. foreign secretary [Photo/]

The first visit to China of Jeremy Hunt, as the new U.K. foreign secretary, outlined the importance he is giving to the harmonious evolution of Sino-British relations. He was appointed to this position on July 9, and only three weeks, here he was in Beijing. 

Beforehand, Hunt had said that, in leaving the EU, his country was committed to deepening its partnership with China, obviously following the line of Prime Minister Theresa May, who met Chinese President Xi Jinping last February in Beijing. 

In a press conference with Chinese counterpart Wang Yi, Hunt made a special reference to British exports to China, which rose 32 percent last year – from £16.8 billion in 2016 to £22.3 billion. 

That still leaves a hefty trade gap. Its imports from China were worth £42.3 billion in 2016 and £45.2 billion in 2017. China accounted for 3.6 percent of U.K. exports and 7  percent of U.K. imports in 2017 (relevant figures for 2016: 3.1 percent and 7.2 percent). 

There are many opportunities for the figures to grow, with implementation of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) opening new windows. Last year, for instance, the first freight train directly linking China and the U.K. arrived in London just 18 days after leaving Yiwu, a city in the eastern province of Zhejiang. 

As Ma Hui, a senior official in the Chinese embassy to Britain, has said, the train route “carries not only goods but also bilateral confidence to create a win-win situation.” 

Moreover, the U.K. has shown a positive attitude to China's opening-up policy. The export of services is critical for the British economy. As an example, last year, services provided by hotels, restaurants, travel agencies and tour operators concerning travel to China, were valued at £1.4 billion. 

The more China reforms its market, and removes restriction of foreign ownership, the more British companies will be engaged in a wide range of business activities from services to manufacturing. 

From another perspective, Chinese investments in the U.K. are flourishing. The Hinkley Point C nuclear power station project is a stand-out example, but there are others. Six years ago, for instance, China Investment Corporation (CIC) bought a 10 percent stake in the firm that owns London's Heathrow Airport. 

The Chinese fund is taking in the realization of plans for the reconstruction of Heathrow involving construction of a third runway. Another Chinese company, Beijing Construction Engineering Group, is co-developing the project known as Airport City Manchester. 

A study by Baker McKenzie and Rhodium Group shows Chinese foreign direct investment into the U.K. rose from US$9.2 billion in 2016 to US$20.8 billion in 2017. 

Meanwhile, a Grant Thornton analysis focused on the success of both public and private Chinese companies operating in the U.K., which contribute to the national economy and create job positions. Companies dealing with the financial services and technology have the lion's share. 

Needless to say, Sino-British financial collaboration yields win-win results as the capital coming from China is important for the preservation of the City of London as a top-class world financial center, in turn contributing to the internationalization of the yuan. 

So, it was no surprise that the recent 9th China-U.K. Strategic Dialogue was successful and re-affirmed the determination of Beijing and London to enhance ties. 

Yet, some caution is still needed. For the time being, the nature of the final Brexit package remains a big question mark not only for Sino-British relations but also for the relationship between the U.K. and all its other trade partners. China will have to wait to see how negotiations between London and Brussels conclude. 

A soft or hard Brexit will make a difference. British exports of road vehicles to China, for example, will certainly be affected by the final U.K.-EU agreement. So, although Beijing and London want to proceed with a free trade agreement, details can hardly be discussed at this stage. 

The good news for the Sino-British partnership is that the current U.K. government – which initially lacked the passion of the previous one under David Cameron in approaching China – seems to have overcome its somewhat reserved stance. This can guarantee the continuity Beijing seeks. 

George N. Tzogopoulos is a columnist with For more information please visit:

Opinion articles reflect the views of their authors, not necessarily those of

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