Sunday 14 May 2017

Philip Hammond Hails China As A Truly 'Natural Partner'

Philip Hammond

The chancellor, Philip Hammond, has called for closer economic ties with China as Britain enters a new, post-Brexit era.

Speaking at the start of a summit in Beijing celebrating President Xi Jinping’s “Belt and Road initiative”, Hammond heaped praise on his hosts and said Britain was a “natural partner” for Beijing as it pushed ahead with a massive infrastructure campaign some call the most ambitious in history.

“China and the UK have a long and rich trading history. Indeed, the English first attempted to find a trade route to China in the 16th century although it took us four decades to find one,” Hammond told the opening session of the two-day forum.

“I welcome the ‘Belt and Road initiative’ as an opportunity to strengthen these ties and I welcome the progress that has already been made.”

Relations between London and Beijing soured after Theresa May became prime minister in July and ordered a review of the controversial China-backed Hinkley Point C plant. That decision cast doubt on what had previously been cast as a “golden age” of ties under her predecessor David Cameron and former chancellor George Osborne. But the relationship appeared to recover after the £18bn project was approved.

On Sunday Hammond hailed China’s ability to drive “phenomenal economic development” and success in “lifting” 800 million Chinese citizens out of poverty over the past four decades. “Since 1980 the Chinese economy has grown by over 2,500%. This year, it is expected to account for a quarter of total global economic growth,” he told an audience of world leaders including Russian president Vladimir Putin, and Turkey’s Recep Erdoğan.

Britain now hoped to benefit from that growth as it charted its post-Brexit course, the chancellor added. “As we embark on a new chapter in our history, as we leave the European Union, we want to maintain a close and open trading partnership with our European neighbours and at the same time pursue our ambition to secure free trade agreements around the world with new partners and old allies alike.”

“Our ambition is for more trade, not less trade, and China clearly shares this ambition,” Hammond added.

The chancellor said that between now and 2030 about $26tn would need to be spent on infrastructure in Asia - $4tn of which China had pledged to help fund. “But the scale of infrastructure investment required cannot be met by public financing alone and the UK, I believe, can be a natural partner in delivering this infrastructure by supporting the finance, the design and the delivery needed to make the vision a reality.”

Liu Xiaoming, China’s ambassador in London, said that while Brexit and next month’s general election had brought “uncertainties”, Downing Street was now “in an excellent position to secure the opportunities [Xi’s] initiative has to offer”.

“Remarkable opportunities … are now up for grabs,” Liu told Xinhua, China’s official news agency.

Hammond added on Twitter: “Britain is ready to work with all [Belt and Road] partners.”



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