Much like around the world, the Chinese government was shocked that the British people decided to leave the European Union in Thursday’s referendum vote.
On Friday, as global financial markets plunged on the results, China’s official government voices called for calm, saying Britain and the EU need to reach agreement as soon as possible. However, China’s real feelings were broadcast in an influential state-run newspaper warning Britain that it is becoming a “small country.”
China tried to stay out of the debate and not directly state its opinion prior to the vote. It said the vote was an internal matter and that it only wanted to see a strong and stable Europe.
“We hope Britain and the EU can reach a negotiated agreement at an early date. A prosperous and stable Europe is in all sides’ interests,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told a daily news briefing.
Hua said China respected the choice of the British people, but inside the government there is a real fear that the EU, currently China’s largest trading partner, will lose around a sixth of its economic output.
In addition, many are worried about what affect this will have on China and Britain, which have seen relations warming over the past few years and with closer business links in what both countries refer to as a “golden age” in ties. Britain recently became a founding member of the new China-run Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank.
“The impact will be on all levels,” said Hua. “Not only on relations between China and Britain. As to what kind of impact there will be, I believe all sides will calmly and conscientiously assess this. China supports the European integration process and would like to see Europe playing a proactive role in international affairs. We have full confidence in the outlook for the development of China-EU ties.”
But behind the scenes, the government’s real feelings were printed in The Global Times, a widely-read tabloid published by the ruling Communist Party’s official People’s Daily.
“This referendum will probably be a landmark event that proves Britain is heading in the direction of being a small country with few people, writing itself off as hopeless and acting recklessly,” said a Global Times editorial.