On the fifth day of Chinese New Year, the day that Chinese businesses traditionally worship the God of Fortune and reopen their doors to customers, China’s Ambassador to the UK, Liu Xiaoming, was also talking about wealth, in the guise of the future of Sino-UK trade.
Speaking at the British parliament’s annual Lunar New Year reception, held in partnership with the China-Britain Business Council, Liu said that Britain’s exit from the European Union – Brexit – should be seen as an opportunity, especially with regard to making the UK and China even closer business partners.
Liu was speaking to an audience of political and business leaders from both countries, while just meters away MPs were debating Brexit before a vote on Article 50, the mechanism by which the process will be triggered. He told them that despite the sudden changes, the UK should still prosper.
“No one would have expected when we gathered here [at the same event] last year that Britain would go through so many changes and so many events. The British people voted to leave the EU, the country got a new Prime Minister and new Cabinet,” said Liu. “Looking into the future, challenges still exist but we are confident that we are able to ensure a steady growth of China-UK relations in the Golden Era. This will deliver more golden fruits to our two countries and the rest of the world.”
As if to reinforce the Ambassador’s message, Liam Fox, the UK’s Secretary of State for International Trade, announced on the same day that he had ignored warnings from the EU not to conduct formal trade talks before Britain triggers Article 50. Fox said he had launched working trade groups with a number of countries, including China, India and South Korea.
Fox, who had visited Hong Kong for trade talks a few weeks earlier in January aimed at deepening the UK’s investment and trade relationship “in both directions between Britain and China and Hong Kong,” said it would be against British national interests not to commence the country’s post-Brexit discussions with its future trade partners as soon as possible.
According to 2017 data from the American Enterprise Institute’s China Global Investment tracker, Chinese investments and contracts in Britain totalled US$38 billion over the past 10 years, making the UK China’s top investment destination in Europe. Moreover, the UK Prime Minister Theresa May has repeatedly stated since taking office in July 2016, that the “golden era” of commercial co-operation between the UK and China – one that was initially forged between her predecessor David Cameron and Xi Jinping, the Chinese president – remains strong. Now, with her government having decisively won the vote on the Brexit bill, Britain is a significant step closer to leaving the European Union. The British people will hope the God of Fortune is firmly with them.