Beijing drops hint it would like UK to stay in EU

British Prime Minister David Cameron and President Xi at Chequers. [Number 10/Flickr]

China hopes to see a united European Union in which Britain plays a prominent role in promoting Chinese relations with the bloc, President Xi Jinping told Britain’s premier – making in an indirect plea for the country to remain part of the EU.

Earlier this year, US President Barack Obama explicitly stated that he thought Britain would be better off within the bloc, than leaving.

Prime Minister David Cameron is seeking to renegotiate Britain’s relationship with the EU, which it joined in 1973, as the ‘in’ and ‘out’ campaigns prepare for battle in a referendum on membership which will be held before 2017.

China typically does not comment on votes in other countries, viewing it as an interference in an internal affair.

But Beijing has been worried about the implications of free trade-supporting Britain leaving the EU, and of any weakening of a grouping which it views as a vital counterbalance to the United States, diplomats say.

Meeting at the prime minister’s official country residence at Chequers late Thursday, Xi told Cameron the EU is a strategic partner of China’s and also its largest trading partner, China’s foreign ministry said in a statement released on Friday.

“China hopes to see a prosperous Europe and a united EU, and hopes Britain, as an important member of the EU, can play an even more positive and constructive role in promoting the deepening development of China-EU ties,” it paraphrased Xi as saying.

There was no direct mention of the British vote on whether to leave the EU.

China’s Foreign Ministry made similar comments before Xi left.

>>Read: Mandelson: Brexit renegotiations would take ‘up to 10 years’

In July, President Obama stated that “having the United Kingdom in the European Union gives us much greater confidence about the strength of the transatlantic union.”

“We want to make sure that the United Kingdom continues to have that influence,” he added.

Xi is on his first state visit to Britain, 10 years after the last such trip by a Chinese president.

The British government has moved forcefully to strengthen financial and political ties with Beijing. Earlier this year, it broke ranks with the United States by signing up as a founding member of China’s new infrastructure investment bank

Britain’s governing Conservative Party won an absolute majority in the UK general election on 7 May 2015. With 12 more MPs than the other parties combined, the Conservatives no longer have to rely on a coalition partner.

Prime Minister David Cameron promised to renegotiate the UK's relations with the European Union. The renegotiation will be followed by a referendum by the end of 2017, to decide whether or not the United Kingdom should remain in the EU.

If he achieves the reforms, Cameron will campaign to stay in. Otherwise, the Conservatives might campaign to leave the EU. This decision could have far-reaching consequences for trade, investment and Great Britain's position on the international scene.

Some other European countries are ready to listen to Cameron's concerns on issues such as immigration, and may be prepared to make limited concessions to keep Britain in the bloc.

But EU leaders also have their red lines, and have ruled out changing fundamental EU principles, such as the free movement of workers, and a ban on discriminating between workers from different EU states.

  • November: David Cameron to announce his views on EU reform.
  • 17-18 December: EU summit dedicated to possible reforms to accommodate the UK ahead of the referendum.
  • 2016: Likely year for British EU referendum.
  • 2017: Self-imposed end of year deadline for British Prime Minister David Cameron to hold his in/out referendum.

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