Britain’s new foreign minister Jeremy Hunt begins his first major international trip with a visit to China on Monday (30 July), bidding to strengthen trade ties with Beijing ahead of Brexit next year.
Hunt and Wang Yi, China’s Minister of Foreign Affairs are expected to discuss free trade, enforcing sanctions on North Korea and how Britain and China can work together on global challenges such as climate change, Britain’s Foreign Office said.
“The UK and China are both major powers with a global perspective”, said foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt in a statement issued ahead of the visit.
“The UK-China Strategic Dialogue is an important opportunity to intensify our cooperation on shared challenges in international affairs, ranging from global free trade to non-proliferation and environmental challenges, under the UK-China Global Partnership and ‘Golden Era’ for UK-China relations,” he said.
“As the UK leaves the EU and becomes ever-more outward-looking, we are committed to deepening this vital partnership for the 21st century.”
Britain is trying to reinvent itself as a global trading nation after it voted in 2016 to leave the EU, and China, the world’s second largest economy, is high on the list of countries with which it wants to sign a free trade agreement.
It was revealed last week that May was dispatching ministers to the 27 member states of the EU in a bid to force concessions from the European Commission’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier who dismissed her Brexit plan last week.
Negotiators want to strike an agreement on Britain’s divorce from the trading bloc – set for 29 March 2019 – within the next three months, ideally before a European summit in mid-October.
Foreign and Commonwealth Office officials said that in China Hunt – who replaced Boris Johnson after his dramatic resignation over Prime Minister Theresa May’s Brexit blueprint earlier this month – will hold “extensive discussions” with Chinese state counsellor and minister of foreign affairs Wang Yi.
Further topics on the table are expected to be “the importance of multilateralism and free trade and ways the UK and China can work together on global challenges such as climate change, development, security and non-proliferation and enforcing UN sanctions on North Korea”.
Following the China summit, Hunt is scheduled to travel to Paris and Vienna for further talks with his European counterparts on Brexit.
In France and Austria “international security issues such as the threat from Russia, the war in Syria, and the Iran (nuclear) deal,” will also be under discussion according to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.