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'Mature' China policy seen on way in UK

By WANG MINGJIE | China Daily | Updated: 2022-11-24 07:12

Signs emerge that bilateral trade ties will be priority for Sunak, experts say

Observers hoping for improved ties between Britain and China are drawing encouragement from a perceived more "mature" stance on the key relationship from UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak.

Analysts, as well as a Conservative Party member of Parliament, have expressed guarded optimism on how Sunak — in the top post since late last month — will approach the China policy. They believe the prime minister, a former finance minister, will prioritize economic and trade ties.

Stephen Perry, chairman of the 48 Group Club, a business network that promotes trade and cultural links between Britain and China, said: "The recent problems in the bilateral relationship are an aspect of US President (Joe) Biden's approach to China. The UK is a long-term ally of the US and takes great notice of the US policies."

Perry said it is in the interest of the West to have a good reciprocal relationship with China and the rest of Asia, adding: "China has to be every nation's high priority as China accounts for 30 percent of world growth and is very impactful in many ways. So, I think we will see a more adult approach to relations with China as our prime minister comes from an ancient Asian civilization, though it will not be simple."

Jim O'Neill, a British sinologist and former UK treasury minister, said the relationship between China and the UK might not be like the days of the "golden era", but it will be better than it was under the short-lived premiership of Sunak's predecessor Liz Truss, who had attracted attention for hawkish comments on China.

Although Sunak, at the G20 summit in Indonesia this month, called China a "systemic threat", he is perceived as being a pragmatic politician.

O'Neill said Sunak will view the relationship with China as "a net positive", but will be mindful of the pressure from right-wing members of his party, and the hard-line stance from Washington.

'Better relations to explore'

"But I do think he will try to explore better economic relations. His own inclination will be to balance this better, as he sees the economic positives for the UK from better engagement," O'Neill said.

Kerry Brown, a professor of Chinese Studies and director of the Lau China Institute at King's College London, said: "We have to have a pragmatic relationship. We cannot pretend there are no problems, but we cannot make everything a problem.

"Despite the tough politics at the moment, a lot of practical collaboration is happening and continues to happen; we have to be clear-sighted about where China is going to be for our growth."

China was Britain's largest source of imports and sixth-largest market for the country's exports in 2021, according to the UK's Office for National Statistics.

However, there was an unexpected decline in China-UK trade this year, with the total value of exports and imports between the two countries decreasing by 2.5 percent year-on-year during the first eight months, to $69.5 billion, according to China's General Administration of Customs.

Mark Logan, a Conservative Party MP and vice-chair of the all-party parliamentary group on China, said: "The UK government must take a comprehensive and mature approach to our relationship with China. It's vital that leaders in both countries find a way to ease economic pain, and global political disruption."

Logan believes Sunak has an opportunity to find "a healthy balance", through diplomacy.

Christopher Bovis, a professor of international business law at the University of Hull, said: "The new UK government will prioritize the China-UK agenda and seek to reestablish positive and meaningful relations with the Chinese administration." He expects the UK government will seek a different path from that of the US, as the UK has clear interests in pursuing closer collaboration with China.



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