New UK PM urged to take pragmatic, balanced approach to relations with China
Published: Sep 08, 2022 01:08 AM
British Prime Minister Liz Truss leaves Downing Street to attend her first Prime Minister's Questions at the Houses of Parliament, in London, on September 7, 2022.

British Prime Minister Liz Truss leaves Downing Street to attend her first Prime Minister's Questions at the Houses of Parliament, in London, on September 7, 2022.

British companies are hoping for consistent China-UK economic and trade relations, as well as more open dialogue and a broader mindset for future bilateral relations, following the appointment of new UK Prime Minister Liz Truss.

There are lingering concerns that the bilateral relations between China and the UK may be affected given the new leader's hawkish stance on China and the concern that she could appoint anti-China politicians to handle foreign affairs and national security, experts said. This might lead to further decoupling with China, the UK's third-largest trading partner.

British business representatives and companies have expressed their concerns while emphasizing the need for a strong bilateral trade relationship.

"The importance of the bilateral trading relationship cannot be understated, and we expect that it will continue to steadily increase [under the new leadership]," the British Chamber of Commerce (China) said in a statement sent to the Global Times on Wednesday.

The UK and China have a strong bilateral trading relationship that has enjoyed consistent year-on-year growth, excluding a slight decline in 2020 as a result of the pandemic, the chamber said.

China is the UK's largest source of goods imports. In 2021, the bilateral trade in goods between China and the UK exceeded $110 billion for the first time, according to data from the General Administration of Customs.

In 2021, in the face of the ups and downs of the epidemic and the sluggish recovery of the world economy, China-UK economic and trade cooperation continued to improve. The UK's investment in China rose by 22 percent in 2021, and Chinese investment in the UK increased by 246 percent, media reports said.

While there may be new challenges that the new prime minister will have to face in terms of balancing the economic relationship whilst addressing the trade deficit, the British Chamber of Commerce in China said that the right balance can be struck "through increased economic dialogue between the two countries, providing the means by which challenges and concerns of both British businesses in China and Chinese businesses in the UK can be addressed."

"Increased engagement, not less, is what is needed at both a government level but also at a personal level to ensure greater understanding of the opportunities and challenges that exist in both countries and where there are areas for mutual collaboration," the chamber further noted.

Speaking about the expectations for future economic and trade relations between China and the UK, a senior employee at a multinational British financial institute told the Global Times on condition of anonymity that a tougher stance "will not really have any significant impact on companies doing business in China." However, "efforts to improve trade and investment could only benefit both economies," the employee said.

While the UK has adopted a tougher stance toward China, choosing to place a strong emphasis on the political and security challenges that exist in the UK-China relationship, the British Chamber of Commerce in China said it hopes that "a pragmatic and balanced approach to the UK-China relationship can be adopted, that not only takes into account the challenges that exist but also acknowledges the strong economic relationship."

In responding to media questions about Truss becoming the new prime minister, China's foreign ministry spokesperson Mao Ning said at a regular press conference on Tuesday that cultivating and advancing sound bilateral ties is the common responsibility of China and the UK as it serves the common interests of the people of both countries.

"China is always committed to advancing ties with the UK on the basis of mutual respect and mutual benefit. We hope the UK will work with China in the same direction so that our relations will move along the right track," Mao said.