Chinese Premier Looks to Put Ties with U.K. on ‘Firmer Footing’

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang sought to move relations with the U.K. onto “firmer footing” as sources of tension continue to build between the nations in the early weeks of the Biden administration.

The two sides need to “take forward the friendship and co-operation between the Chinese and British people,” Li said in a keynote address to an online event Wednesday hosted by Chinese and U.K. business groups. “No matter how the regional and international landscape may evolve, China’s commitment to its relations to the U.K. remains as strong as ever.”

Li’s rare public speech at a business event comes as tensions between China and the U.K. over the future of Hong Kong residents and Beijing’s treatment of Uighur minorities in Xinjiang province threaten to spill over to the two countries’ economic relationship.

Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said in June the U.K. was prepared to sacrifice a potential free trade deal with China to protect Hong Kong citizens. Lawmakers have also pushed for British judges to be allowed to rule on claims of genocide against potential trading partners, including China.

Wednesday’s event was hosted by the China-Britain Business Council, the China Chamber of Commerce in the U.K. and the 48 Group Club, a nonprofit that promotes trade ties between China and the U.K.

The U.K. is on the hunt for new markets after quitting the European Union. In December, China inked an investment treaty seven years in the making with the EU, and industry groups are pushing for a free trade agreement between the U.K. and China in the wake of Brexit. China was the U.K.’s third-biggest trading partner in 2019, after the U.S. and Germany; the U.K. ranked a distant 14th for China.

The U.K. last year barred Huawei Technologies Co. from its 5G networks by 2027, joining a growing list of Western nations to do so. Some members of Parliament have also questioned Chinese involvement in the development of British nuclear power plants.

Most recently, the U.K. announced a path to citizenship for British National (Overseas) passport holders, after accusing Beijing of violating the terms of Hong Kong’s handover by enacting a strict national security law. China has denounced the program, said it would no longer recognize the BN(O) passport as a valid travel document and some pro-Beijing officials have even called for stripping BN(O) holders of their Chinese nationality -- potentially leaving them stateless.

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

BQ Install

Bloomberg Quint

Add BloombergQuint App to Home screen.