If Theresa May had hoped for a brief moment of respite from domestic pressures during her visit to China, then she was sorely mistaken. While the Prime Minister did leave Beijing with approximately £9 billion worth of new trade deals between British and Chinese companies, International Trade Secretary Liam Fox conceded that any potential trade deal was “some way off.”
Indeed, Downing Street seems rather upbeat about the entire trip. Eager to highlight areas of agreement, announcements lauded the promise of a trade review, agricultural opportunities as well as educational, cultural and environmental partnerships.
This is in stark contrast to Chinese announcements, which were eager to stress that China was already self-sufficient in most things and that these talks were merely giving Chinese businesses the option to buy British if they so desired. In a time dominated by Brexit, the Prime Minister may have hoped for more than the £9 billion worth of deals she did manage to get.
French President Emmanuel Macron returned from China earlier this year claiming to have obtained 20 billion worth of deals, and President Trump claimed – a presumably inflated – figure of $250 billion after his visit. British politicians were quick to seize on this. Liberal Democrat leader Vince Cable called the agreements “modest” and argued that the Prime Minister is quickly learning that “trade deals won’t fall like ripened fruit into her hands.”
Given further inspection, some of the claims that China’s ban on importing British beef products would end up being inaccurate, with the two nations only agreeing to further discussions on the issue. The Prime Minister visited Wuhan, home to the world’s largest university, with the hope that progress would be made on student visa exchanges, but instead all that is known for sure is that an already existing programme in which maths teachers exchange roles will be continued into the next few years. While Mrs. May was in Wuhan, she met UEA alumnus actress Jiang Shuying. Jiang Shuying is an alumni of UEA and the INTO program with which UEA is partnered. She also toured the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences (CAAS) in Beijing, with Professor Chun-Ming Liu. He formerly studied at the John Innes Centre. Only time will tell whether this trip was significant in AngloChinese relations. The government are pinning their hopes on it being exactly that.