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British Prime Minister Theresa May leaving 10 Downing Street, London, July 20, 2016 (AP photo by Frank Augstein).

May Appears to Abruptly Walk Away From Britain’s Embrace of China

Wednesday, Aug. 17, 2016

It may be the shortest “golden era” on record. Barely nine months after Chinese President Xi Jinping’s extended visit to the United Kingdom seemed to cement a “very special relationship” between London and Beijing, China’s ambassador to the U.K. is warning that relations are now at a “crucial historical juncture.” The issue nominally at hand is the British government’s decision over whether to proceed with the Hinkley Point nuclear power plant, in which China General Nuclear Power Company (CGN) has a stake. But the real question is whether the new British prime minister, Theresa May, intends to walk away from the fulsome embrace of China pursued by her predecessor, David Cameron, and his chancellor, George Osborne.

The timing could not be more delicate. Trade and investment deals in Asia have been trumpeted by the pro-Brexit camp as a principal reason why the U.K. has nothing to fear economically from life outside the European Union. Despite its slowdown, China still has the deepest pockets; is adding the equivalent of an economy the size of Turkey to its GDP every year; and holds out the promise of becoming an essential source of revenue for the City of London, which fears that its access to the EU single market will end up being circumscribed. In one of his first statements after the vote, Osborne indicated that “more effort” in trade relations with China would form a critical element of the British government’s post-Brexit economic strategy. His successor, Philip Hammond, pressed ahead with an “open for business” trip to Beijing a couple of weeks later. ...

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