BEIJING • Chinese President Xi Jinping has told British Prime Minister Theresa May that their countries should take trade ties to "a new level" as London scouts the globe for fresh partnerships after its contentious exit from the European Union.
Hounded by Brexit rows at home, Mrs May is seeking to deepen trade relations with the world's second largest economy as Britain prepares to leave the EU next year.
The embattled Prime Minister and senior Chinese leaders championed a "golden era" of relations between their two countries throughout her visit.
"As the United Kingdom is leaving the European Union, we're going to be more outward-looking and looking to enhance our relationships around the world and this relationship with China is an important part of that," Mrs May told state broadcaster CCTV.
The British leader held talks with Mr Xi yesterday at the Diaoyutai State Guest House after visiting an agricultural sciences academy. She later took part in a traditional tea ceremony with the Chinese leader and his wife Peng Liyuan.
Mrs May's office said the two leaders agreed to hold a joint trade and investment review as the first step towards delivering an ambitious future trade agreement after Brexit.
"The PM said that, once Britain leaves the EU, we will be free to strike our own trade deals," it said, adding that more talks on China's Belt and Road Initiative have also been agreed.
The initiative is a massive infrastructure programme aimed at reviving ancient Silk Road trade routes by building rail and maritime networks across the world.
But the project has spurred both interest and anxiety in many countries, with some saying it mainly benefits Chinese state-run firms and has whiffs of expansionism.
Mrs May had said on Wednesday that London welcomes the initiative, but she cautioned that the two countries would continue to work together to ensure that the endeavour "meets international standards".
Mr Xi said during their meeting yesterday the two countries can "develop mutually beneficial cooperation on a wider scale, at a higher level and on a deeper level" through the Belt and Road initiative, according to national broadcaster CCTV.
Mr Xi also proposed that China and Britain enhance exchange and cooperation in institutions such as the United Nations, the G-20 and the World Trade Organisation to address global challenges.
Mrs May began her China trip with plans to announce £9 billion (S$16.8 billion) in business deals, an agreement to end a ban on British beef and promises to seek more trade opportunities.
The two countries agreed on new measures to improve access to the huge Chinese market and set up a special panel to explore trade opportunities, she said on Wednesday.
Britain runs a £25.4 billion trade deficit with the Asian giant and only 3.1 per cent of British exports go to the country, according to Mr Rajiv Biswas, Asia-Pacific chief economist at IHS Markit.
The two countries signed a dozen deals in areas including trade, finance and smart cities on Wednesday, the first day of her trip, which ends in Shanghai today.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS, XINHUA