British PM Theresa May writes to China's Xi Jinping, Li Keqiang expressing desire to enhance trade

British PM Theresa May at a press conference in Bratislava on July 28.
British PM Theresa May at a press conference in Bratislava on July 28. PHOTO: AFP

LONDON (Bloomberg) - British Prime Minister Theresa May has written to Chinese President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang to express her desire to enhance trade and strategic ties, her nation's new Asia envoy said.

Mr Alok Sharma, on his first official visit to China since being appointed Minister for Asia and the Pacific last month, told Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi in Beijing on Monday (Aug 15) that Britain attaches great importance to cooperation with Beijing, according to an online statement by China's Foreign Ministry.

Mr Sharma called China an "important global strategic partner". The message comes amid growing uncertainty over what was only recently touted as a "golden era" of bilateral relations.

Ms May last month postponed approval of the 18 billion pound Hinkley Point nuclear power plant in south-west England - the first to be built in the country in three decades.

The decision stunned Chinese and French backers who had hoped to sign construction contracts immediately. 

In her correspondence, Ms May said Britain supports China's hosting of next month's Group of 20 meeting in the city of Hangzhou, adding that she was looking forward to attending.

Mr Wang said China welcomes Ms May's visit and hopes to keep up "dialogue and coordination" with the new British government.

Less than three weeks in office after the departure of Mr David Cameron, Ms May's government cited the need for a "reliable and secure energy supply" and promised a final decision in the early autumn. China has urged Britain to reach "a decision as soon as possible".

Writing in the Financial Times last week, Mr Liu Xiaoming, China's ambassador to Britain, warned that the bilateral relationship is at a "crucial historical juncture".

China's 6 billion pound investment in the Somerset plant was the biggest deal announced during Mr Xi's state visit to Britain in October last year. Mr Cameron hailed the agreement as evidence of flourishing ties.

"The UK's relationship with China is strong, growing and delivering benefits for both our countries," Mr Sharma was quoted on the UK government website as saying before his meeting with Mr Wang. "Britain is open for business and an attractive destination for international investors, including from China."