Prime Minister Theresa May sent a letter to China this week, Reuters reports:
Prime Minister Theresa May has told China’s leader that Britain wants to strengthen trade and business ties, an attempt to reassure the world’s second largest economy after London delayed a $24 billion nuclear project.
May’s surprise decision to review the building of Britain’s first nuclear plant in decades upset China, which questioned whether Chinese money was still welcome in Britain just weeks after the June 23 Brexit vote to leave the European Union.
After Beijing’s expression of frustration, May wrote to President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang saying Britain attached great importance to Sino-British cooperation.
Britain “looks forward to strengthening cooperation with China on trade and business and on global issues”, China’s foreign ministry said, citing the letter.
Britain has come under sustained fire from human rights activists and others for its willingness to get cozy with China. Prime Minister Cameron rolled out the red carpet for Xi Jinping when he visited last year, and George Osborne made no secret of his desire to improve ties with the Middle Kingdom.
At the time, we said a good word for 10 Downing on the grounds that such hard-hearted realism had done well for the UK in the past and that 2015 London wasn’t likely to make China change its ways. But we also thought it would be wise to diversify Britain’s relationships in the unlikely (so it seemed at the time) event of a Brexit.
Well, here we are, and now May has to decide whether to stick to her predecessor’s plan or to rewrite the script. With London’s power shrinking, it’s even less likely that the UK will get China to do anything about human rights. Meanwhile, May needs as much leverage in her negotiations with the EU as she can get. Having better relations with Beijing can help her there. So, yet again, it’s hard to fault her for wanting to keep Beijing happy—even if the kowtowing makes for a rather unseemly picture.