Chinese begin calling Theresa May 'Auntie May' during her trip

It comes as a bank travelling with the UK delegation raised the prospect of £1bn of credit for a Chinese infrastructure project

Joe Watts
Thursday 01 February 2018 09:57 GMT
Theresa May seeks to strengthen UK-China relations

Chinese people have taken to calling the Prime Minister “Auntie May” following her trip to the country and meeting with its leaders.

The nickname was revealed to Theresa May during a television interview, ahead of her bilateral meeting with China’s all-powerful President Xi Jinping.

It comes as a British bank that travelled with Ms May moved towards providing more than £1bn of credit for China’s controversial Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).

In an interview with the state-owned CCTV channel, a reporter asked her: “So, when you were in Wuhan, did you realise that you’ve got a Chinese nickname?”

When she said she did not, the reporter added: “A lot of Chinese people would affectionately call you, in Chinese, ‘Auntie May’.”

The journalist added: “You’re one of the members of the family. Do you like that?”

The Prime Minister replied: “Oh, thank you. Thank you very much indeed. I’m honoured by that, thank you.”

Theresa May arrives in China to drum up trade and investment

The Chinese people have received Ms May well generally, with one British official telling The Independent members of the public appreciate the “nationalist sentiment” of Brexit.

Meanwhile, Ms May had already shared a dinner and exchanged gifts with China’s premier Li Keqiang, who hailed her trip a success, a sentiment echoed in the country’s state-owned China Daily newspaper on Wednesday.

But beneath the warm words of both countries’ leaders, serious discussions about trade and business are taking place with both sides attempting to get from the other what they need.

Ms May, travelling with her biggest ever business delegation, is desperate to boost trade with China, attract more inward investment and nurture the prospect of a broad post-Brexit free trade agreement.

The Chinese for their part were looking for the UK’s backing for their contentious BRI – a vast international infrastructure project through Asia and Europe.

While UK business is keen to exploit the opportunities of the £600bn splurge from Beijing, other world leaders and diplomats are concerned it is being used as a vehicle to deepen Chinese influence.

Ms May said the BRI promised great opportunities, but has also publically been keen to say she would tell Beijing it had to be transparent and adhere to international standards.

The Chinese press reported, however, that Ms May’s team “witnessed” the signing of a memorandum of understanding with a British bank to grant loan credit worth £1.1bn.

The bank was Standard Chartered, with its chief executive Bill Winters joining Ms May as part of her delegation.

Meanwhile, an event hosted by British officials to bring together business delegates and Chinese officials for the BRI was also held on Thursday.

All in all, Ms May’s three-day tour of China this week will see the nations sign business deals worth some £9bn to both parties.

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