Theresa May has said she wants Britain to begin a “golden era” of relations with China – echoing a promise made by George Osborne.
The Prime Minister used the phrase for the first time as she boarded her plane at Heathrow to travel to the G20 summit in Hangzhou.
The term was coined by the ex-Chancellor as he sought trade links with China that critics at home and abroad have suggested were too close for comfort.
Human rights groups criticised the policy and accused Mr Osborne of turning a blind eye to human rights abuses and a lack of democracy in the one-party state.
But Ms May did not hesitate to use the words as she travelled to her first major international summit – where she will do her best to convince other world leaders of the merits of Brexit.
As she boarded her RAF Voyager plane at Heathrow on Saturday morning, the Prime Minister said: “This is a golden era for UK China relations, and one of the things I will be doing at the G20 is obviously talking to President Xi about how we can develop the strategic partnership that we have between the UK and China.
“But I’ll also be talking to other world leaders about how we can develop free trade around the globe and how Britain wants to seize those opportunities. My ambition is that Britain will be a global leader in free trade.’’
Pressure on Britain to cosy up to regimes like China will likely grow as it leaves the European Union and looks elsewhere to trade. A UK official has already said that Ms May will continue to raise difficult issues with the world leaders that she meets.
But a planned bilateral meeting with Mr Xi may be awkward as the British Government reviews whether to go ahead with the £18 billion Hinkley nuclear power project, which China is heavily invested in.
A decision is expected this month, but Ms May’s own advisor has raised security concerns.
Asked about the implications for Brexit, Ms May continued: “The message for the G20 will be that Britain is open for business. As a bold, confident, outward-looking country, we’ll be playing a key role on the world stage.
“But I’ll be talking to other world leaders about the opportunities for trade around the globe that will open up for Britain following Brexit.
“I’ll be talking about how Britain will be seizing those opportunities because my ambition for Britain is that we should be a global leader in free trade.”
Ms May will spend the weekend in China at the G20 summit, as well as meeting world leaders one-on-one.
The visit is the first for a British prime minister since Brexit.
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