Britain's May meets China's Xi on visit focused post-Brexit

In this photo released by China's Xinhua News Agency, British Prime Minister Theresa May stands with lion dancers during a cultural reception at the British ambassador's residence in Beijing, Thursday, Feb. 1, 2018. May on Wednesday called for expanding the "global strategic partnership" between the United Kingdom and China, at the start of a visit to the world's second-largest economy focused on hashing out new trade arrangements once the U.K. leaves the European Union. (Jin Liangkuai/Xinhua via AP)

British Prime Minister Theresa May has met with Chinese President Xi Jinping on a visit aimed at mapping out new trading arrangements following Britain's departure from the European Union

BEIJING — Chinese President Xi Jinping touted the advantages of his "Belt and Road" mega-plan for trade and infrastructure links across Asia in a meeting Thursday with British Prime Minister Theresa May, whose government has been slow to endorse the initiative.

The trillion dollar-plus blueprint is an "open, transparent, inclusive and win-win initiative," Xi told May, according to state broadcaster CCTV.

China and the United Kingdom "can have broader, higher-level and deeper cooperation under the framework," Xi said, adding that the initiative "operates under market and international rules."

May responded that she hoped for cooperation between the sides under the plan and that they would "promote regional and global economic growth," CCTV reported.

The meeting came on the second day of May's visit to China aimed at building economic ties and mapping out new trading arrangements between the two countries following Britain's departure from the European Union.

May has been hesitant to endorse the Belt and Road initiative, although on Wednesday she expressed conditional support for British involvement as long as such projects adhere to established global business practices. May had also called for expanding the "global strategic partnership" between the two countries.

Business deals worth more than 9 billion pounds ($13 billion) will be announced before her visit ends Friday, May earlier announced.

Bolstering ties with China became more urgent after Britain voted in 2016 to leave the EU, compelling it to forge new trade agreements outside of the 28-nation bloc.

British exports to China are up 60 percent since 2010, and China is expected to be one of the U.K.'s biggest foreign investors by 2020.

May is being accompanied on her visit by 50 British business leaders, including the chief executives of Jaguar Land Rover and drug firm AstraZeneca. She will visit the financial hub of Shanghai on Friday before returning home.

Britain has promoted itself as a center for transactions in China's yuan currency and on a December visit, finance minister Philip Hammond announced up to 25 billion pounds ($35 billion) in support for British businesses involved in the Belt and Road initiative.

However, May appears more cautious about embracing Chinese investment than her predecessor, David Cameron. She annoyed Beijing in 2016 by temporarily delaying approval for a Chinese-backed nuclear power plant in southwestern England.

Despite that, May has echoed China's reference to a "golden era" in relations proclaimed in 2015 by Xi and Cameron.

Some analysts have said China is increasing pressure on May due to her perceived political weakness at home, where her job is under threat from rivals within her Conservative Party who are divided over whether to make a clean break with the EU or seek to keep the closest possible economic relationship.

May insisted to reporters flying with her to China, "I'm not a quitter."

There is "a long-term job to be done" by her government, she said, according to the Press Association news agency.

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