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Theresa May to visit China in bid for trade deal

Theresa May will visit China as she looks to revive the "golden age" between the two countries lauded by the previous British government.

The Chinese last year extended an invitation to the PM to attend its One Belt, One Road summit in May, although Number 10 on Tuesday refused to confirm whether this was the event she planned to attend.

The trip is the latest in a series of foreign visits with major trading powers as the UK prepares for divorce from the European Union.

It also marks an attempt by Mrs May to strengthen relations with the Chinese, which have been on the wane in recent months following George Osborne's departure from government.

The former chancellor had made increasing commercial ties with Beijing a centrepiece of his six-year tenure at the Treasury, with insiders saying his absence had been sorely missed by Chinese officials.

Lord O'Neill, the former Treasury minister and Golden Sachs chief economist brought into government by Mr Osborne to build relations with China, told Sky News last week that the PM had to make visiting China a priority.

He said: "We need to keep working on the golden relationship.

"It wasn't that long in existence and it came on the back of some previous challenged relationship with China, so it is something that I think needs to be given more attention that it probably currently is.

"I think she should prioritise going to China."

Lord O'Neill also said ministers needed to get out of their comfort zone and seek out new trading partners rather than focusing attention on older allies.

"It is understandable, because of the past, for some of our policy thinkers to think: 'Let's find our most similar structured political allies out there in Australia, Canada and NZ.'

"(But) to really change our future trade performance we need to be giving the same kind of energy to more complex and newer places that are going to be more important, like China and India."

In her seminal Lancaster House Brexit speech this month, the PM said China, Brazil and the Gulf States had expressed their interest in striking trade deals.

She also confirmed the UK had begun discussions on future trade ties with Australia, New Zealand and India.

Relations between China and the new Conservative government got off to a difficult start after Mrs May abruptly decided to review the £18bn Hinkley Point nuclear power plant in July, indicating that she had national security concerns about the scheme.

Mrs May subsequently approved the deal, but her decision to review the scheme, and failure to show the same enthusiasm for China as her predecessor, has prompted Beijing to question the "golden era in relations" - a sentiment the PM hopes this trip will address.

The visit is part of a wider global tour as Mrs May looks to strengthen Britain's global trading links.

Since the beginning of the year, the PM has visited the US and Turkey as well as hosting the Israeli and Italian premiers this week in the UK. She also visited Bahrain just before Christmas.

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