Chinese President Xi Jinping has told Britain he wants to see a united European Union, in his most direct comments on Britain’s relationship with Europe before the country’s EU membership referendum.
Xi told Prime Minister David Cameron Britain was an “important member of the EU” before ending his four-day trip to Britain which sealed multi-billion dollar deals but drew criticism from human rights campaigners.
It was a rare mention of another country’s planned vote by China, which does not like to interfere in internal affairs, and was quickly played down by a Cameron aide, who said the European Union “wasn’t a huge part of their discussion”.
Officials, instead, are keen to steer attention to the large-scale investment Britain has secured from China. Xi is visiting the northern city of Manchester on Friday, to seal 24 billion pounds ($37 billion) in deals to help to spur the creation of a ‘northern powerhouse’ to challenge London’s dominance.
China’s foreign ministry paraphrased Xi as saying in a statement: “China hopes to see a prosperous Europe and a united EU, and hopes Britain, as an important member of the EU, can play an even more positive and constructive role in promoting the deepening development of China-EU ties.”
Cameron is seeking to renegotiate Britain’s relationship with the EU, which it joined in 1973, before holding a referendum on membership which he says will take place before the end of 2017.
But Beijing has been worried about the implications of free trade-supporting Britain leaving the EU, and of any weakening of a grouping which it views as a vital counterbalance to the United States, diplomats say.