A quick history of China and the UK’s Golden Era – and where Theresa May fits in

Politicians like to talk about a “special relationship” with the US and an “entente chaleureuse” with France – and when it comes to China, “Golden Era” is the buzzword of choice. But what does it actually mean? With Theresa May’s state visit to China fast approaching, we take a look back at the journey so far …


18th October 2015

Just ahead of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s first state visit to the UK, then-Prime Minister David Cameron said the UK and China were entering “something of a golden era in our relationship”.

Speaking to Chinese media organisations, he pointed to Chinese investment in UK infrastructure and Chinese companies bringing jobs to the UK as key benefits.


19-23rd October 2015

While Xi was in London, the two sides sealed agreements on nuclear and rail projects, as well as announcing the launch of sovereign debt in Chinese currency in London.

Cameron also said China would benefit from the UK’s “contacts and roles in the UK” including as a key member of the EU.


23rd July 2016

The UK votes to leave the EU – and Brexit looks to be a game-changer. Some worry about the UK becoming a less desirable trading partner for China, and that Beijing might look elsewhere in the EU.


September 2016

Shortly after the Brexit referendum, May visits China for the G20 summit in Hangzhou. She meets with Xi Jinping, who says China is “open” to a bilateral trade deal.


June 2017

A planned first state visit to China by Theresa May gets shelved due to clashes with Donald Trump’s state visit to China – and is rescheduled for 2018.


December 2017

Philip Hammond seals over £1bn worth of trade and investment deals with China when he visits Beijing for the ninth China-UK Economic and Financial Dialogue.


January 2018

French President Emmanuel Macron visits China, with Beijing and Paris portraying his trip as an opportunity for a deeper relationship between China and France that would enhance China’s EU ties. For some commentators, it’s another sign that Brexit has put the UK at a disadvantage with China.


Now – January-February 2018

Theresa May will start her first state visit to China as PM on Wednesday, visiting Beijing, Shanghai and Hubei Province on a three-day trip.


She’ll be accompanied by a wide-ranging group of more than 40 organisations – including blue-chip companies, carmakers, healthcare firms and educational bodies.


Ahead of the trip, Chinese ambassador to the UK Liu Xiaoming told Chinese media he expected May’s visit to play the role of a “beacon” for the two countries’ relations. During the visit, May is expected to “enhance practical cooperation in such fields as finance, energy, infrastructure, food, high technology, creative industry and life sciences”.


But some reports in the UK media are saying Theresa May is more reluctant to make deals with China than her predecessors, which could lead to setbacks in future. In particular, they’re pointing to May’s reluctance to endorse the Belt and Road initiative, Xi Jinping’s massive infrastructure bid, which is set to impact on 70 countries across Asia, the Middle East, Africa and Europe.


How will Theresa May handle this trip, and what will it mean for China and the UK? We’ll soon find out – and we’ll have the latest updates here on Sino.

Catherine Jessup

A languages nerd with a food obsession and lifelong music bug, Catherine can be found sifting through the archives for Chinese indie tunes and toting around culinary experiments in a fancy lunchbox. Presenter and Reporter for Panda Radio and gbtimes.com. Find Catherine on Twitter @cjessup_gbtimes

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