BEIJING (Reuters) - China hopes the European Union remains united and continues to play an important role in the world, a top Chinese diplomat said on Tuesday ahead of President Xi Jinping’s trip to Britain, a country which will vote by 2017 on whether to leave the EU.
Prime Minister David Cameron is seeking to renegotiate Britain’s relationship with the bloc it joined in 1973 as the ‘in’ and ‘out’ campaigns prepare for battle in a referendum on membership.
China typically does not comment on votes in other countries, viewing it as an interference in an internal affair.
But Beijing has been worried about the implications of free trade-supporting Britain leaving the EU, and of any weakening of the bloc which it views as a vital counterbalance to the United States, diplomats say.
Asked whether China was concerned Britain could withdraw from the EU and whether Xi would bring this up in talks in London next week, Vice Foreign Minister Wang Chao would not answer directly.
“This is a very big issue. China has good bilateral relations with Britain and also with the EU,” Wang told a news conference.
“China has resolutely and consistently supported the European integration process. So we would like to see Europe as one bloc and continue to play an even more important role in international affairs.”
Assistant Commerce Minister Zhang Ji said China was particularly happy to see Britain support efforts to push an eventual China-EU free trade deal.
“Britain is an important member of the EU and consistently upholds a free trade position,” Zhang said.
“We hope Britain continues to play a positive role in internal EU matters and pushes for high-tech exports to China and restrains the use of trade remedy measures against China.”
Xi will be on his first state visit to Britain, 10 years after the last such trip by a Chinese president.
British finance minister George Osborne visited China last month, and agreed to a series of initiatives ranging from an expanded currency swap agreement, Chinese investment in British nuclear power and a feasibility study for a scheme to connect the London and Shanghai stock markets.
Zhang said deals worth an “enormous” sum would be signed on areas including energy, cars and finance, though he would not give details.
The British government has moved forcefully to strengthen financial ties with Beijing. Earlier this year, it broke ranks with the United States by signing up as a founding member of China’s new infrastructure investment bank.
Editing by Nick Macfie