Philip Hammond: Many opportunities for closer ties between Britain and China
Chancellor Philip Hammond has told the Chinese premier there are "many opportunities" for closer commercial ties as he started a visit aimed at developing trade while Britain prepares to leave the European Union.
British leaders are looking to China for trade and investment as they try to fashion a new global role and offset reduced access to the European common market.
Chinese officials believe a post-Brexit Britain needs China more than ever but its companies are uneasy about the future of a market they see as one of Europe's most welcoming.
Mr Hammond was in Beijing for an annual "economic dialogue" that has taken on added significance this year.
He was accompanied by an unusually large delegation of business representatives and economic officials.
Premier Li Keqiang, China's top economic official, expressed confidence in "steady and sound growth" of Chinese-British relations regardless of what happens between London and the EU.
"We see many opportunities to build on our strong relationship," said Mr Hammond in the meeting at the Great Hall of the People in central Beijing, the symbolic seat of China's government.
Mr Hammond's delegation includes Governor of the Bank of England Mark Carney, the chief executive of the London Stock Exchange and the ministers for international trade and business and energy.
They are accompanied by executives from banks Barclays, HSBC and Standard Chartered, engineering firm Arup and law firms.
The sides plan to conclude agreements on more than a billion pounds of trade and investment deals during the event.
Beijing announced in November it will allow 100% foreign ownership of Chinese banks, securities firms and insurers for the first time - a move that could be a boon to Britain's financial industries.
Business groups said, however, it might be too late for foreign institutions to get more than a sliver of a market dominated by China's state-owned banks.
They said potential investors need details before they can know whether that will be commercially attractive.
This weekend, the two governments also plan to discuss expanding cooperation in industrial strategy, according to Mr Hammond.
Business and Energy Secretary Greg Clark said they would discuss cooperation in renewable energy.
Britain also wants to talk about a possible role in Beijing's "Belt and Road Initiative", an ambitious project aimed at expanding trade across Asia to Europe by building railways and other infrastructure.
Prime Minister Theresa May and Chinese president Xi Jinping affirmed their desire for closer ties during a meeting in July at a gathering of G20 leaders in Hamburg, Germany.