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LONDON — Forget a post-Brexit trade deal with China — some now think a trade war is more likely.
The “golden era” in U.K.-China relations heralded by former Chancellor George Osborne in 2015 remained a go-to soundbite during the Theresa May era. Mired in talks with Brussels on the U.K.’s extraction from the EU, the optics of post-Brexit Britain reaching out to the world’s great rising power was invoked by the former prime minister to help London burnish its new “global” credentials.
But since Boris Johnson took power, mounting concerns about alleged espionage by Chinese firms, human rights abuses and protectionist trade practices have given rise to increasingly urgent demands for a complete rethink of the U.K.’s stance.
Johnson’s decision earlier this month to grant new visa rights to millions of Hong Kongers, in retaliation for draconian anti-protest laws imposed on the territory, has infuriated Beijing and led to warnings of repercussions. Now in play: £68 billion of annual U.K.-China trade and billions more in Chinese inward investment.
“In the end, there are aspects of the trading relationship between the [the U.K. and China] that will be very difficult to replace” — Rana Mitter, director of the University of Oxford’s China Centre
A widely expected government U-turn on Chinese tech giant Huawei’s role in supplying the U.K.’s 5G network — forced by U.S.