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    'UK to Push Idea It Should Sell More Services to China' - Expert

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    After meeting with his British counterpart, China's Foreign Minister said that China has offered Britain talks on a post-Brexit free trade deal. Earlier, the UK's top diplomat arrived in Beijing on his first official trip abroad.

    According to the UK Foreign Office, the two will discuss free trade, enforcing sanctions on North Korea and cooperation between Britain and China on global challenges such as climate change.

    Radio Sputnik has discussed the post-Brexit relationship between China and the UK with Professor Rana Mitter, Director of the University China Center at the University of Oxford and author of "A Bitter Revolution: China's Struggle with the Modern World."

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    Sputnik: What's your take on Jeremy Hunt's official first visit being in China?

    Rana Mitter: First of all, it's a way of creating a sense of warmth between the two countries. Boris Johnson, the previous Foreign Secretary, didn't really have much connection with China, but Jeremy Hunt, the new Foreign Secretary, has, in fact, a Chinese wife and therefore there's a family connection there. He's using the sort of "getting to know you" exercise. But it's also part of a strategy that the UK is aiming to put forward after Brexit. Prime Minister Theresa May's plan is to try and create a system in which there's more freedom for Britain to sell services. And when we talk about a free trade agreement, I think one of the key things that the UK will try and push is the idea that it should sell not more goods, but more services into China. So I think that's going to be at the heart of those trade discussions.

    Sputnik: How vital will a free trade agreement with Beijing be for Britain after supposedly it will leave the European Union?

    Rana Mitter: Well, assuming that Britain leaves the European Union on the terms that most people seem to think with the transitional agreement in March of next year. I think it doesn't make a huge difference. It's what we in Britain like to call "nice to have" rather than essential in terms of China. The reason being that China and the UK already have a certain amount of complementary trade in various areas, that suits both sides quite well, but no one is the biggest partner of each other by a very long way. So I think part of what will need to be negotiated is not just a general free trade agreement but one in which very specific areas of specialization are covered. Switzerland, for example, is a non-EU country that has a rather particular sort of free trade deal which covers areas including specialist machinery and certain financial services. I think Britain will probably go for something quite similar.

    Sputnik: Mr. Hunt also wants to discuss enforcing the United Nations sanctions on North Korea, is it likely that consensus will be reached between London and Beijing on the matter?

    Rana Mitter: I suspect it probably will because I think in the end the United Kingdom is likely to follow other actors such as the United States. And China and the US in the end actually have a rather similar sort of interest which is to try and contain the North Korean regime but not actually to destroy it. So if there's a possibility of basically reaching a new version of what was called in the 1990s, the six-party talks in which Russia, of course, was included, then I suspect the United Kingdom would not have a problem with that.

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    Sputnik: It was earlier reported that London plans to send a warship to the South China Sea to support Australian ships there, how can this impact the ongoing talks and possible agreements?

    Rana Mitter: It will involve careful balance. The fact is that an awful lot of actors in the Asia Pacific region do in fact have a primary security relationship with the United States, such as Australia, and a primary economic relationship with China. Australia, in fact, exports more to China than to any other country. The UK is not going to have China as its major trading partner, but it will seek to find that balance between its own security role and also making sure that it builds up trade. I think China is perfectly aware of this. It does know that clearly there are a variety of other countries in the region and the wider world which it needs to build up a better relationship with. And I don't expect that actually that particular balance would be difficult to manage. The UK and China's militaries actually have rather good relations.

    Sputnik: Prime Minister Theresa May's spokesman said that Britain would set out sensible precautions for a no-deal Brexit, are we about to witness a no-deal Brexit scenario?

    Rana Mitter: The fact is that nobody knows. At the moment both the European Union and the United Kingdom are putting forward positions which have a lot of so-called red lines. In other words, things that both sides say they won't cross. I think that most people suspect that over the next few months both sides will have to give a little bit. The European Union is a huge trading entity that the UK must have a relationship with, but the UK is still the fifth biggest economy in the world and it's a very important trading partner for a whole variety of countries. So I think in the end both sides will seek a compromise.

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    Sputnik: In your opinion, should London leave without an agreement with Brussels?

    Rana Mitter: In my own opinion, I think it's important that some sort of agreement is put in place and my strong suspicion is that it will be a kind of a hybrid agreement in which the United Kingdom agrees to accept certain terms that are put down by the European Union but also increases its capacity both to control immigration and to carry out certain other sorts of trade agreements, particularly in the area of services because the UK is such a heavily service-dominated economy, something like of 80% of its entire GDP, I suspect that is the area where a lot more attention will be paid in the next few months when the question of manufacturing has been sorted out. I would certainly expect that there would be some sort of agreement.

    The views and opinions expressed by Rana Mitter are those of the speaker and do not necessarily reflect those of Sputnik.

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    trade deal, Brexit, European Union, China, United Kingdom
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