07:36 GMT27 May 2020
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    Britain's newly appointed Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt will visit Paris and Vienna this week where he'll meet with the French and Austrian foreign ministers to discuss Brexit. The British diplomat earlier visited China where he discussed a post-Brexit free trade deal on his first official trip abroad since replacing Boris Johnson this month.

    Sputnik has discussed Jeremy Hunt’s first foreign trip abroad as the UK's foreign secretary with Kerry Brown, Professor of Chinese Studies and Director of the Lau China Institute at King’s College, London.

    Sputnik: How do you assess Jeremy Hunt's first visit to China, was it successful in your view?

    Kerry Brown: Well, the fact that he got there in the first place is good because his predecessor Boris Johnson in two years, despite talking about global Britain, never got to China once. So I think this is symbolically a good move, the first visit abroad is to China, I mean there’s not lots that he can do now. The UK has still not left the EU, and it’s not entirely clear, because there will be a transition period from next year if we do manage to leave the EU, kind of with a deal, it’s not entirely clear whether we will be able to negotiate free trade agreements during the transition period and the transition period might go on for quite a while. So there’s a lot of unclarity, but the bottom line is that at least the intent has been shown.

    READ MORE: Britain's FM to Improve 'Golden Era' in Relations With China Amid US Trade War

    Sputnik: And what does China's offer of talks on free trade agreement mean for Britain?

    Kerry Brown: It’s a friendly gesture. The issue really is that China's free trade agreements with countries like Australia, Singapore or multilateral ones. It's got a free trade agreement with ASEAN, it’s got free trade agreements with Iceland, China is the bigger economy and usually in these agreements the bigger economy gets the better deal. So this won’t be easy, Britain has not negotiated free trade agreements since the early 70's, so it’s going to be a big, big challenge. The question really is do they align in their kind of needs and interests, so what does China want from Britain, what does Britain want from China and is there going to be harmony there. So it’s going to take a lot of talking and a lot of real kind of understanding of each other, and that’s only going to be done by meetings like this and many, many different kinds of meetings. So we’re kind of in the new phase of the relationship, but we don’t have a map really of where it’s going to easily go.

    Sputnik: How could China’s offer affect London’s negotiations with Brussels?

    Kerry Brown: It will affect it in as much as the European Union doesn’t have a free trade agreement with China as yet. It’s been talking for a long time. Largely because of market definition, you know that the EU does not see China as a market economy. It sees Russia as a market economy, but it doesn’t see China as a market economy because it says the state is too powerful. So if the UK were, in theory, to do a free trade agreement with China in which there was a sign that it did recognize the market economy status that would be a big, big pressure on the EU. So there are these complexities, but the bottom line is, that even when eventually the UK leaves the EU, the EU will still be a much, much, much bigger economy, it will have Germany, it will have France, it will have Italy, it will have Spain. So for China, its real interests are in volume and it will look and continue to look at the other partners in the EU as a more important market, that’s just not going to change.

    READ MORE: China Touts Possible UK Trade Deal, Offers Talks With US

    Sputnik: Professor, what do you make of the Jeremy Hunt's statement that Russia’s President Vladimir Putin would be the only winner in the event of Britain crashing out of the European Union?

    Kerry Brown: Well, I think that’s part of the very difficult relationship that the UK obviously has with Russia at the moment. I don’t think it’s necessarily true, because I think there will be a lot of losers and I don’t think anyone will win if the UK just crashes out. No one will win; it will create a lot of instability which will not be good. I suppose, really though, what it shows is the desire from the UK, and to a point from America, is to kind of create a sort of division between Russia and China like in the 1960’s and 70’s. There was this triangulation going on, so it’s sort of an old style tactic in a way, old style diplomacy. The issue really though is that China’s economy is much, much, much bigger than Russia’s economy, and I think at the end of the day that’s really going to be the focus. I mean that's just not going to change that fact and the question really for the UK is, despite all of the other complexities, to find a route into that economy which no one really has easily found. The UK's interest in the Chinese economy is in the service sector there, in being able to supply the Chinese emerging middle class with goods, and in a sense, if it can crack that one that will be a help for everyone else, because that’s not a problem that’s been actually solved so far.

    READ MORE: 'UK to Push Idea It Should Sell More Services to China' — Expert

    Sputnik: Professor, what outcome can we expect after Mr. Hunt will visit Paris and Vienna?

    Kerry Brown: I mean what he’s doing, as Theresa May and other senior ministers, is to try and really sell the current UK posture on Brexit, which was delivered in the government White Paper a couple weeks ago. So that is a sort of soft Brexit, kind of continuing to be part of the trade bloc and maybe even a continuing role in the customs union. So I think what Hunt is going to be trying to do with those two pretty significant partners is to get their support for this. At the moment at the EU level, at the Brussels level, the statement is that this is not a negotiable position. It’s asking for a bespoke deal which is too much. The UK can’t pick and mix. So I think Hunt is really going there to sort of seeing if there’s any support from these partners because if you can get support from Austria and France, then you probably are going to get support from others and it will create a sort of momentum.

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

    The views and opinions expressed in the article do not necessarily reflect those of Sputnik.

    Jeremy Hunt, China, United Kingdom
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