British PM to visit China as Brexit looms

WEB_PHOTO_THERESA_MAY_041017

Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May coughs as she addresses the Conservative Party conference in Manchester, 4 October 2017.

Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May coughs as she addresses the Conservative Party conference in Manchester, 4 October 2017.

WEB_PHOTO_THERESA_MAY_041017

Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May coughs as she addresses the Conservative Party conference in Manchester, 4 October 2017.

Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May coughs as she addresses the Conservative Party conference in Manchester, 4 October 2017.

BEIJING - British Prime Minister Theresa May will visit Beijing next week, China said Thursday, as her country looks to bolster trade links ahead of its departure from the European Union.

The relationship between the two countries has grown in importance as London contemplates its economic future after it officially leaves the EU in March 2019.

May will be in China from 31 January to 2 February in what the Chinese foreign ministry touted as a "historic visit".

READ: British MPs to vote on landmark Brexit bill

"We attach great importance to our relations with the UK," ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told a regular press briefing.

"We hope we can continue to further deepen our political mutual trust, expand our cooperation and to elevate our bilateral relations to a new high."

The visit to China will be May&39;s first as her country&39;s leader.

During her trip, she will meet with Chinese leaders and travel to Shanghai and Hubei, Hua said.

Britain has said it will leave the EU&39;s single market and customs union so that it can strike its own trade deals with countries outside the bloc, making China&39;s huge market an attractive target.

In preparation, a parade of top officials has travelled to China in recent months.

Britain&39;s trade minister Liam Fox recently returned from a trip to China, where he discussed market access for British exports, including its key sector of financial services.

In December, finance minister Philip Hammond visited the Asian giant to work out final preparations for a "stock connect" linking the London and Shanghai exchanges, and had agreed to examine the possibility of connecting their bond markets as well.