China is a rising economic power, the European Union a declining one. So Britain’s future is best served by hitching its wagon to Beijing rather than to Brussels. As last week’s high-profile visit by Chinese President Xi Jinping shows, Britain can prosper as a global trading power outside the EU.
Not so fast. The EU accounted for 44.5% of the UK’s exports in 2013, China for a mere 3.4%. Whereas half of foreign direct investment in Britain comes from the rest of the EU, Chinese FDI is still tiny. So Britain’s economic relationship with China is not going to be a substitute for its ties with the EU any time soon. Nor should it ever be: because the two are in fact complementary. The much-heralded new “golden decade” for relations between Britain and China highlights how EU membership is not an impediment to doing business globally. On the contrary: Britain’s membership of the EU is part of its appeal to China, as President Xi himself emphasised. So Britain doesn’t need to choose between being European or global: it can – and should – be both.
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