British prime minister Theresa May is in China today and is expected to raise concerns over president Xi Jinping’s flagship Belt and Road infrastructure initiative.

Other issues likely to be discussed on the three-day trip include North Korea and climate change. It is not clear whether May will broach the issue of human rights in Hong Kong.

Meanwhile, the UK is under pressure from the US president Donald Trump’s administration not to endorse China’s global expansion initiative, while Germany and France have been similarly wary.

Through the Belt and Road initiative China plans to pump $150bn into infrastructure projects each year. Ratings agency Fitch last year said an extraordinary $900bn in projects were planned or underway.

Meanwhile, British trade with China has increased by 60 percent since 2010 and China has signalled its interest in investing in high-profile UK infrastructure projects, including the building of a new nuclear reactor at Hinkley Point.

What to expect from May’s visit

China’s ambassador to the UK has called Brexit a “strategic opportunity” and said that it will be able to boost ties between the countries — adding “golden fruits” will be up for grabs.

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Meanwhile, Downing Street has been borrowing phrases from David Cameron, claiming the visit will “intensify the ‘golden era’ in UK-China relations”, something Cameron said when Xi visited the UK in 2016.

Since then May has struggled to win China’s approval, angering officials by delaying approval for the Beijing-backed Hinkley Point C nuclear power plant.

Steve Tsang, the head of the School of Oriental and African Studies’ China Institute, said:

I think the Belt and Road infrastructure initiative will be the big issue for China and thus a key factor in the visit.

Whether Ambassador Liu spoke because Beijing instructed him to do so or he spoke because he thought he could force May’s hand and thus prove his value to Beijing I do not know. But the BRI issue appears to have been put on the agenda on the Chinese side. May will now have to deal with it. She has proved robust and resilient after facing up to humiliation after humiliation since the last general election. But to kowtow publicly to Beijing where she does not need to, in contrast to doing so whilst negotiating with the EU is a different matter.

I would expect her to hold the line here. London will not want to see it raised, but this Chinese approach reveals how diminished Britain has become in Chinese perception as we enter the era of Brexit. Some in Beijing now seem to think that Great Britain can now be instructed to do China’s bidding as and when required. To London the big issue is not the BRI, which is an unwanted distraction, but to secure as big a headline as possible for trade and investment deals. We are in the age of Brexit and the sense of insecurity that Brexit is unleashing requires the British Government to show that it can reach out to the world beyond the EU for its long-term economic security and prosperity.

This is where China, the second largest economy in the world, comes in significantly. Many of the deals to be announce in Beijing at the end of her visit would have been agreed beforehand. So, I would expect good news on this subject, though the actual size of the deals may be worth watching. No announcement of any major trade deal will be a deliberately public humiliation of May by Beijing, something that will mark the end of the ‘golden age’, and I don’t expect that. A modest deal will show how glittering the ‘golden age’ in fact is. A very large deal will show a commitment on both sides to keep the ‘golden age’ going.

Jianwei Xu, senior economist at Natixis, said:

The reality is that China is not willing to engage in trade or investment negotiations with the UK before a Brexit deal is finalised. In fact, China’s early negotiations with the UK can only further complicate the Brexit negotiations, which is clearly not in China’s interests given its investment in the EU. In addition, the UK also has a lot to lose. Over the past few decades, the UK has rooted itself deeply into the European value chain.

Having said that, Theresa May’s visit does not have to be a failure insofar as it focuses on diplomatic relations, but not so much on trade and investment relations. With rising anti-globalisation mood in the US and, to some extent, in EU, China cannot afford losing more friends, especially in the developed world. For Theresa May, though, this would be a hard pill to swallow as it puts the UK in the China’s area of influence, reverting the direction of influence established a couple of centuries ago when the UK was still an empire.

Here is the list of all the business people and organisations travelling with Theresa May

  • Jane King, chief executive officer, Agriculture & Horticulture Development Board (AHDB)
  • Gregory Hodkinson, chairman, Arup
  • Andy Palmer CMG, president and CEO, Aston Martin Lagonda
  • Pascal Soriot, chief executive officer, AstraZeneca
  • Jessica Butcher, co-founder and non executive director, Blippar
  • Dev Sanyal, chief executive, alternative energy, and executive vice president, BP
  • Caroline Wright, director general, British Educational Suppliers Association
  • Evelyn Bourke, group CEO, Bupa
    John Woodward, president and founder, Busy Bees Nursery Group
  • Jeanette Walker, director, Cambridge Science Park
  • George Iacobescu, chairman and CEO, Canary Wharf Group
  • Lord Sassoon, chairman (and executive director, Jardine Matheson Holdings), China-Britain Business Council
  • Carolyn Fairbairn, director-general, Confederation of British Industry
  • Joanna Lavan, managing director, ConnectChina
  • Nick Carpenter, owner and engineering director, Delta Motorsport
  • David Harland, chief executive Eden Project International, Eden Project
  • Kevin Lindsey, managing director, Far-UK
  • Conrad Ford, chief executive, Funding Options
  • George Gillespie, CEO, Horiba Mira
  • Mark Tucker, chairman, HSBC
  • Stephen Martin, director general, Institute of Directors
  • Ralf Speth, CEO, Jaguar Land Rover
  • Ross McMahon, CEO, Kendal Nutricare
  • Sally Preston, founder and managing director, Kiddylicious
  • Nikhil Rathi, CEO, London Stock Exchange Group
  • Jens Ludmann, Chief Operating Officer, McLaren Automotive
  • Ian Hudson, CEO, Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA)
  • Dan Vahdat, CEO, Medopad
  • Brian McConville, owner and chairman, MJM Marine
  • Andrew Henderson, managing director, NeMi Dairy
  • Stuart Garner, CEO, Norton Motorcycles
  • Robert McFarlane, group chairman and CEO, NPL Group
  • Paul Priestman, chairman, PriestmanGoode
  • Jon Vollemaere, CEO, R5FX
  • Hugo Spowers, managing director, Riversimple Movement
  • Andrew Rooney, managing director, Rooney Fish
  • Karen Betts, chief executive, Scotch Whisky Association
  • Chris Fraser, CEO, Sirius Minerals
  • Bill Winters, group chief executive, Standard Chartered Bank
  • Sir Gerry Grimstone, chairman, Standard Life Aberdeen
  • Andrew Chaloner, CEO, Stream Bio
  • Asher Bennett, CEO, Tevva Motors
  • Nancy Rothwell, president and vice-chancellor, the University of Manchester
  • Lesley Davies, chair, UK Skills Partnership
  • Janet Beer, president and vice-chancellor of the University of Liverpool, Universities UK
  • Heba Bevan, chief executive officer and founder, UtterBerry
  • Neill Ricketts, CEO, Versarien
  • Mark Dunhill, CEO, Whittard of Chelsea
  • Jonathan Quin, CEO and co-founder, WorldFirst
  • Douglas Flint, chancellor’s city envoy to the Belt and Road Initiative

May will also be accompanied by her husband, Philip.

The war at home

While May is off wooing the Chinese she is leaving a Brexit mess in the UK.

This morning the Times newspaper revealed the prime minister is facing a donors’ revolt and growing pressure to leave Downing Street as soon as the outline of a trade deal is negotiated with the European Union this autumn.

The Times said it has details of a Tory fund raising event last week where a quarter of the 50 donors present were said to have demanded May’s resignation.