5 Sep 2016

Theresa May talks trade at G20 summit in China

Theresa May was given some time to make her mind up on the Hinkley decision today. President Xi told Mrs May he would show “patience” and understood that a “new government” needed time to decide on a predecessor’s decision. It would be very wrong to think that means there wouldn’t be consequences if he doesn’t  like the decision.

Theresa May is hesitating to sign off on the deal David Cameron and George Osborne agreed with Beijing which lures Chinese investment into building the Hinkley nuclear reactors in Somerset and signs Britain up to buying a Chinese-designed and built reactor in Essex further down the line. Mrs May has security concerns about the idea. Others have cost and reliability worries. Whatever President Xi’s words today, China would see it as a massive smack in the teeth of Britain rejected this attempt to make a big move into energy.

David Cameron as PM got the best part of two years’ pariah status for meeting the Dalai Lama. This could be seen as more serious. The Chinese Ambassador pointedly listed recent investments across a range of industries and sectors in an article published yesterday. The clear implication was that this sort of thing might stop and some existing investments might be unwound.

At his bilateral with Mrs May just after the G20 finished, President Xi praised Britain’s performance in the Olympics. Maybe he was chuffed that a smooth-running, long-awaited and lavish summit was over.
There had been rumours, hotly denied, that he spent Olympic-style money on building up Hangzhou to host this gathering. He certainly didn’t stint in telling the population to make itself scarce and not clutter up the venue city, their home.

Now they can come home! Hangzhou flats with very few lights on tonight (just the party stalwarts?) The state-organised exodus from this city was a breathtaking.

Mrs May will have been pleased that President Xi himself bought up the idea that there might be Sino-British trade agreement when the UK leaves the EU. That means Mrs May can claim that six countries used this occasion to raise the idea of trade deals with a post-Brexit UK (China, India, Mexico, South Korea, Singapore and Australia).

The focus, as ever at G20s, was more economic than poltical. Some detected a bit less stimulus talk (these wider groupings for leaders started in 2008 and have been dominated by the banking crisis and the Eurozone crisis) and a bit more talk about how you make capitalism fairer and head off the populists at the electoral gates.

Malcolm Turnbull, Australia’s PM, talked about “civilising capitalism” (we also learnt he was a university contemporary of Theresa May who remembers her husband Philip from Oxford undergraduate days).

The champions of globalisation, the US, the UK and Australia, were leading the calls for a re-think as “volatile politics,” President Obama’s phrase at his press conference, is on the march.

No one seems to have poked President Xi over Chinese maritime ambitions. The US and Russia failed to agree any kind of breakthrough agreement on a way to stem the violence in Syria.

This G20 was meant to be David Cameron’s swansong. After announcing his intention to resign the premiership after the Brexit vote,  a timetable was drawn up that let Mr Cameron come here to say goodbye to world leaders before his successor, elected after a summer of leadership hustings, would move into No. 10.

Theresa May suddenly got the job when Andrea Leadsom’s candidacy collapsed. Until Theresa May mentioned, in her closing press conference, how her predecessor  shared her opposition to a points based system, I hadn’t heard David Cameron’s name mentioned here once. Politics moves on with brutal speed.

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