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UK break from EU may hurt China trade

By Zhao Shengnan and Zhang Chunyan  (China Daily)

14:12, January 24, 2013

British Prime Minister David Cameron delivers a speech on "the future of the European Union and Britain's role within it" in central London, on Wednesday. He promised to hold a referendum by 2017, giving British people the choice of staying in or leaving the EU if his party wins the next election. Ben Stansall / Agence France-Presse [Photo/Agencies]

China will remain an important partner to Britain and the European Union but will definitely feel the pinch if Britons choose to withdraw from the bloc in a referendum promised by British Prime Minister David Cameron on Wednesday, analysts said.

In a long-awaited speech, Cameron offered the British people a straight "in-out" referendum choice on whether to stay in the EU or leave, if his party wins the next election, expected in 2015. The referendum would take place sometime between 2015 and 2018.

Cameron said Britain did not want to pull up the drawbridge and retreat from the world, but that public disillusionment with the EU was at "an all-time high". He promised to renegotiate Britain's EU membership.

"If we left the EU, it would be a one-way ticket, not a return. So we will have time for a proper, reasoned debate. At the end of that debate, you, the British people, will decide," said the Conservative chief, shrugging off warnings that this could imperil Britain's diplomatic and economic prospects and alienate its allies.

The decision would hamper the EU's recovery from the debt crisis and discourage worldwide regional integration, said Ding Chun, a Jean Monnet chair and director of the Europe Research Center at Fudan University.

China has been directly affected by the EU crisis that erupted some years ago, said Ding. "If the eurozone area meets more turmoil during its difficult recovery, China is likely to see increasing protectionism and export pressure when doing business with it."

China is now the EU's second-biggest trading partner behind the United States, and the 27-member bloc is China's biggest trading partner.

On the other hand, China-Britain trade, especially in the sector of technology cooperation, may be boosted if Britain's departure finally materializes, experts said.

"Without trade regulations and the single market of the EU, Britain will be more open to China's huge market," Ding said.

London always values the Chinese market, and Britain was the only country among China's major trade partners in the EU that garnered a positive growth in trade with China last year, said Zhao Junjie, a specialist on European studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.

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