The so-called “golden era” in UK-China relations has lost some of its shine after foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt refused to rule out sanctions against Beijing over escalating tensions in Hong Kong.
Then-Chancellor George Osborne’s charm offensive in 2015 promised a new period of booming trade and investment with China.
However, Mr Hunt – who is competing with Boris Johnson to become prime minister – angered Beijing earlier this week, saying China could “face serious consequences” over its treatment of protesters in the former British colony.
His warning comes just as Britain looks for new friends ahead of Brexit. Liu Xiaoming, China’s ambassador to the UK, said Mr Hunt’s comments urging Beijing to not use the protests as “pretext for repression” had damaged relations between Britain and a major trading partner only growing in importance.
China was only 15th on the list of Britain’s trading partners 20 years ago. Today it is fourth, accounting for 7.5pc of all UK trade – a five-fold increase.