British Prime Minister Theresa May will visit Beijing next week, China said Thursday, as her country looks to bolster trade links ahead of its departure from the European Union.

The relationship between the two countries has grown in importance as London contemplates its economic future after it officially leaves the EU in March 2019.

Theresa May. Photo: 10 Downing St.

May will be in China from January 31 to February 2 in what the Chinese foreign ministry touted as a “historical visit”.

“We attach great importance to our relation with the UK,” ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told a regular press briefing.

“We hope we can continue to further deepen our political mutual trust, expand our cooperation and to elevate our bilateral relations to a new high.”

The visit to China will be May’s first as her country’s leader.

During her trip, she will meet with Chinese leaders and travel to Shanghai and Hubei, Hua said.

Xi Jinping. File photo: GovHK.

Britain has said it will leave the EU’s single market and customs union so that it can strike its own trade deals with countries outside the bloc, making China’s huge market an attractive target.

In preparation, a parade of top officials have travelled to China in recent months.

Britain’s trade minister Liam Fox recently returned from a trip to China, where he discussed market access for British exports, including its key sector of financial services.

In December, finance minister Philip Hammond visited the Asian giant to work out final preparations for a “stock connect” linking the London and Shanghai exchanges, and had agreed to examine the possibility of connecting their bond markets as well.

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