U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron said he’s raising concerns about human rights with Chinese leaders at the same time as pushing for increased trade and growing Chinese investment in Britain.
“I come to China and I don’t believe there’s a choice between raising growth and investment issues and raising human-rights issues; I raise them both,” Cameron told reporters in Beijing yesterday as he began a three-day visit to the world’s second-largest economy. “There are some huge opportunities here in China for British jobs, British growth and British investment. I want to make the most of them.”
Cameron and Chinese Premier Li Keqiang signed memorandums of understanding yesterday on infrastructure investment, and Li said China wanted to increase its involvement in projects including the high-speed rail line from London to the north of England. China has already agreed to put money into building new nuclear plants in the U.K.
The trade focus in China contrasts with Cameron’s last foreign trip last month, which was dominated by a confrontation between the prime minister and Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa on human rights. Cameron called on the Sri Lankan leader to take action to investigate alleged abuses against the island’s Tamil minority.
The prime minister said his approach was “totally consistent” and that he’d reached agreement in his talks to restart a human-rights dialogue between the U.K. and China.
Cameron’s office announced today that Rolls-Royce Holdings Plc sold 70 million pounds ($115 million) of engines to PetroChina Co. Ltd. In other deals, Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd. sold 100 million pounds of satellites and SolaQuaGen Ltd. sold desalination plants for 225 million pounds.
Cameron, who’s on his first visit to China in three years, is attempting to move on from the diplomatic spats that have characterized his relations with the country so far.
The previous trip, in November 2010, was marred by his refusal of a Chinese request to remove a poppy, worn in memory of Britain’s war dead, from his lapel. The flower has a different meaning in China, which lost two opium wars with Britain in the 19th century. Then in 2012, China said Cameron had “seriously damaged” relations by meeting the Tibetan spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama.
Cameron said in an interview with CCTV today that Britain and China have “come to an understanding” over the areas that had clouded their relationship. “It’s clear to me China is an opportunity, not a threat,” he said.
A People’s Daily newspaper commentary in October said the U.K. had admitted mishandling the issue of Tibet, easing the way for economic and financial deals. Cameron said yesterday policy on Tibet is unchanged. He said he doesn’t have plans to meet the Dalai Lama again “but my diary is for me to decide.”
He said he’d mentioned Tibet in his talks with Li and Chinese President Xi Jinping.
In an editorial today, the Chinese state-run Global Times newspaper said the public won’t forget Cameron’s stance on “certain issues.”
“The Cameron administration should acknowledge that the U.K. is not a big power in the eyes of the Chinese,” the editorial said. “It is just an old European country apt for travel and study.”
The prime minister is traveling with a 100-strong business delegation on the three-day journey to three cities. He arrived late last night in Shanghai, where today he met billionaire Jack Ma, the founder of Alibaba Group Holding Ltd., China’s largest e-commerce company.
Cameron started his trip yesterday by calling for a full-scale free-trade agreement between the European Union and China, along the lines of the one being negotiated between the 28-nation bloc and the U.S.
Asked about the possibility of a deal with China, EU spokesman Alexandre Polack said in Brussels that any discussion was “premature.”
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