David Cameron brushed off criticism of his trade mission to China, calling it a success and saying British voters understand its importance.
The three-day trip this week has drawn scorn from the press both in China and in the U.K. In Beijing, the state-run Global Times newspaper reminded the visiting prime minister yesterday that “the U.K. is not a big power in the eyes of the Chinese. It is just an old European country apt for travel and study.” The Times of London ran a cartoon showing Cameron being eaten for dinner by his hosts and thanking them for the privilege.
“I would just prefer to go on the figures,” Cameron told reporters in Shanghai yesterday. “This is a visit that has delivered almost 6 billion pounds ($10 billion) worth of deals. And also it is a visit where we have seen very good, high-level, substantial discussions both with the premier and with the president -- the premier who described the partnership as indispensable.”
Cameron and Chinese Premier Li Keqiang signed memorandums of understanding in Beijing two days ago 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 prime minister travels today, on the final day of his visit, to Chengdu in Sichuan province.
On his first day in China, Cameron dismissed accusations that he was favoring boosting trade with the country at the expense of raising concerns about human-rights abuses.
“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. “There are some huge opportunities here in China for British jobs, British growth and British investment. I want to make the most of them.”
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, who’s on his first visit to China in three years, is attempting to move on from the diplomatic spats that have previously characterized his relations with the country.
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.
China accuses the Dalai Lama of waging a campaign for independence, while he says he seeks “genuine autonomy” for Tibet.
Cameron said in an interview with CCTV yesterday 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.