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No soft-pedal on China rights - PM

Prime Minister David Cameron has denied soft-pedalling on human rights in China to improve his chances of securing business deals for Britain.

Mr Cameron is leading a large trade delegation on his second visit to the far eastern giant as PM, which has seen Beijing express interest in investing in the HS2 rail link and nuclear power stations in the UK.

Deals concluded on the first day of the trip included a £4.5 billion order for 100,000 Jaguar Land Rover vehicles and a £200 million Sino-British innovation and research fund for science.

Meanwhile a raft of co-operation agreements were signed, covering issues ranging from tackling cross-border crime to healthcare and patents, as well as a digital and media alliance which Downing Street believes could open up £2 billion of opportunities for British companies.

In talks with president Xi Jinping and premier Li Keqiang, Mr Cameron threw his political weight behind a free trade agreement between the European Union and China, which he believes could be worth tens of billions of pounds a year and £1.8 billion in the UK alone.

Mr Cameron came under pressure in a round of TV interviews over the low profile he has given to human rights issues in China, in stark contrast to the spotlight shone on Sri Lanka's alleged abuses when the PM attended the Commonwealth summit there last month.

Beijing is widely thought to have blocked a visit by Mr Cameron earlier this year in retaliation for him meeting the Dalai Lama in London in 2012, relenting only after the PM told the House of Commons that Britain does not support Tibetan independence.

Neither Mr Cameron nor Mr Li mentioned Tibet directly in public statements following talks in Beijing's Great Hall of the People, bu t Mr Li said he "appreciated" the PM's confirmation that the UK respects China's sovereignty and territorial integrity.

Mr Cameron later insisted that he had raised human rights during talks with Mr Li and Mr Xi, pointing to an "important" agreement to restart the separate UK/China human rights dialogue early in the new year.

"I don't believe there is a choice between raising growth and investment issues or raising human rights issues. I raised them both," he said. "That's what a policy of engagement is all about.

"There are some huge opportunities here in China for British jobs, British growth, British investment, and I want to make the most of them, and that is right for our country to compete and succeed in the global race."

Asked if he had specifically mentioned Tibet or China's imprisoned Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo in the talks, Mr Cameron said: "We spoke about all those issues as I always do. Whenever I come to China, I always raise human rights issues and I continue to do that on this visit."

He added: "The British policy towards Tibet is unchanged. I have met the Dalai Lama as leader of the opposition, I have met him as Prime Minister, I don't have plans to meet him again.

"But my diary is for me to decide."

A number of incidents on the trip highlighted the different approach to transparency and openness in China. No questions were permitted after the statements before a room full of reporters, and a journalist from the Bloomberg news agency was excluded because of a long-running spat with the Chinese authorities. Meanwhile, police intervened when a BBC camera crew attempted to film in Tiananmen Square.

Mr Cameron last week indicated that he would "very much welcome" Chinese investment in the HS2 rail link and hailed the "high-speed revolution" happening in the country's rail network.

Now, Mr Li has indicated that China is interested in investment opportunities in Britain, including the controversial rail line linking London and cities in the Midlands and north of England.

"On infrastructure, the two sides have agreed to push for breakthroughs and progress in co-operation on our enterprises in nuclear power and high-speed railway," said the Chinese premier.

"The Chinese side is willing to not only participate but also purchase equities and stocks in UK nuclear power projects, and the UK side is open to this idea."

The premier characterised the talks as "highly productive" and said the countries had become "indispensible partners for each other's development".

"I believe our meeting will usher China/UK relationship on to a new stage," said Mr Li. "We need to grow this relationship at a higher speed. We can take this relationship to a higher stage at a faster pace."

Mr Cameron made clear he is ready to take on EU opponents of a free trade deal with China, accusing them of trying to trap the emerging economy behind a "bamboo curtain" of trade barriers.

Opposition from some European states, which fear a flood of cheap imports into their markets, was reflected by an EU spokesman quoted by Bloomberg as saying that discussion of a free trade agreement with China was "premature".

But Mr Cameron said: "I see China's rise as an opportunity not just for the people of this country but for Britain and the world.

"Britain wants China to realise its dream and I believe we can help each other succeed in the global race.

"Some in Europe and elsewhere see the world changing and want to shut China off behind a bamboo curtain of trade barriers. Britain wants to tear these trade barriers down.

"An open Britain is the ideal partner for an opening China. No country in the world is more open to Chinese investment than the UK."


From Belfast Telegraph