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PM arrives in China for trade visit

David Cameron has arrived in Beijing at the head of the largest UK business delegation ever to visit China.

As he began his second trip to the far eastern economic giant as Prime Minister, Mr Cameron said he wanted to use the three-day visit to "take the British/Chinese diplomatic and political relationship to a new level".

He predicted "an enormous range" of potential trade deals and joint ventures in sectors as diverse as football, farming, computer software and the automotive industry.

Among the 120-strong delegation of business, education and cultural figures travelling with him was Jaguar Land Rover boss Ralph Speth and Premier League chief executive Richard Scudamore, each hoping to increase their share of rapidly-growing markets in what is now the world's second largest economy.

Mr Cameron's painstakingly-constructed schedule for the three-day visit had to be torn up at the last minute, after the Chinese invited him to separate banquets with President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang on the same day.

Downing Street portrayed the invitations as an indication of the value which Beijing places on cement friendly relations with the UK and Mr Cameron declared himself "delighted" to secure lengthy discussions with the two men who took China's most powerful political positions a year ago.

The changes meant dropping a visit to the city of Hangzhou, but Mr Cameron will still travel to China's international financial hub Shanghai and the inland city of Chengdu in Sichuan province, a global centre for consumer electronics.

Plans for the visit were delayed by many months by China's frosty response to Mr Cameron's decision to meet the Dalai Lama in London last year, and Beijing issued its invitation only after Downing Street made clear the PM had no plans to meet the Tibetan spiritual leader again.

And it looked highly unlikely that Mr Cameron would raise the issue of Tibetan demands for greater autonomy during his talks with Mr Xi and Mr Li, having told the House of Commons in May that Britain does not support independence for the Himalayan province.

Asked whether he planned to raise Tibet, Mr Cameron insisted that "nothing is off-limits" in talks and said that human rights issues could come up.

But he added: "On the specific issue of the Dalai Lama, I said what I have to say in the House of Commons some weeks ago and I haven't got anything to add to that."

Speaking to reporters on board his flight to Beijing, Mr Cameron left no doubt that the main purpose of the trip is to put Britain in pole position to expand trade with China.

The PM has yet to achieve a 2010 target to double Sino-British trade to £62 billion by 2015, but he pointed to the fact that Chinese investment in the UK over the last 18 months has topped the total for the previous 30 years.

"We are one of the most open economies anywhere in the world in terms of welcoming Chinese investment," said Mr Cameron.

"I'm not embarrassed that China is investing in Britain's nuclear power and has shares in Heathrow Airport or Thames Water or Manchester Airport. I think it's a positive sign of economic strength that we are open, we welcome Chinese investment.

"That gives the British Government more power to use the capital investment we have for our roads and railways and other things.

"The other side of the coin is that in Europe and in other networks, we are the ones arguing for more openness, more trade, more engagement, more market access.

"In having these discussions with China, there are lots of things on our side we are keen to see progress on, such as recognition of intellectual property rights and the importance of music and film rights being properly respected."

Also part of the business delegation was Mr Cameron's stepfather-in-law, the Viscount Astor.

Lord Astor, who is Samantha Cameron's stepfather, was in China in his business role as deputy chairman of Silvergate Media.


From Belfast Telegraph