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PM keen to do business with China

As David Cameron prepares to fly to China for his second visit as Prime Minister, aides are billing the trip as a chance to show he has "turned a page" in relations with Beijing, which went into deep freeze after he met the Dalai Lama.

The Prime Minister is flying out to China tomorrow at the head of a trade delegation of more than 100 business people, determined to ensure that the visit is a "forward-looking" event promoting opportunities for co-operation, rather than raking over the history of differences on Tibet.

When he came to office in 2010, Mr Cameron set a target of doubling British trade with China to £62 billion by 2015, as part of a drive to boost exports to the emerging Brics economies.

But the process was undermined by Beijing's frosty response to his May 2012 meeting with the Tibetan spiritual leader in London, which China's foreign ministry said "hurt the feelings of the Chinese people".

Downing Street has played down suggestions that Beijing retaliated with an unofficial ban on visits by the PM.

But it was only after Mr Cameron told the House of Commons in May that Britain does not support Tibetan independence and made clear he has "no plans" to meet the Dalai Lama that a much-desired visit began to seem possible.

At the G8 summit in Russia in September, new President Xi Jinping - who took office last November - issued a formal invitation for the PM to visit.

Following that breakthrough, high-profile trips were made by Chancellor George Osborne and London Mayor Boris Johnson last month, during which plans were announced for Chinese investment in Manchester Airport and a new generation of British nuclear power stations.

The Prime Minister has made clear that he wants to use this week's visit to seek out export opportunities for British firms and to encourage Chinese investment in UK infrastructure, including the £43 billion HS2 rail link between London and the north of England.

Downing Street has not yet released a list of members of the business delegation but media reports suggest they include Ralf Speth, chief executive of Jaguar Land Rover, Premier League chief executive Richard Scudamore, McLaren sports car boss Ron Dennis, Royal Dutch Shell chairman Jorma Ollila, London Stock Exchange chief executive Xavier Rolet, TalkTalk's Dido Harding, Standard Chartered's Peter Sands and GlaxoSmithKline chief executive Sir Andrew Witty.

Speaking to Chinese media earlier this week, Mr Cameron said he sees his visit as "the start of a bigger and stronger and deeper relationship between Britain and China" and a "real opportunity" to take bilateral relations "up a gear".

There should be "no limit" to UK-Chinese co-operation on areas ranging from business and infrastructure investment to cultural links and tourism, he said.

Mr Cameron said he wants to send a message to young Chinese people that there is "no limit on the number of students who can come and study in Britain", adding that he would welcome an increase in the 100,000 currently at UK universities and colleges.

He would also welcome Chinese involvement in the HS2 rail project, saying: "There seems to be an absolute high-speed revolution taking place and I am looking forward to travelling on a high-speed train when I'm in China. In terms of HS2, we very much welcome Chinese investment into British infrastructure."

In a message directed at China's burgeoning business community, Mr Cameron said: "Britain is probably one of the most open countries in the world in terms of welcoming Chinese investment and I want to make sure that investment is two-way. We want a win-win situation and that is part of what my visit is about."

When he arrives in Beijing on Monday morning, Mr Cameron will become the first foreign leader to visit China since the crucial third plenum of the ruling Communist Party earlier this month, at which key decisions were made over the direction which the country will take over the coming decade under President Xi.

"We want to see the continuing opening of the Chinese economy which is very much foreseen in the Communist party's third plenum report," said Mr Cameron.

"It talks about opening up. It talks about the importance of intellectual property reform and the importance of using markets to distribute goods and services. I think it is a a very important document which we are studying very closely."

Mr Cameron last visited China in 2010 when he led the largest-ever UK trade delegation to the Far Eastern economic giant.


From Belfast Telegraph