Li Keqiang

Premier Li Keqiang unlikely to make political headway during British visit

Economic cooperation driving improved Sino-British ties, and progress on political issues unlikely when Cameron meets Chinese counterpart

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 15 June, 2014, 5:44am
UPDATED : Sunday, 15 June, 2014, 7:00am

Premier Li Keqiang's visit to Britain will open more two-way trade and investment opportunities amid a slow global economic recovery, but the two sides are unlikely to make headway on political issues, analysts say.

Li starts a six-day visit to Britain and Greece tomorrow, his third European trip since taking office last year.

He is scheduled to meet British Prime Minister David Cameron to reciprocate the British leader's trip to China last year. He will also meet Queen Elizabeth. It will be the first visit to Britain by a Chinese premier in three years.

Analysts said the economy had become a driving force to improve Sino-British ties, despite long-standing differences over human rights, Tibet and other political issues.

Jingdong Yuan, a professor at the University of Sydney's Centre for International Security Studies, said business would be the key to the visit, given Europe's stubborn recovery since 2008.

Tian Dewen, a European studies researcher at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, expected the visit to produce a string of business deals.

Cameron met Li in December when the largest-ever British mission of its kind visited China to patch relations between the world's sixth and second-largest economies. The two sides discussed issues ranging from trade to cooperation on cybersecurity.

The British government has made exports to fast-growing developing countries like China its priority to offset the impact of the euro-zone economic crisis on it economy.

Exports of British goods to China grew to £12.4 billion (HK$163 billion) last year from £7.6 billion in 2010 when Cameron took office.

Tian believed the main agenda for the London summit would include bilateral issues such as trade, investment, energy and cultural ties.

Shi Shiwei , an expert on Sino-European trade at China University of Economics and Trade, said there was potential for greater cooperation, as both economies were highly complementary.

Shi said Britain was the single largest destination for China's investment in Europe, largely because of the openness of the UK economy.

He believed the two governments would continue to promote the inflow of Chinese funds into Britain during Li's visit.

Shi also expected business deals to figure prominently, and singled out high-speed railways and nuclear power as two industries with the greatest potential for cooperation.

Analysts said both sides were unlikely to reach significant agreements on political issues, although, as usual, human rights, Tibet and Hong Kong would be on the agenda.

Differences surfaced again in April when a British Foreign Office document criticising China's human-rights record angered Beijing, which promptly cancelled a meeting in London to discuss human rights.

Yuan, of the China Studies Centre in Sydney, said the European Union had always been an important economic and even political partner for China, so Li's visit would emphasise these aspects.

He said Cameron might raise recent developments in Beijing-Hong Kong relations but these would not be aired publicly.

"Rights and values discussions with China are fine and proper, but Cameron was woefully heavy-handed and unsubtle when he first waded in," China Studies Centre director Kerry Brown said. "The handling of the Dalai Lama meeting in 2012 has hung around Cameron's neck ever since."

Bilateral relations nosedived that year when Cameron met the Dalai Lama, prompting China to cancel meetings with Britain.