Royal start for Li Keqiang’s UK trip as China, Britain seal trade deals worth HK$184b
Strictly business for Cameron and Li, with politics kept off the table
China and Britain signed trade deals worth over £14 billion (HK$184 billion) during a visit by Premier Li Keqiang in London, British Prime Minister David Cameron said yesterday.
Both sides are seeking to mend ties that were strained when Cameron met the Dalai Lama, Tibet's exiled Tibetan spiritual leader, in 2012.
Watch: China, Britain announce £14 bn deal
At a joint press conference Cameron said he and Li had reviewed the two countries' relationship, including the part of it concerning Hong Kong.
"This year marks the 30th anniversary of the signature of the Joint Declaration on Hong Kong, which enshrined our two governments’ commitment to Hong Kong’s prosperity, stability and way of life, in accordance with the ‘one country, two systems’ principle," Cameron said.
In announcing the deals, Cameron said Britain was a "strong and good friend of China and supporter of China's rise". He stressed the importance of the ties to Britain's economic recovery. British energy giant BP said earlier that it would be signing a deal worth around US$20 billion over 20 years with Chinese state-owned firm CNOOC to supply China with liquefied natural gas.
The UK had made significant efforts to improve relations with Beijing since the cooling of relations after Cameron met the Dalai Lama, said Hugo Williamson, managing director of the Risk Resolution Group, a consultancy based in London.
Earlier, a military band played to welcome Li and his wife, Cheng Hong , to Windsor Castle, before Queen Elizabeth greeted the pair in a lavishly decorated drawing room.
The Chinese leader then travelled to central London for a formal inspection of British soldiers and a meeting with Cameron at his office in Downing Street.
Cameron told reporters that he and Li had also discussed terrorism, Iraq and Ukraine, among other topics. He did not directly address China's human rights record, a subject that often raises Beijing's ire.
Around 100 rights activists campaigning for Tibetan independence and other issues staged a colourful protest near Downing Street, fighting for attention with a rival pro-China group. A heavy police presence held the protesters at arms' length, though their chants could be heard as Cameron and Li shook hands and posed for photographers.
Li's meeting with the queen was a significant political gesture because the privilege is typically granted to heads of state. Analysts say China probably pushed for the royal audience, underscoring its increasingly aggressive approach to diplomacy.
Asked about Chinese ambassador Liu Xioming's earlier remark that Britain ranked below Germany and France in terms of China's European ties, Li said at the press conference he had high hopes for Sino-British ties.
"There's an old saying in China that when you are at one mountain you shall sing their local song," Li said. "I am in the UK and I'd say that I hope China-UK relations can become the driving force of China-EU relations."
After the UK, Li will visit Greece later this week.
Associated Press, Agence France-Presse