David Cameron distances UK from Dalai Lama and Tibet to woo Beijing

Move seen as means to restore full business and diplomatic relations with China

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 30 November, 2013, 8:56pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 01 December, 2013, 12:20pm

The British prime minister, David Cameron, will distance the United Kingdom from the Dalai Lama during a trip to China this week as the price for restoring full business and diplomatic relations with Beijing. The changed stance is the result of an internal London debate that was won by finance minister George Osborne.

As the Free Tibet group called on the prime minister to raise the issue of human rights in Tibet, Downing Street sources said Britain has "turned a page" on the Dalai Lama and Cameron has no plans to meet him in the foreseeable future.

A No 10 Downing Street source said: "This visit is forward-looking. We have turned a page on that issue. It is about the future and how we want to shift UK-China relations up a gear."

The rather stark message came as the prime minister prepares to meet President Xi Jinping , and Premier Li Keqiang , who were installed in March, on a delayed visit to China.

The prime minister was forced to abandon a visit to China in April after Beijing indicated that the main Communist leadership were unlikely to be available.

The move was officially explained by the need for the new leadership to bed down a month after the transfer of power, but was widely seen as a snub.

It was understood that Beijing wanted to show its displeasure after Cameron and Nick Clegg met the Dalai Lama, the tibetan spiritual leader, at St Paul's Cathedral in May last year.

The snub prompted intense discussion at the highest levels in London over Britain's relations with China.

Osborne told a group of ministers at a private gathering attended by Cameron that Britain's relationship with China was of such economic and geopolitical significance that it could not allow British sensitivities over human rights to complicate matters. It is understood that the Foreign Office was keen for Britain to tread with care.

Osborne triumphed in the discussions and led a five-day trade mission to China last month. It paved the way for Beijing to invest in Britain's new generation of nuclear power plants.

The prime minister listened carefully to the cautious Foreign Office voices but will heed Osborne's advice when he declines to raise the issue of the Dalai Lama and Tibet in Beijing.