BEIJING – British Prime Minister David Cameron emphasized trade on Monday in his first visit to China since incurring Beijing’s wrath for meeting the Dalai Lama.
Cameron arrived in the world’s second-biggest economy with “the largest British trade mission ever to go to China” in tow, said a statement about the trip from the British Embassy.
His first official meeting was with Premier Li Keqiang, who made an apparently oblique reference to the patching up of a dispute over Cameron’s May 2012 meeting with the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader, whom Beijing reviles as a separatist.
“The U.K. has voiced its respect for China’s territorial integrity and sovereignty, and the persistence of the ‘One China’ principle, respecting China’s core interests and its major concerns, for which China expresses its appreciation,” he said.
Cameron touched briefly on the issue of rights by praising China’s reform pledges in a key meeting last month, “including issues like governance and the judicial protection of human rights.”
In earlier comments, he said that “the scale of the delegation mirrors the scale of the ambition that we have for the British-China partnership.
“We particularly want to explore all the opportunities of economic openness, openness of Britain to Chinese investment.”
Li struck an optimistic tone about the prospect of economic agreements.
“I believe your visit will be highly productive in promoting pragmatic business cooperation and person-to-person exchanges between our two countries,” he said, after welcoming Cameron along with a military brass band.
Rights and Tibetan groups urged Cameron to raise the issue of human rights this week — a common practice for Western leaders visiting Beijing — despite recent strains in diplomatic relations.
China branded Cameron’s meeting with the Dalai Lama as “an affront to the Chinese people,” and in May this year the British leader said he did not back Tibetan independence and had “no plans” to meet the Dalai Lama again.
Underscoring his interest in trade deals, on his first stop Cameron toured a training academy for Jaguar Land Rover, which has agreed to produce 100,000 cars for the Chinese market in 2014.
Also announced at the outset of his trip was a deal between the Premier League and Chinese Super League to “build up football at an elite, youth and community level” in China.
The Premier League sees China — the world’s most populous country with more than 1.3 billion people — as “having the best growth prospects in the world,” the British Foreign Ministry said in a statement.