British PM to urge more political freedom in China

10th November 2010, Comments 0 comments

British Prime Minister David Cameron on Wednesday will call for "greater political opening" in China as its economy surges forward, as he ends a visit designed to drum up trade, his office said.

In a speech to students at Peking University, Cameron is to say he hopes that China's breakneck economic gains would "go in step together" with increased political freedoms, according to excerpts released by his office.

He will insist that his comments -- in which he also explains how Britain's "rule of law", press freedoms and electoral system "make our government better and our country stronger" -- do not come from a sense of "moral superiority."

Aides to the British prime minister stressed he was not trying to lecture China, but was instead "sharing his vision of values he thinks need to underpin a free society."

"The rise in economic freedom in China in recent years has been hugely beneficial to China and to the world," Cameron was to say in his speech.

"I hope that in time this will lead to a greater political opening... because I am convinced that the best guarantor of prosperity and stability is for economic and political progress to go in step together."

Cameron, the first Western leader to visit China since the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded last month to jailed Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo, has faced pressure during the two-day trade mission to take a firm stand on human rights.

It is expected that Cameron will raise the case of Liu with leaders before he leaves China. He and Premier Wen Jiabao had a general discussion on human rights Tuesday, officials said.

"In arguing for a strong relationship between our countries, I want a relationship in which we can be open with each other, in which we can have a constructive dialogue of give and take in a spirit of tolerance and mutual respect," Cameron was to say.

The British premier, who said he hoped his visit would result in billions of dollars in trade deals, will meet with Chinese President Hu Jintao on Wednesday.

Beijing has denounced the Oslo-based Nobel committee's decision to honour Liu -- cheered in the West -- as tantamount to "encouraging crime".

Liu, 54, was jailed in December for 11 years on subversion charges after co-authoring Charter 08, a bold petition calling for democratic reform in one-party China that has been widely circulated online and signed by thousands.

The lawyer who heads the firm that represents Liu, Mo Shaoping, told AFP that he was prevented from boarding a flight out of China to London on Tuesday, saying the Nobel connection was "definitely" behind the decision.

Countries including Britain have said they will not heed a Chinese call for Western diplomats to steer clear of the Nobel Peace Prize award ceremony in December.

Outspoken artist Ai Weiwei -- whose work is currently on show at London's Tate Modern and who was briefly placed under house arrest last week -- said Western leaders on trade trips to China "must insist on human rights issues".

Cameron's trip, his first official trip to China since taking power in May, comes ahead of the Group of 20 summit in Seoul which begins Thursday.

The prime minister is travelling with 43 bosses from major British companies and four government ministers in what is being described as Britain's biggest-ever delegation to China.

Officials have not yet revealed a total figure for the amount of deals struck.

But the biggest announced so far was a 1.2-billion-dollar agreement between Rolls-Royce and China Eastern Airlines Corp under which the British group will provide jet engines to power 16 Airbus A330 aircraft.

Cameron's longer-term target is to double the level of trade in goods and services between Britain and China by 2015 from last year's 51.8 billion dollars.

His government is battling to reduce a record deficit having just imposed the steepest public sector spending cuts for decades.

© 2010 AFP

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