China, Britain boost trade ties
China's Wen Jiabao and Britain's David Cameron unveiled trade deals worth £1.4 billion at a summit Monday, but their efforts to boost closer bilateral ties were undermined by differences on Libya and human rights.
The Chinese and British premiers expressed optimism about the future of their relationship after talks at Downing Street, their second formal meeting following Cameron's visit to Beijing in November.
But Wen rejected criticism about his country's treatment of dissidents -- one of whom, Hu Jia, was released hours before the premier flew into Britain late Saturday -- and also warned NATO that its military campaign could not bring peace to Libya.
Since taking office in May last year, Cameron's coalition government has made relations with China a priority and says it wants to increase bilateral trade.
At Monday's summit, he and Wen unveiled deals involving oil and gas group BG and spirits giant Diageo among others, and agreed the reopening of the Chinese poultry market for British exports, which was halted after a bird flu outbreak.
"I am delighted that today's summit has seen new deals signed worth £1.4 billion ($2.2 billion or 1.6 billion euros)," Cameron told a press conference.
Britain is scrambling to catch up with European rivals Germany and France, after French firms secured contracts worth $20 billion last year.
Both Cameron and Wen expressed optimism about their bilateral trade prospects, which Britain has said it hopes to increase to $100 billion (70 billion euros) a year by 2015.
But the small crowd of demonstrators who gathered outside Downing Street, brandishing posters saying "Cameron and Wen: human rights before trade" and "Free Tibet", highlighted a sticking point in the relationship.
Cameron said he and Wen had discussed human rights, adding: "There is no trade-off in our relationship. It is not about either discussing trade or human rights."
"We should show each other respect. But we're very clear that political and economic development should go hand in hand, that one supports the other," Cameron said.
However, Wen batted away any implied criticism, insisting that China was pursuing political reform.
"On human rights China and the United Kingdom should respect each other, respect the facts, treat each other as equals, engage in more cooperation than finger-pointing, and resolve properly our differences through dialogue," he said.
The two leaders also discussed the ongoing bombing campaign in Libya.
China abstained from voting on the UN Security Council resolution that authorised the action, and Wen warned that only the Libyan people themselves could bring peace.
"Foreign troops may be able to win war in a place but they can hardly win peace. Hard lessons have been learned from what has happened in the Middle East and Afghanistan," he said.
After the meeting with Cameron, Wen picked up an award from Britain's leading science institution, the Royal Society, for his commitment to science.
He then flew to Germany for the third stop of his European tour.
On his first full day in Britain on Sunday, Wen visited a car plant in Longbridge, Birmingham, central England, which is owned by Shanghai Automotive Industry Corp (SAIC), China's largest automaker.
He also visited Shakespeare's birthplace in Stratford-upon-Avon, where he watched a brief performance from "Hamlet". On Monday, he said the bard was one of the "greatest geniuses in our world".
During the visit to Britain, China's central bank chief, Zhou Xiaochuan, voiced support for French Finance Minister Christine Lagarde's bid to lead the International Monetary Fund, in Beijing's first public statement on the issue.
© 2011 AFP