China's Wen, Britain's Cameron unveil £1.4 billion deals

27th June 2011, Comments 0 comments

Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao and British Prime Minister David Cameron signed trade deals worth £1.4 billion at a summit on Monday as Wen faced questions over his country's rights record.

Wen arrived at Cameron's Downing Street office and the two men shook hands for the cameras before starting a morning of talks with senior officials from both sides on a wide range of issues, including the eurozone debt crisis.

"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 said at a joint press conference with Wen after the talks.

The British leader said he had discussed China's rights record with Wen, who flew into Britain late Saturday as part of a European tour just as Beijing released high-profile rights activist Hu Jia.

Wen said that there should not be "finger-wagging" at China over human rights.

Several protesters gathered outside Downing Street and unfurled a banner reading 'Cameron and Wen: human rights before trade' as well as banners about Tibet. But there as a bigger pro-China protest of around 30 people.

The main aim of Cameron's coalition government during the visit was however to boost trade ties with China, with the deals providing British businesses with better access into cities beyond Beijing and Shanghai.

Britain is scrambling to catch up with European rivals France and Germany in winning trade deals with China and Cameron visited China in November -- the same month that France secured contracts for French firms worth $20 billion.

The new British deals also concern the reopening of the Chinese poultry market for British exports, which was halted after a bird flu outbreak in Britain, and a deal to supply breeding pigs to China.

On the first leg of his three-nation European tour, Wen promised officials in Hungary that China would continue to support its faltering economy by buying government debt, and he vowed to similarly aid the eurozone.

"When some European countries were hit by the sovereign debt crisis, China has actually increased the purchase of government bonds of some European countries and we have not cut back on our euro holdings," Wen told the BBC.

"I think these (moves) show our confidence in the economies of the European countries and the eurozone."

China has repeatedly expressed its confidence in the eurozone economies, and has invested an increasing portion of its world-leading foreign exchange reserves in euro-denominated assets.

Also during the visit, 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.

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 launched the first new MG car to be made in 15 years, the MG6 model, hailing it as a potent symbol of friendship between London and Beijing.

"The model can be summed up as designed in the UK, manufactured in China and assembled in the UK, thereby making the most of China's capital and markets, as well as the UK's technology and managerial expertise," he said.

The release of Hu Jia was widely seen as a move to defuse tensions over human rights, and followed the release on bail last week of Chinese artist Ai Weiwei.

Hu, 37, was jailed on subversion charges in April 2008 after angering the ruling Communist Party through years of bold campaigning for civil rights, the environment and AIDS sufferers.

On Sunday, Wen also indulged his interest in Shakespeare with a visit to the bard's birthplace in Stratford-upon-Avon, where he was treated to performances of extracts from Hamlet.

© 2011 AFP

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