China's Wen in Britain for second leg of Europe tour

26th June 2011, Comments 0 comments

Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao arrived in Britain on Saturday for a visit focused on boosting economic ties, on the second leg of a three-nation tour in which Beijing is seeking a greater foothold in Europe.

Wen arrived at Birmingham Airport in central England after flying in from Hungary, the first stop on a tour which will also take him to Germany, a Foreign Office spokeswoman told AFP.

Wen was met by British Trade Minister Stephen Green and Britain's ambassador to Beijing Sebastian Wood, added the spokeswoman.

The Chinese leader did not have any engagements on Saturday and was due to begin his visit in earnest on Sunday, with a visit to playwright Shakespeare's birthplace and a Chinese-owned car plant.

The centrepiece on the three-day visit is the annual UK-China Summit, which takes place in London Monday and will be attended by Prime Minister David Cameron, Foreign Secretary William Hague and finance minister George Osborne.

Business deals across a range of sectors are expected to be announced at the event.

Wen will also hold talks with Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg and business leaders focused on green growth. The premier leaves Britain for Germany on Monday.

London sees Beijing as a key strategic partner and will be keen to use the visit to boost economic and political ties.

The Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition government has made trade the focus of its foreign policy in its effort to return Britain to strong growth following a recession, with an emphasis on emerging giants such as China.

It is Wen's second Europe tour in just nine months, highlighting a shift in China's interest towards investing in the continent after having ploughed money in recent years into Africa, Australia, Latin America and the United States.

It comes against the backdrop of a flare-up in the eurozone debt crisis, centring again on Greece, which needs to push through new austerity measures next week to unlock crucial EU-IMF aid and stave off default.

As well as seeking investment opportunities in Europe, Beijing wants to reassure struggling European economies that are major markets for Chinese goods.

In Budapest earlier Saturday, Wen announced Beijing would purchase Hungarian government bonds and extend a one-billion-euro ($1.4-billion) credit to the country, which would be used to benefit common projects.

Hungary's Prime Minister Viktor Orban hailed the agreement as a "new and very important deal."

While Britain is not a member of the 17-nation eurozone, Cameron recognises that the Greek crisis poses a severe threat to Britain's economic well-being, and the issue will be on the agenda when the two leaders meet.

Also on the agenda will be the situation in Libya and the uprisings across the Arab world. As permanent members of the UN Security Council, Britain and China frequently work together on such major international issues.

Britain says it will not shy away from criticising China on areas of concern, such as economic and political openness.

While the unexpected release of Chinese artist Ai Weiwei on bail Wednesday following three months of detention may have gone some way to easing tensions, officials say they are still concerned that other activists remain locked up.

© 2011 AFP

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