China, Britain unveil £1.4 billion deals

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

The two men shook hands for the cameras before holding talks with senior officials from both sides at Downing Street, the second formal meeting of the two leaders following Cameron's visit to Beijing in November.

"I am delighted that today's summit has seen new deals signed worth £1.4 billion ($2.2 billion or 1.6 billion euros)," the British leader told reporters at a joint press conference afterwards.

As part of wide-ranging discussions, Cameron said he had discussed China's human 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.

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

The men also discussed the ongoing NATO military operations in Libya, in which Britain is playing a lead role.

In a rare comment, Wen said China was talking to both sides because the conflict would only be resolved by Libyans themselves, adding: "Foreign troops may be able to win war in a place, but they can hardly win peace."

Since taking office in May last year, Cameron's coalition government has made boosting trade with China a priority, and wants to increase bilateral trade to $100 billion a year by 2015.

Britain is scrambling to catch up with European rivals Germany and France, the latter of which secured contracts worth $20 billion for French firms last year.

Wen is due to visit Germany after he leaves Britain later Monday.

The new British deals 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.

A small crowd of protesters gathered outside Downing Street for the talks, brandishing posters reading "Cameron and Wen: human rights before trade" and "Free Tibet", while a similarly sized pro-China demonstration gathered nearby.

Asked about China's rights record, Cameron said: "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."

But Wen batted off any implied criticism.

"On human rights, China and the UK should respect each other, respect the facts, treat each other as equals, engage in more co-operation than finger-pointing and resolve our differences through dialogue," he said.

The release of 37-year-old activist Hu, jailed on subversion charges in April 2008, 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.

Wen is in Britain as part of a three-nation European tour intended in part to shore up support for the eurozone. On the first leg in Hungary, he agreed to buy government bonds, and said this showed China's confidence in the currency.

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.

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".

© 2011 AFP

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