Chinese vice premier backs UK austerity drive as tour ends

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Chinese Vice Premier Li Keqiang has backed Britain's austerity drive to tackle its huge deficit, in another vote of confidence in a European recovery as his three-nation tour neared an end.

Li, widely tipped to be the next premier, praised the "ambitious plans" to help economic recovery unveiled by the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition, ahead of the end of his European trip in Britain on Wednesday.

"The British coalition government, in a continued effort to counter the financial crisis, has unveiled ambitious plans to spur economic growth," he told an audience at the China-Britain Business Council in London late Tuesday.

Li said slashing the fiscal deficit was one of a number of ways in which Britain was seeking to boost its recovery, according to a translated copy of his speech.

Britain is just one of several European nations that have introduced harsh austerity measures amid a mounting financial crisis on the continent.

The government unveiled a series of stinging cuts to the public sector in October to reduce a deficit of some 150 billion pounds (234 billion dollars), which will slash budgets across departments by almost 20 percent over four years.

Li further praised Britain for increasing cooperation with emerging economies in his speech at the event, which was attended by Foreign Secretary William Hague and Business Minister Vince Cable.

He pledged to strengthen business ties between China and Britain, saying deals between firms from the two countries signed during his visit were worth some 4.7 billion dollars.

This amounted to "the biggest package of bilateral cooperation projects in recent years," Li said, adding that "the two sides should work to advance bilateral trade towards the target of 100 billion US dollars."

Britain is Li's third and final stop on his European tour after Spain and Germany.

On his fourth day of the British leg of his tour on Wednesday, the vice premier will visit a business park in Watford, north of London, before flying back to Beijing.

Li's backing for the British austerity drive was just the latest show of support for one of Europe's struggling economies, which are major customers for Chinese exports.

The visit has been in part an effort to support Europe's recovery efforts and soothe global market fears of a debt quagmire spreading through the eurozone after the bailouts of Ireland and Greece.

He reiterated his support for a European recovery late Tuesday, telling the London audience that China was "adamantly supportive of the series of financial stabilization measures adopted by the European Union and the IMF."

"We are convinced that, given the concerted effort of European countries, the current difficulties will be only temporary," he said.

© 2011 AFP

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