Chinese vice premier starts Britain visit with energy deal

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Chinese Vice Premier Li Keqiang kicked off a business-focused state visit to Britain on Sunday with the sealing of a renewable energy deal between Scottish and Chinese companies.

Li, who is widely tipped to be China's next premier, arrived in Edinburgh for a four-day trip aimed at boosting economic and political ties that will include talks with British Prime Minister David Cameron.

He praised progress in relations between China and Britain in recent years and urged closer ties in future, speaking at the Scottish capital's airport, according to the official Xinhua news agency.

"Closer cooperation between China and Britain will not only benefit the two countries and peoples, but also contribute to world peace, stability and prosperity," Li was quoted as saying.

The Scottish government said Li's arrival coincided with the conclusion of a 10-million-dollar (7.7-million-euro) deal to use Scottish technology to build a plant in China that generates electricity from domestic refuse.

"This announcement is another positive step forward in strengthening Sino-Scottish links and confirming Scotland's reputation as a global leader in the development of renewable energy," First Minister Alex Salmond said.

Li held talks with Salmond and with ministers and business leaders from Scotland, and was also due to visit a wave power station in the Scottish capital.

His visit rounds off a European tour which has already taken in Spain and Germany and comes just two months after Cameron visited China with a team of top ministers and business chiefs.

Cameron will welcome Li at his Downing Street office in London on Monday, while the Chinese official will also meet Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, Finance Minister George Osborne and Foreign Minister William Hague.

Li will give a speech to a China-British Business Council event attended by top businessmen from both countries ahead of his departure on Wednesday.

The Chinese ambassador to London, Liu Xiaoming, said ahead of the visit that ties between Britain and China were "flourishing", Xinhua reported.

Bilateral trade between the two countries reached a record 40.2 billion dollars (31.1 billion euros) between January and October 2010, an increase of 30 percent on the same period in 2009, he said.

The deal finalised on Sunday to construct a renewable energy conversion plant is between a Sino-Scottish company, Shanghai Huanuan Boiler and Vessel Co./Cochran, and Scotland-based engineering firm W2E Engineering.

Cameron said earlier this week that Li's visit would "build on the momentum" from his trip to Beijing, adding that "stronger relations with China offered a real opportunity for Britain in terms of trade, jobs, and economic growth."

The visit is likely, however, to be shadowed by human rights issues.

On his trip to Beijing Cameron was understood to have privately raised the case of jailed dissident and Nobel peace laureate Liu Xiaobo with Premier Wen Jiabao and also urged "greater political opening" on human rights in China.

Deputy premier Clegg said that "no subject will be off limits" during the talks with Li in the coming days.

Li's trips to Germany and Spain have focused on business.

In Berlin, Li said China and Germany, the world's top two exporters, should deepen their economic cooperation both in traditional areas such as machinery and cars but also in low-carbon technologies and energy efficient industry.

While in Madrid Li said Beijing was willing to buy around six billion euros worth of Spanish debt, daily El Pais quoted government sources as saying.

After eurozone members Greece and Ireland were forced to seek bailouts worth tens of billions of euros last year, Spain, together with Portugal, have been seen as next in line in the 17-country currency union to need help.

© 2011 AFP

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