SHANGHAI - British Prime Minister David Cameron on Tuesday mounted a robust defence of GlaxoSmithKline's business practices in China - where it is being investigated for alleged bribery - calling the firm "very decent".
Cameron's intervention came a day after he raised GSK's situation with China's top leadership in a move one person familiar with the conversation said was designed to draw a line under the company's woes and ensure it was treated fairly.
Cameron is on a trade promotion trip to China with around 100 executives, including GSK Chief Executive Andrew Witty, and is trying to help the firm grapple with the aftermath of accusations it funneled up to 3 billion yuan ($492 million) to travel agencies to facilitate bribes to boost its drug sales.
The claims are the most serious against a multinational in China in years. Police detained four Chinese GSK executives as well as Peter Humphrey, a British man running a risk advisory group. He is still being held.
Cameron on Tuesday gave reporters what amounted to a strong character reference for GSK, making it clear he was happy to fight its corner.
"All I'll say is that from all my dealings with GSK I know that they are a very important, very decent and strong British business that is a long-term investor in China and it's a business that very much does think about the long-term development of its products and its businesses," he said.
"I think it is right to raise a case like that. Britain has a record of properly standing up for British businesses and British individuals, raising individual cases in the right way and about having a proper dialogue with the Chinese authorities about the issues."
The person familiar with the matter said Britain had detected a softening in China's position, saying it had encouraged GSK's Witty to join Cameron in China.