Britain, China agree to boost cooperation

CHINA wants to take part in Britain's high-speed rail and nuclear energy projects, Premier Li Keqiang told visiting British Prime Minister David Cameron as both sides look to put behind them a row that froze high-level contact and cast a pall over business ties.

The two countries agreed to promote cooperation between their companies in nuclear power and high-speed rail, and the Chinese were willing to buy equities and stocks in British power projects, Mr Li said.

The British leader is in China, accompanied by a 100-strong business delegation, in a bid to mend ties after he angered the Chinese by meeting Tibet's exiled spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, in May last year.

That meeting led to the cancellation of what would have been his second visit since 2010 that had been scheduled for earlier this year.

On Monday, Mr Cameron told Mr Li during their meeting that he recognised Tibet as a part of China and did not support Tibetan independence, China's state broadcaster CCTV reported.

He also touched on the role that Britain could play in bringing about a free trade agreement between China and the European Union.

"Some in Europe and elsewhere see the world changing and want to shut China off behind a bamboo curtain of trade barriers. Britain wants to tear those trade barriers down," he said.

Last week, Mr Cameron welcomed the prospect of Chinese investment in Britain's first high-speed rail line, noting that the Chinese have already invested in infrastructure projects like Heathrow Airport and the Hinkley Point nuclear power station.

On his part, the Chinese premier urged Britain to increase high-tech exports in such areas as aviation and new energy to China, and also to ease visa processes to boost people-to-people flows.

Mr Cameron also met Chinese President Xi Jinping and parliamentary chief Zhang Dejiang, the country's third-ranked leader.

Mr Xi said the two countries were major economies and permanent members of the United Nations Security Council, and called on both sides to boost dialogue and cooperation in world affairs.

Mr Cameron's visit follows those of British Chancellor George Osborne and London Mayor Boris Johnson in October.

The British delegation comprises not just business moguls like Jaguar Land Rover chief executive Ralf Speth and Standard Chartered's group chief executive Peter Sands but also representatives from sectors like education, the creative industries and food manufacturing. Members include architect Zaha Hadid and former England footballer Graeme Le Saux.

Renmin University analyst Fang Lexian said: "Sino-British relations are on the mend. Political ties were hit previously but now you can say that these are moving in a positive direction."

Bilateral trade between the two countries reached US$63.1 billion (S$79.2 billion) last year, an increase of 7.5 per cent from the previous year, according to figures from China.

China exports mainly machinery, electronics, plastics, furniture and shoes to Britain while British exports to China include vehicles, chemical products and food.

Mr Cameron will also visit Shanghai, Hangzhou and Chengdu before ending his three-day visit on Wednesday.

hoaili@sph.com.sg


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