Trade trumps human rights as Chinese premier visits

By Alex Stevenson

Whitehall officials are firmly focused on improving Britain's trade links with China as Wen Jiabao visits London – to the frustration of human rights campaigners.

The Chinese premier and other senior officials met David Cameron and other coalition figures in a summit this morning, as British officials furthered their goal of securing $100 billion of bilateral trade with China by 2015.

Deals worth over £1 billion are being signed today, following the $1.2 billion Rolls-Royce deal made when a UK delegation led by Mr Cameron visited China last November.

The UK is raising human rights issues, but is not prepared to compromise its trade interests by souring relations with Beijing.

"We're different countries, we have different stages of development. We should show each other respect," Mr Cameron said in a joint press conference after the summit in the Foreign Office this lunchtime.

"We're very clear that political and economic development should go hand in hand – one supports the other."

Mr Wen said the UK and China were better off resolving their differences through dialogue.

"China and the UK should respect each other by treating each other as equals and engage in more cooperation than finger-pointing," he said.

China has released artist Ai Weiwei and dissident Hu Jia in the last eight days, but a strong police presence outside the latter's home has kept journalists away.

Writing for, European parliament vice-president for democracy and human rights Edward McMillan Scott said Mr Wen "rules the world's largest remaining tyranny", however.

"Of course Cameron and Wen must talk about trade," he wrote.

"To put China's rise at risk would harm not only our interests, but also the millions of Chinese who are yet to share its new prosperity.

"However, we should be under no illusion: the regime uses terror to keep its people under control."

Human rights violations committed by the Chinese regime in Tibet were highlighted by protests outside Downing Street this lunchtime.

"Our support for freedom of expression, development of independent civil society and our conviction that the transparent and consistent application of human rights under the rule of law, are essential prerequisites for China's long term prosperity and stability," No 10 said before the summit.

Britain's poultry sector has received a boost worth £10 million when China announces it is to reopen its market for exports.

British businesses' ability to win contracts in China's fast-growing cities has been improved through the signing of an agreement opening up opportunities in architecture, civil engineering and research and development.

The summit is also seeking to to develop closer ties in areas like education, science and culture and increase cooperation on global issues like climate change, development and international security.

"Trade with China is a huge opportunity for the UK but we have a lot to offer China as well," Mr Cameron added.

"Building on this trade and investment will mean jobs, growth and prosperity for all of us."

Yesterday Mr Wen watched a brief Shakespeare performance at Stratford-upon-Avon, after visiting the MG car plant at Longbridge in Birmingham, now owned by the Shanghai Automotive Industry Corporation.