(Reuters) – Britain and China unveiled deals worth 1.4 billion pounds during a visit by Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao on Monday, including a new agreement between energy group BG Group and Bank of China to help BG expand there.
While Wen and British Prime Minister David Cameron spoke optimistically about the prospects for increasing trade and investment between their countries they also laid bare differences over human rights and the Libyan conflict.
“I’m delighted that today’s summit has seen new deals signed worth another 1.4 billion pounds. This includes BG’s memorandum of understanding with the Bank of China,” Cameron told a joint news conference after the leaders’ talks.
Gas company BG Group said it had signed a cooperation agreement with Bank of China that allowed for up to $1.5 billion of new funding options to support BG’s growth plans.
In an announcement coinciding with Wen’s visit, Britain’s Diageo Plc, the world largest spirits group, said Chinese regulators had approved its acquisition of an additional 4 percent stake in Chinese joint venture Sichuan Chengdu Quanxing for around 13 million pounds, bringing Diageo’s stake to 53 percent
Wen said he was confident Britain and China could achieve their goal of doubling bilateral trade to $100 billion by 2015, but he also noted that Britain was slipping behind other European Union countries in its volume of trade with China.
Wen is visiting Hungary, Britain and Germany in a rapid tour of Europe, where countries are looking for Chinese support to help lift them out of the financial crisis, whether by increasing trade or by buying government bonds.
REBALANCING CHINA’S ECONOMY
As Greece teeters on the brink of default, Beijing is seeking to safeguard its vast holdings of euro-denominated assets and to preserve trade growth with the European Union, its largest trading partner.
Cameron welcomed Wen’s commitment to rebalancing China’s economy by stimulating domestic demand and reducing its foreign trade surplus and said both Britain and China must continue to make the case for open markets.
Cameron and Wen made clear they did not see completely eye-to-eye on human rights and the Libya conflict.
“We believe that the development of civil society, freedom of expression, the rule of law and respect for human rights underpin stability and prosperity for us all,” Cameron said.
Wen, who is known to have reformist tendencies, responded that China and Britain should engage in “more cooperation than finger-pointing” on human rights.
But he also said he was confident that “tomorrow’s China will not only enjoy economic prosperity but also (an) improved democracy and legal system.”
China has clamped down heavily on dissent this year, arresting scores of activists to smother scattered online calls for an Arab-style “Jasmine revolution,” though it released prominent artist and activist Ai Weiwei last week and prominent dissident Hu Jia on Sunday.
Wen made some pointed remarks about the Libyan conflict, where Britain has played a leading role in attacking leader Muammar Gaddafi’s forces. “Foreign troops may be able to win war … but they can hardly win peace,” he said.
Cameron said it was essential China respected intellectual property and patents, an issue often cited by foreign companies operating there. China and Britain had agreed to hold a symposium on intellectual property later this year, he said.
Wen’s visit is the latest of several recent high-level diplomatic exchanges between Britain and China, including a visit to China by Cameron last November, part of a drive to boost Britain’s economic recovery by lifting exports to emerging markets.