Daily Mail | June 17, 2014
The Prime Minister of China today warned against Scottish independence, as he announced £14billion of trade deals with Britain.
Chinese premier Li Keqiang said he wanted to see a ‘united United Kingdom’, just days after US President Barack Obama sounded the alarm about breaking up the UK.
The surprise intervention in the independence debate came as David Cameron rolled out the red carpet for his Chinese counterpart as part of a three-day official visit to Britain designed to ease diplomatic tensions – and win billions of pounds in business contracts.
Mr Cameron laid on meetings with his Cabinet, his wife Samantha and even an audience with the Queen in a concerted attempt to woo Beijing.
As Downing Street sought to smooth over the rift caused by Mr Cameron’s meeting with the Dalai Lama, outside activists campaigning for a variety of causes, including Tibetan independence, staged a colourful and noisy protest.
Deals between China and Britain worth £14billion have been announced during the visit, to underline growing ties between the two countries.
Mr Cameron said Chinese investment into the UK in the last 18 months had been higher than in the last 30 years.
‘Ours is truly a partnership for growth, reform and innovation,’ he said.
Mr Cameron added: ‘In the last few years we have made a huge difference and built a much stronger bilateral and trading relationship between our countries.
‘The figures tell the story – bilateral trade at record levels, our exports to China up 15 per cent in 2013, they have more than doubled in the last five years and at a billion a month, they are growing faster than France’s or Germany’s.’
But during a press conference in Downing Street, Mr Li was also asked about the prospect of Scottish independence.
Mr Li said he wanted a ‘strong, prosperous and united United Kingdom’.
He added: ‘I believe that the United Kingdom can stay at the forefront in leading the world’s growth and development and also continue to play an important and even bigger role for regional stability and global peace.’
But he added: ‘We certainly respect the choice you make.’
However a spokesman for the Yes Scotland campaign hit back: ‘Unlike people in China, people here will have a free and democratic vote on September 18 when they will decide on the future of their country. We believe that decision will be Yes.’
Earlier the Queen welcomed Mr Li and his wife at Windsor Castle alongside Prince Andrew before crunch talks in Number 10 this afternoon.
Relations between China and Britain were strained two years ago after Mr Clegg and Prime Minister David Cameron met the Dalai Lama in London.
China has always warned foreign governments from holding talks with the Tibetan spiritual leader, who wants his homeland to enjoy self-rule free from Chinese control.
Mr Li’s visit is seen as a breakthrough in Sino-British affairs and key to securing major Chinese investment in the UK.
Mr Cameron wants to secure agreement on the ending the Chinese ban on imports of British beef and lamb. Restrictions were imposed by the Chinese in response to the BSE outbreak in the 1980s.
It is expected that formal official-level talks will begin on opening up a market which could be worth up to £120 million to the British economy.
Mr Cameron and Mr Li will tuck into lunch in Downing Street which will be prepared by Manchester-based catering firm Sweet Mandarin.
In addition to the official functions, Mr Li and his wife Cheng Hong are expected to have what Chinese officials described as ‘tete-a-tete interactions’ with Mr Cameron and his wife Samantha to ‘build up trust and consolidate close working and personal relations’.
The Chinese premier is also due to meet Labour leader Ed Miliband during his visit, although he is not expected to be holding any talks with Deputy Prime Minister Mr Clegg.
But the highlight of Mr Li’s visit was this morning’s meeting with the Queen.
The Chinese leader was greeted with a smile and a handshake by the Queen, who was joined by the Duke of York in the White Drawing Room this morning.
Prince Andrew had been waiting outside to meet Mr Li and his party when they swept into the castle’s quadrangle in a fleet of limousines.
Other deals due to be announced to coincide with the premier’s visit include Chinese financial services group Nord Engine making up to £150 million available to invest in UK and European small and medium enterprises.
China Minsheng Investment Corporation will open its European headquarters in London, with around 1.5 billion US dollars (£883 million) of investments in a range of sectors.
Oil giant BP is expected to sign a £5billion deal to supply liquid gas to China while Royal Dutch Shell will form an alliance with Cnooc.
However, the trade deals could be overshadowed by a row over China’s human rights record and Britain’s contact with the Dalai Lama.
Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg risked causing upset yesterday by accusing Beijing of ‘systematic human rights abuses’ and claiming he would happily meet the Dalai Lama again.
The Deputy Prime Minister said he was ‘honoured’ to have talks the Tibetan spiritual leader in 2012, despite the meeting plunging relations with China into the deep freeze.
While Mr Clegg acknowledged the importance of developing commercial ties with China, he said that did not mean human rights would be ignored during Mr Li’s visit, despite Beijing’s notorious sensitivity on the issue.
‘That doesn’t mean that we cannot in a respectful but firm way – as we do, as the Prime Minister did when he was in China recently – point out that we remain deeply, deeply concerned about the very large-scale abuse of human rights that still continues,’ he said.
‘Of course we can’t agree on large scale and systematic human rights abuses which still continue in China to this day.
‘The many journalists who are persecuted. The very widespread use of the death penalty.
‘This is a country which is going on an extraordinary journey. We’ve seen economic transformation on a scale possibly unheard of in the modern world, with millions of people have become economically emancipated, although they are still politically shackled to a doctrine which is a one party state, a communist state, which is the antithesis of the kind of open, democratic society I believe in.’
Campaigners have called on Mr Cameron to directing Mr Li over the country’s human rights record.
A coalition of human rights organisations urged Mr Cameron to discuss the situation in Tibet and make a public statement calling for the Chinese government to commit to reforms.
Tibet Society chief executive Philippa Carrick said: ‘The visit of Premier Li to the UK is being purported to herald a new era of Chinese investment in the UK, however, it could also herald a worrying level of influence by China in the UK.
‘David Cameron must be clear that universal values of human and civil rights are integral to any engagement we have with China and Britain’s relationship with China cannot be just about trade and economics.’
Shao Jiang, a survivor of the Tiananmen Square massacre and member of Cuts UK said: ‘The UK must not be bullied by China. The Chinese government seeks to deflect criticism from its human rights record by threatening withdrawal of trade.’