British Prime Minister David Cameron has called for a free trade deal between the European Union and China. The call, which came during a visit to Beijing, is expected to irritate Britain’s European partners.
Cameron made the call following a meeting with Chinese Premier Li Keqiang in Beijing on Monday, where the British prime minister was kicking off a three-day visit to the country, on which he is being accompanied by around 100 business people.
"China's transformation is one of the defining facts of our lifetime ... I see China's rise as an opportunity, not just for the people of this country but for Britain and the world," Cameron told reporters following his meeting with Li at the Great Hall of the People.
He also alluded to reservations within the European Commission about the idea of entering free trade with China.
"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," Cameron said.
Li said the two sides had agreed to push for trade and investment liberalization.
Cameron's statements are in sharp contrast to those coming out of Brussels after an EU-China summit last month, when European Trade Commissioner Karel De Gucht said the two sides should first work towards reaching an investment agreement before thinking about free trade.
Although the EU and China are already major trading partners, bilateral ties have been weighed down by a series of disputes, including one over Chinese solar panel exports. Also on Monday, the EU announced that it planned to impose anti-dumping measures on Chinese solar panels for a period of two years.
Cameron's trip is his first to China since his meeting last year with Tibet's spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, sparked a rift with Beijing. Premier Li indicated that things had since been patched up between the two sides.
"The UK has voiced its respect for China's territorial integrity and sovereignty, and the persistence of the one China principle, respecting China's core interests and its major concerns, for which China expresses its appreciation," Li said.
Cameron also said Britain welcomed a package of reforms announced by the Chinese government last month, as they would help address "issues like governance and the judicial protection of human rights."
He also attended the opening of a Jaguar Land Rover training academy and witnessed the signing of an agreement worth 4.5 billion pounds (5.4 billion euros, $7.4 billion), that will see the British carmaker deliver 100,000 units to China's National Sales Company over the next year.
pfd/ccp (AP, dpa, Reuters, AFP)