British Prime Minister David Cameron met Chinese leaders on Monday as he called for the European Union to negotiate a free trade agreement with the world’s second-largest economy.
“I’ve been talking to Premier Li Keqiang about extending trade links and hosting a [China-UK] human rights dialogue next year,” Mr. Cameron said on his Twitter account.
Mr. Li hosted a formal welcome ceremony for Cameron at Beijing’s Great Hall of the People.
Mr. Cameron began his three-day trip, accompanied by what his office said was the largest British trade delegation ever to visit China, by opening a Jaguar Land Rover training academy in Beijing.
He witnessed the signing of an agreement worth some £4.5 billion ($ 7.4 billion) for Jaguar Land Rover to provide 100,000 vehicles to China over the next year.
Mr. Cameron was due to meet President Xi Jinping later on Monday.
Analysts said Mr. Cameron had focussed on economic ties and toned down his rhetoric on human rights after angering China by meeting the Dalai Lama in May 2012.
That meeting was a “move that interfered with China’s internal affairs,” China’s official Xinhua news agency said in a commentary on Monday.
The recent shift of focus showed that Mr. Cameron was “very pragmatic” in trying to overcome the differences with China after his meeting with the Dalai Lama, said Beijing-based international relations analyst Shi Yinhong.
“Cameron’s visit is the start of a new round of China-UK relations with cooperation and mutual respect,” Mr. Shi said.
“As long as those [sensitive topics] don’t appear, I think China-UK, or we should say China-UK economic relations, will see a big improvement,” he said Cameron’s office said earlier that he was “ready to put his full political weight behind an agreement to liberalise trade between China and the EU.” “Britain is uniquely placed to make the case for deepening the European Union’s trade and investment relationship with China,” Cameron said in an interview published on Monday by China’s influential Caixin business magazine.
“Building on the recent launch of EU-China negotiations on investment, and on China’s continued commitment to economic reform, I now want to set a new long-term goal of an ambitious and comprehensive EU-China free trade agreement,” he said.
The Xinhua commentary said Britain was “lagging behind” compared with the “frequent visits between Beijing and the European continent.” “Cameron may be late but he is still in time,” it said.