UK’s Cameron visits China seeking trade, influence

LONDON (AP) — Britain’s Prime Minister David Cameron leads his country’s largest ever official delegation to China on Monday, hoping to win trade and woo a powerful potential ally as London seeks to cultivate ties beyond Washington and Europe.

Cameron, accompanied by four Cabinet ministers and about 50 business leaders, will arrive Tuesday for two days of talks in Beijing — his second major trip to court an emerging economy following a high-profile visit to India in July.

Britain’s new government has made trade with developing economies its key foreign policy priority, hoping to spur the country’s sluggish growth by boosting exports.

“China represents the biggest source of demand in the world for many of the products that we in the U.K. have to offer,” Business Secretary Vince Cable said in a statement. “This makes it a very lucrative market for our businesses.”

Cameron is joined by executives from companies including Rolls-Royce, Tesco PLC, Barclays and Diageo PLC., as well as Cable, Treasury chief George Osborne, Energy and Climate Change Secretary Chris Huhne and Education Secretary Michael Gove.

Cameron will meet with Chinese President Hu Jintao and holds talks Tuesday in Beijing with Premier Wen Jiabao. In a speech Wednesday, the British leader will insist that his country still has clout on the world stage.

“He will remind China that Britain matters, and that Britain is a strong trading partner for China,” said a Cameron spokesman, on customary condition of anonymity in line with policy.

Last year, China was Britain’s third-largest source of imports and ninth-largest export market.

Ahead of the visit, Britain’s business ministry said it had agreed a deal with Chinese authorities to ensure only whisky produced in Scotland can be marketed in China as Scotch — a move it said would increase sales.

“If it says Scotch whisky on the bottle, it will be Scotch whisky in the bottle in China’s bars, restaurants, hotels and homes,” said Jim Paice, agriculture minister.

Cameron’s office confirmed that the leader will challenge China over its human rights record during his visit, but declined to say in advance which specific issues he would raise.

His visit is the first by a U.K. leader since the execution in December of 53-year-old British man, Akmal Shaikh, for drug smuggling.

Leader of the House of Commons George Young, a lawmaker with Cameron’s Conservative Party, has said Cameron will also discuss the case of jailed Chinese human rights activist Liu Xiaobo, who last month was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

On previous visits overseas, the British chief has often been outspoken.

During talks in Turkey in July, Cameron sharply criticized Israel’s raid on a Gaza-bound flotilla and said the Palestinian territory “cannot and must not be allowed to remain a prison camp.” While in India during the same trip, he said Pakistan must not be allowed “to promote the export of terror,” offending Islamabad.

During Britain’s election campaign Cameron suggested the country must retain its arsenal of nuclear weapons in part because of doubts about China’s relations with the rest of the world.

“Are we really happy to say that we’d give up our independent nuclear deterrent when we don’t know what is going to happen with Iran, we can’t be certain of the future in China?” he said in April, during the televised foreign policy debate.

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