China's Li flies into UK to talk trade, seal deals worth $30 bln

Sun Jun 15, 2014 7:03pm EDT
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By Andrew Osborn and Ben Blanchard

LONDON/BEIJING (Reuters) - Chinese Premier Li Keqiang will fly into Britain on Monday for the first time since taking office on a visit focused on moving the relationship beyond the political differences of the past and signing more than $30 billion of deals.

Britain's relations with China took a nosedive in 2012 after Prime Minister David Cameron met the Dalai Lama, the Tibetan spiritual leader whom Beijing says is a separatist. Ties have recovered somewhat since, and Cameron visited China last year.

Tensions remain, however. Beijing warned London on the eve of Li's visit not to lecture it on the subject if it wanted good economic ties, after Britain angered China in April when it criticized its human rights record in a report. [ID:nL5N0OU3WE]

Britain is expected to take the opportunity to announce it is easing some visa restrictions on Chinese citizens, a long-standing request from Beijing which has complained current arrangements are overly lengthy, bureaucratic and opaque.

Li will hold talks with Cameron and will also meet the Queen. China's ambassador to Britain on Friday robustly rejected local media reports that Beijing had threatened to cancel the trip if Li was not granted an audience.

In speeches to Chinese and British business people, as well as think tanks, Li is expected to make reassuring comments about slowing growth in China to try to shore up confidence in the world's second biggest economy.

A Reuters poll in April forecast China's economic growth could slow to 7.3 percent in the second quarter from a 18-month low of 7.4 percent in the previous quarter, with full-year growth of 7.3 percent in 2014, the weakest in 24 years.

Li has signaled some flexibility in achieving this year's 7.5 percent growth target, but analysts say the government needs to prevent growth from falling towards 7 percent, something that could fuel job losses and threaten social stability.   Continued...

Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron (L) and China's Premier Li Keqiang shake hands following a signing ceremony at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing December 2, 2013. REUTERS/Ed Jones/Pool