Chinese Premier Li Keqiang (C, front) and his wife Cheng Hong (R, front) arrive in London, Britain, June 16, 2014. Li arrived Monday for an official visit to Britain. Photo: Xinhua
A focus on economic cooperation is expected to dominate Premier Li Keqiang's first visit to the UK since taking office, as British Prime Minister David Cameron attempts to repair a somewhat tarnished relationship.
Accompanied by his wife Cheng Hong, Premier Li is scheduled to meet Queen Elizabeth II and hold talks with Cameron during his three-day visit. Li will also speak at a China-Britain economic and financial forum, and give a speech to top British think tanks.
In an article in the Monday edition of The Times, Li said the two countries are on a "winning course," and one of his purposes for the visit is to "present the real China so as to change misperceptions and ease misgivings."
Li's trip to the UK is seen as a return visit after Cameron's trip to China in December 2013, a move to reinforce the full restoration of diplomatic ties. Relations between China and the UK encountered a major setback in 2012 after Cameron met with the Dalai Lama, which drew strong protests from Beijing.
"Before I came here, we used to say, when we talked about Europe, 'Britain, France and Germany.' But unfortunately many opportunities were missed in the past year or so - and we all know the reason behind it - people now start talking about 'Germany, France and Britain,'" Liu Xiaoming, China's ambassador to the UK, told reporters ahead of Li's arrival.
Bilateral trade volume between China and the UK hit $70 billion in 2013, and Li's visit to the UK will likely see an increase, with more than 40 business deals worth over $30 billion expected to be inked.
"The UK has obvious advantages in 'soft infrastructure' such as medical services and finance while China is experienced in 'hard infrastructure' such as the construction of nuclear power plants. The two economies are complementary to each other, a strong point in Sino-British relations," Wang Yiwei, director of the Institute of International Affairs at the Renmin University of China, Monday told the Global Times.
In comparison, China and France have become competitors in many fields, a trend also reflected in the declining bilateral trade volume over the past few years.
China-France trade in 2013 reached $49.8 billion, a 2.3 percent drop from 2012.
"Britain, as an old imperial power, has a tradition of pragmatism and a global vision. This means that, in comparison to Germany, which is not particularly interested in Chinese investment and from time to time imposes political interference, the UK can be flexible in cooperation," Wang said.
China's investment in Britain jumped from $840 million in 2008 to $12.4 billion in 2013, according to Gao Yan, China's vice commerce minister.
In comparison, a Bertelsmann Stiftung report said China's investment in Germany reached $626 million in 2012 and the figure is expected to increase to $2 billion in 2020.
"The UK is a very open investment destination, a good education provider for China, and of course a major finance center. Beyond this, however, it is a small but rising manufacturing partner," Kerry Brown, professor of Chinese politics and director of the China Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, told the Global Times.
Aside from scheduled discussions in various fields, including nuclear power, high-speed rail, finance and high technology, Britain is expected to announce an easing of visa restrictions for Chinese travelers, a long-standing request from China.
But differences in ideology, especially the emphasis on China's human rights, could impede the development of Sino-British relations.
"The human rights issue is another example of difference in opinions in which both sides need to build trust," said Wang, adding that Sino-British relations still have a lot of potential and could set an example for China's ties with other developed countries.
"Because of Hong Kong, the UK has had a long relationship with China. This means the British and the Chinese know each other well - perhaps better than any other European partner. They know the good and bad sides of each other, and this frames their relationship today," said Brown.
After the UK trip, Li is scheduled to go to Greece for a three-day visit.
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