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Business is Gordon Brown's priority on China visit

January 21, 2008

 From The Times
January 18, 2008
Greg Hurst and Jane Macartney in Beijing

Read the Red Box blog on Brown's troubled departure

When Gordon Brown sweeps into the snow-dusted Chinese capital this
morning, he will see the Union Jack fluttering from the flagpoles in
Tiananmen Square as Beijing rolls out a red-carpet welcome for his first
visit as Prime Minister.

Mr Brown has a brisk schedule of meetings with Chinese political leaders
and a business-like list of priorities headed by trade, investment and
environmental programmes.

Twenty-five business leaders from Britain’s technology, energy and
financial services sectors, including Sir Richard Branson, are
travelling with him. British officials expect to agree to boost trade
with China to $60 billion (£30 billion) by 2010, up from $40 billion now.

The Prime Minister’s one-day visit to Beijing, followed by a day in
Shanghai, will be a low-key affair that is unlikely to set off the
frenzy of headlines generated by President Sarkozy of France, who
oversaw $30 billion in deals during his trip last November.

Nor is Mr Brown likely to court controversy over press freedoms and
human rights, as Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor, did in Beijing in
August. Caution rather than confrontation is likely to be the tone of Mr
Brown’s visit.

China, whose recent investments in American financial firms such as
Morgan Stanley has aroused some opposition in Washington, will be
pleased by Mr Brown’s stance.

The Prime Minister will pledge to keep London’s financial markets open
to China’s sovereign wealth fund, provided the investment agency
operates commercially and follows the City’s principles of transparency
and corporate governance.

Britain has notified China that the Prime Minister will want to raise
concerns about its human rights record — although he will do so in
general terms rather than citing specific cases, officials said. More
details would be discussed separately at the annual meeting on January
28 of the Anglo-China human rights dialogue, which for the first time
will include a visit to Tibet.

In this, Mr Brown’s trip will diverge markedly from that of Mrs Merkel.
She did not mince her words, telling China to stamp out fakes and
warning it that the world would be watching its human rights record as
the Olympics approached.

The Prime Minister is expected to mention China’s support for the
military regime in Burma and its opposition to tougher sanctions against
Sudan in a circumspect way. British officials say that progress cannot
be made without Chinese involvement and this could be jeopardised by
antagonising Beijing.

On a lighter note, during a crowded day in Beijing, Mr Brown will take
the time to get together with ordinary Chinese who have been invited to
a “town hall meeting” at People’s University.

There will be an opportunity for Mr Brown’s team to bat the ball about
with the four-time Olympic women’s table tennis champion Deng Yaping,
who is also deputy director of the Olympic Games Village, where the
athletes will stay this summer. And he will be treated to a visit to the
National Stadium — an iconic mesh of steel girders known as the Bird’s
Nest — that will be at the heart of the Games.

The Prime Minister will not be following Mr Sarkozy’s example of taking
over Beijing’s most avant-garde art gallery space as the site for a
glitzy party for his expatriate community.

However, Mr Brown has come up with an initiative of his own — to promote
the use of the English language in China, particularly in universities
that have been building ties with counterparts in Britain. It may not be
headline news, but could be welcome among millions of young Chinese
ambitious to make their way in the world.

Top EU exporters to China
Germany €27bn
France €8.1bn
Italy €5.7bn
UK €4.8bn
Netherlands €3.3bn
Belgium €2.9bn
Sweden €2.2bn
Source: Eurostat
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