Foreign and Military Affairs

UK's Hague seeks new trade in China

By Wu Jiao and Ai Yang (China Daily)
Updated: 2010-07-15 08:14
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Beijing - British Foreign Secretary William Hague said his country is "strongly committed" to deepening ties with China, calling for an expansion in trade opportunities and more cooperation on international affairs.

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"We hope to continue on the work of the previous Labour government. I think they did some good work in developing relations with China," Hague told reporters after meeting with his Chinese counterpart Yang Jiechi in Beijing, the first stop on his maiden Asia visit.

Hague also met with Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao and State Councilor Dai Bingguo during his stop in Beijing. He and Dai co-chaired the China-UK Strategic Dialogue.

Hague will later fly to Japan for a two-day visit there.

The new foreign secretary, who took office in May when conservative party leader David Cameron took charge at No 10 Downing street, told reporters one of the main purposes of his China trip is to speed up bilateral trade that reached $39.1 billion last year. Trade in the first four months of 2010 was up nearly 30 percent, according to Chinese statistics.

"In the years ahead, I see the UK and China as partners in growth. We are both beneficiaries of globalization. Our two economies are clearly complementary. UK companies are ideally placed to contribute to China's future economic development," Hague said.

Yang and Hague exchanged views on the development of Africa and cooperation on Afghanistan and Iran. Hague also confirmed the new coalition government's continuity in foreign policy, saying, "The Labour party has recognized China's sovereignty over Tibet and we support that policy." Meanwhile he still voiced Britain's long-term concerns over human-rights issues in the autonomous region.

Yang acknowledged different "social systems and cultural heritage" between China and the UK but said disparate views on some issues wouldn't have an adverse effect on ties.

"China holds constant dialogues on human rights with other countries on the basis of equality, mutual respect and non-interference of other countries' domestic affairs," Yang said in response to Hague, adding that he hopes no double standard is imposed on China in this regard.

The two sides also talked about advanced cooperation in the fields of hi-tech manufacturing, environmental protection and energy conservation.

Analysts said the visit signals "back to track" bilateral ties that have undergone upheavals since late last year, with trade of utmost importance.

Past challenges

The turbulence began late last year, with Britain's top climate official Ed Miliband publicly accusing China of hijacking the Copenhagen summit, which China abruptly refuted. Domestic pressure in an election year prompted the previous UK administration to protest China's execution of a British drug smuggler, Akmal Shaikh.

Yang Fang, an associate researcher with the European Studies at the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations, said: "As the primary concerns for Britain are how to bring down the deficit and accelerate economic recovery, economic issues are prioritized. London expects to increase trade" with China.

"Hague's visit is also a preparation for Cameron's November visit," Tian Dewen, an expert on UK studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, told China Daily. "The UK is in favor of globalization and hopes to extend its strategy quite beyond the island. In terms of trade, it has fewer frictions with developing countries because its economic structures are different from other European countries, which have more focuses in manufacturing than energy and finance."

On the other hand, some observers say a strong international British influence has to rely on its own relations with some major world players. "The reality is that most governments around the world, while happy to have good relations with UK, only really listen to it if it is acting as a close partner of the US or part of the wider EU and is economically strong," wrote Paul Reynolds, the BBC's World affairs correspondent, in a news analysis.

In a speech that sets out the priorities of the new coalition government, Hague said Britain intends to forge closer ties with emerging powers including India, China and Brazil, and play a stronger role in the European Union, slightly different from the long-standing British overseas policy which has seen it split the world up into three dominant "blocs" - the US, the European Union and the Middle East.

"The real economic action in the world has been taking place in Brazil and India and China and the Gulf states, and those are the places to which we have to connect ourselves much more strongly than we have ever tried to do before," Hague told BBC radio.

"It is hardly a new departure to recognize the pre-eminence of China in the world order, but explicitly making that relationship a priority is an important first step in re-ordering our foreign policy," said a commentary on the London Evening Standard.