BEIJING – British Prime Minister David Cameron met China's top leader Wednesday in a bid to boost business ties and told President Hu Jintao he was committed to expanding relations.
Cameron, who is being accompanied by four Cabinet ministers and about 50 business leaders, was to deliver a speech emphasizing Britain's importance as a world power and Chinese trading partner after meeting with Hu.
"We put the highest value on the Britain-China relationship, I hope that this visit will further strengthen it," Cameron told Hu at the start of their meeting at the Great Hall of the People, home to China's legislature in the heart of the capital.
Human rights and global security concerns surrounding Iran and North Korea appear to have taken a back seat during the China visit, although Cameron has said he would raise those issues in his talks with Wen and Hu.
Last year, China was Britain's third-largest source of imports and ninth-largest export market. Cameron has said he hopes to see annual bilateral trade double by 2015 to more than $100 billion, including $30 billion per year in British exports.
Among the contracts signed so far is a $1.2 billion deal for jet engine maker Rolls-Royce to provide engines for 16 A330 jets operated by China Eastern Airlines.
On Tuesday, Cameron met with Premier Wen Jiabao at the Great Hall of the People after a formal welcoming ceremony.
"My new government does highly value the relationship between Britain and China, and we believe that this is an area where there should be great continuity with the last government who helped establish this very strong relationship," he said.
The two-day visit is Cameron's second major foray to court an emerging economy since taking office in May. He went to India in July.
Underscoring his support for British businesses, Cameron's first stop after arriving Tuesday was a Beijing branch of British supermarket chain Tesco, which has nearly 100 outlets in China and plans to add another 20 by year end.
Cameron is joined by executives from Royal Dutch Shell PLC, Tesco PLC, Barclays bank and Diageo PLC, among others. Treasury chief George Osborne, Business Secretary Vince Cable, Energy and Climate Change Secretary Chris Huhne and Education Secretary Michael Gove are also on the trip.
Cameron's visit comes on the heels of Hu's trip to France and Portugal last week that resulted in $20 billion worth of contracts for French and European companies. Wen visited several European countries in September and October, conveying pledges to strengthen trade and purchase Greek bonds.
Cameron's visit is the first by a British leader since China executed a 53-year-old British man, Akmal Shaikh, for drug smuggling in December, despite an official appeal on his behalf from London. The execution drew condemnation from British politicians and rights groups who argued Shaikh was delusional and had unwittingly been exploited by criminals.