China premier in UK visit to boost trade ties

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LONDON (AP) — Chinese Premier Li Keqiang will arrive in Britain Monday for a visit that includes an unusual meeting with Queen Elizabeth II and talks aimed at boosting fragile diplomatic relations.

The three-day visit — Li's first since he became premier — is expected to focus on trade and investment cooperation in areas including nuclear power, high-speed railways and finance. It will also aim to rebuild political ties that have cooled since Prime Minister David Cameron met with the Dalai Lama in 2012.

Writing in The Times newspaper, Li said one of the goals of his trip was to "present the real China so as to change misperceptions and ease misgivings."

Relations between the two countries have gradually improved after Cameron led a trade mission to China in December, signing trade deals and attempting to ease the diplomatic strain since he met with the Tibetan spiritual leader — a move that Beijing said amounted to supporting Tibet's independence from Chinese rule.

But signs of tension remained, and a China-Britain human rights meeting was called off in April after a British government report on China's rights record angered Beijing.

Much of the media focus has centered on Li's meeting with the queen Tuesday, after reports circulated that the Chinese side had threatened to cancel the trip unless Li was granted the audience.

The reports by The Times and others could not be verified. Nonetheless, experts say the decision to grant Li the meeting even though he is not a head of state was a politically significant gesture that showed how keen Britain is to woo the Chinese.

"It's a way of softening the atmosphere," said Kerry Brown, a professor of Chinese Politics at the University of Sydney.

Asked whether there had been a threat to cancel, Chinese ambassador Liu Xiaoming said Friday: "It's not part of our way of doing business, it is not China's way of doing diplomacy. Chinese diplomacy is very subtle."

Liu added that it was "conventional practice" for the Chinese premier to pay a call on the queen "to show our respect."

Li's predecessor, Wen Jiabao, did not do so when he visited in 2011.

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Associated Press writer Martin Benedyk in London contributed to this report.

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