LONGBRIDGE, ENGLAND, June 26 (Reuters) - Chinese premier Wen Jiabao pointed to Sino-British manufacturing co-operation on Sunday as he launched the first new MG motor model in 15 years during the British leg of a brief visit to Europe.
Diplomats say China and Britain are expected to announce over one billion pound’s worth of deals during his three-day visit in a range of industries.
Wen will meet British Prime Minister David Cameron on Monday for the latest of a series of bilateral summits focused largely on trade and business, though which will also likely encompass the euro zone debt crisis and human rights.
Protesters demonstrated with banners and loudspeakers as Wen toured the MG Motor car factory in Longbridge, near Birmingham, central England, where the new MG6 will be assembled.
“The successful cooperation of the production of the MG6 and other MG vehicles is a symbol of the friendship between China and the UK,” Wen said.
“The model can be summed up as designed in the UK, manufactured in China and assembled in the UK, thereby making the most of China’s capital and markets, as well as the UK’s technology and managerial expertise.”
China’s leading automaker SAIC Motor Corp Ltd became the owner of MG Rover’s 10,000-unit Longbridge plant after a merger in late 2007 with its much smaller rival, Nanjing Automobile Group. Longbridge will also serve as a platform for tapping the European market in the future.
Stephen Green, Britain’s minister for Trade and Investment, said SAIC was a “pioneer for Chinese investors in the UK”.
Several dozen human rights protesters gathered outside the factory gates, including yellow-shirted supporters of the Falungong spiritual movement that’s banned in China, waving placards and denouncing China’s human rights record.
“Cameron and Wen. Human rights before trade,” their banners said.
Other rights groups including Free Tibet urged Cameron to push Wen forcefully on the human rights front as western governments increasingly court Chinese business interests and investments amid lean economic times.
China has clamped down heavily on dissent this year, arresting scores of activists to smother scattered online calls for an Arab-style “Jasmine revolution”, though it has shown some sign of a climbdown releasing prominent artist and activist Ai Weiwei last week on the eve of Wen’s visit to Europe.
On Sunday, prominent dissident Hu Jia was reunited with his family after serving three-and-a-half-years in jail on subversion charges.
Wen stressed China’s confidence in the euro and Europe overcoming the debt crisis on a visit to Hungary on Saturday. He reassured that China would not offload its substantial holdings of European assets but would remain a long-term investor in European sovereign debt.
Cameron took the largest ever British delegation to China last November, with relations between the two countries expanding in areas of trade, education, science and tourism.
Earlier in the morning, Wen paid a visit to Stratford-upon-Avon, near Birmingham, the birthplace of William Shakespeare, with the Chinese leader said to be an admirer of the British writer.