LONDON (Reuters) - British Prime Minister David Cameron will lead a major trade delegation to China early next month, he said on Monday, his first such visit since he angered Beijing by meeting the Dalai Lama last year.
The trip reflects the British government’s desire to cultivate closer trade and business links with the world’s second biggest economy and to draw a line under a diplomatic spat involving Tibet’s spiritual leader.
“I will take senior British ministers, as well as business leaders from every sector large and small, to forge a relationship that will benefit both our countries,” Cameron said in a speech, according to an advance copy from his office.
He said the trip would help British companies access China’s vast markets and prepare “the way for a new level of Chinese investment in the UK”.
He did not mention specific dates. But the timing of the British government’s autumn economic statement is expected to be moved to December 5 from December 4 to allow Cameron to be in Britain to hear his finance minister deliver it.
Cameron, who is likely to visit Beijing and Shanghai, had been expected to travel to China last autumn, but did not go after China took offence at him holding a meeting in London with the Dalai Lama, whom Beijing considers a separatist.
China summoned the British ambassador to protest at the time, saying the meeting had “seriously interfered with China’s internal affairs”, urging Britain to “correct the error”.
Britain responded by saying government ministers believed who they met was a matter for them and that they did not necessarily share the views of people they saw.
Cameron has not met the Dalai Lama since and officials say he has no plans to do so.
Last month, George Osborne, Britain’s finance minister, visited China with Boris Johnson, the mayor of London.
Both men declined to discuss the Dalai Lama, focusing instead on what they said was the huge potential for enhanced economic ties.
Osborne announced less stringent rules for Chinese banks operating in London in a push to make the British capital the main offshore hub for trading in China’s currency and bonds.
He also opened the door to Chinese investors taking majority stakes in future British nuclear plants.
Editing by Andrew Heavens