LONDON (Reuters) - China’s ambassador warned the British government on Friday not to lecture his country on human rights if it wanted strong economic ties, days before Chinese Premier Li Keqiang was due to fly to Britain.
Briefing reporters on the visit, the ambassador also rejected local media reports that China had threatened to cancel the trip if Li did not get to meet the Queen, saying such threats were not “our way of doing business.”
The visit, Li’s first to Britain since he took office and the first by a Chinese premier in three years, is expected to yield business deals worth a total value of over $30 billion.
Li, who will be accompanied by what China says is an unprecedented number of Chinese business leaders, will hold talks with Prime Minister David Cameron and will have an audience with the Queen.
Relations between the two countries have largely recovered since China took offence at Cameron meeting the Dalai Lama, Tibet’s spiritual leader, in 2012. Cameron led a large business delegation to China last year.
Liu Xiaoming, China’s ambassador to Britain, told reporters in London he thought Li’s visit next week presaged “a bright future” between the world’s second and sixth biggest economies.
But he and said the way London had expressed concerns about human rights issues in the past had damaged relations.
“It’s normal for countries to have their differences here and there,” he said. “What’s important is how we handle the differences.”
He said Beijing had been angered by a British Foreign Office report in April that listed China as “a country of concern,” and said Britain had observed increased curbs on freedom of expression, association and assembly in 2013.
“We think this report was biased against China,” said the ambassador, adding it had “missed the big picture.”
“We also have some concerns about human rights here (in Britain). I don’t think pointing the finger is the way. Many opportunities were missed in the last year and we all know the reasons behind it.”
Though he praised Britain as “a leader” in many fields and said London was a top destination for Chinese investment, he suggested China had stopped regarding Britain as the most important European country, saying it was now spoken of after Germany and France.
He hoped better relations would soon restore Britain’s place in Europe’s pecking order in Chinese eyes, he said.
The ambassador denied reports of a threat to cancel the trip if Li were not granted an audience with the Queen, saying there had been “a misreading” of the arrangement. It was normal practice for Chinese premiers to meet the monarch , he said.
“It’s not part of our way of doing business,” he said. “Chinese diplomacy is very subtle.”
The ambassador said he hoped Britain would further liberalize its visa system for Chinese citizens and said his country wanted London’s Heathrow airport to be expanded.
Editing by Robin Pomeroy