David Cameron hails importance of state visit of Chinese president to UK


The state visit by Chinese president Xi Jinping will be an "important moment" for relations between the UK and Beijing, David Cameron said ahead of the first official engagements of the tour.

Ministers expect more than £30 billion of trade and investment deals to be struck during the four-day visit, but the Prime Minister has also faced pressure to raise issues including human rights and the "dumping" of cheap steel with the Chinese leader.

Downing Street has rejected accusations of "kowtowing" to Beijing for the sake of commercial deals, insisting that no subject will be off the table in talks during the state visit.

Mr Xi will address both Houses of Parliament today and the the Prime Minister has also invited the president to his official Chequers country retreat later in the visit as the UK pulls out all the stops to court the leader of the world's second-largest economy.

Among the business deals set to be sealed is an accord that could see the Chinese take a key role in constructing nuclear plants at Hinkley Point in Somerset, Sizewell in Suffolk and Bradwell in Essex.

The deals are expected to be among a series of agreements which will officials estimate will create more than 3,900 jobs across the UK spanning a range of sectors such as the creative industries, retail, energy, health and technology, financial services, aerospace and education.

Around £1 billion in retail export deals is set to be agreed, with UK-based firms expanding into China.

A trip by the Chinese leader and Mr Cameron to Manchester is expected to see the announcement of further investment into the so-called Northern Powerhouse project.

But the impact of cheap steel from China on the UK will also be under discussion amid fears of fresh job losses in the crisis-hit industry.

Mr Cameron said: "This is going to be a very important moment for British-Chinese relations.

"Trade and investment between our two nations is growing and our people-to-people links are strong.

"This visit will be an opportunity to review all of these things but also talk about how the UK and China can work together on global issues such as climate change and tackling poverty. It's a real opportunity to deepen our relationship."

In the Commons on Monday, Mr Cameron confirmed that the crisis in the steel industry would be raised with the Chinese.

He told MPs the UK's relationship with China was "at such a high level that there is no subject off the table" and added that "of course" the steel industry would be discussed.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn will also meet Mr Xi and has promised to raise human rights concerns with the Chinese leader.

Mr Corbyn is also expected to attend the glittering state banquet, although his aides would not confirm whether he would follow the recommended dress code of white tie and tails.

The Prince of Wales, who is a supporter of the Dalai Lama and who has had a difficult relationship with China's leadership in the past, will miss the state banquet in the evening.

But Charles will greet Mr Xi and his wife at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel earlier in the day and escort them to Horse Guards Parade for the ceremonial welcome which will be followed by a state carriage procession back to Buckingham Palace, where the president and his wife Peng Liyuan will stay as guests of the Queen.

Security surrounding the official engagements will be tight as protesters plan shine a spotlight on China's poor human rights record, with the Free Tibet group, those supporting persecuted Uighur Muslims and Amnesty UK all planning demonstrations.