LONDON – Chinese premier Li Keqiang oversaw Tuesday the signing of trade deals worth billions with Britain during an official visit marked with pomp and ceremony, a treatment that highlights China’s growing economic importance in Europe.
Britain pulled out all its ceremonial stops for Li, who was granted a meeting with Queen Elizabeth II at Windsor Castle before he arrived in London for a formal inspection of British soldiers and a meeting with Prime Minister David Cameron at his office in Downing Street.
Business, not politics, dominated the visit, with Cameron announcing business deals worth 14 billion pounds ($23.7 billion), saying Britain is a “strong and good friend of China and supporter of China’s rise.”
One of the deals signed was between British energy company BP and Chinese state-owned oil company CNOOC, worth 11.8 billion pounds, to supply China with liquefied natural gas over 20 years.
Royal Dutch Shell also extended an agreement with CNOOC, while engineering company Rolls-Royce signed a memorandum of understanding with a Chinese nuclear reactor manufacturer to co-operate on civil nuclear power projects.
Cameron said trade with China is key in helping Britain’s economic recovery, and emphasized Britain is open to investment.
In return, Li said: “The U.K. has advanced technology that can be married with China’s vast markets. Together we can create huge energy.”
Li is on a three-day visit to boost ties and mend diplomatic relations that had cooled after Cameron met with exiled Tibetan spiritual leader Dalai Lama in 2012.
Earlier, a military band played to welcome Li and his wife Cheng Hong to Windsor Castle, before the queen greeted the pair.
Cameron told reporters he and Li also discussed terrorism, Iraq and Ukraine, among other topics. He did not directly address China’s human rights record, a subject that often raises Beijing’s ire.
Around 100 rights activists campaigning for Tibetan independence and other issues staged a colorful protest near Downing Street, fighting for attention with a rival pro-China group. A heavy police presence held the protesters at arms’ length.
Li’s meeting with the queen was a significant political gesture because the privilege is typically granted to heads of state. Analysts say China likely pushed for the royal audience, underscoring its desire to have its leaders be recognized with all honours and distinctions.
The last Chinese premier to visit Britain was Wen Jiabao in 2011.
Associated Press writer Christopher Bodeen in Beijing contributed to this report.