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Brown Aims to Raise UK Profile in China, India

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown travels to China and India in the next few days, knowing that boosting trade with the fast-growing countries could be vital at a time when the credit crunch hits growth elsewhere.

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown.
Simon Dawson
British Prime Minister Gordon Brown.

China and India's economies are expected to power ahead this year while growth in Europe and the United States takes a knock.

That makes the Asian giants increasingly important trade and investment partners to help keep Britain's economy growing, and Brown wants a strategic long-term partnership with China.

"I can see in the next few years a 50 percent increase in our trade with China. I can see thousands of British jobs, perhaps tens of thousands of British jobs, over a period of time developing from this new relationship," Brown said in an interview with ITV News on Tuesday.

Brown insists Britain is well placed to weather the global financial crisis but there are signs the decade-long house price boom is grinding to a halt and economic growth is slowing.

That raises the risk of a politically damaging economic downturn in the run-up to the next national election that Brown, a former finance minister, must call by mid-2010 at the latest.

Britain's economy grew by about 3 percent in 2007 but is expected to grow by less than 2 percent in 2008, according to a Reuters poll.

"What's become clear is that China's contribution to global GDP (gross domestic product) growth is going to be increasingly important, especially if there's a likely downturn in the EU (European Union) and the U.S.," said Kerry Brown, a China expert and associate fellow of think-tank Chatham House. "He (Brown) realizes they are an important trade ally."

Differences On Iran, Dafur

While Britain is keen to promote trade with China, the two countries do not always see eye-to-eye on Iran, Myanmar or the conflict in Sudan's Darfur province. And Brown said this week he would continue to press Beijing on human rights issues.

A Chinese diplomat said it was very important for Britain and China, as permanent members of the United Nations Security Council, to sit down regularly and discuss international issues such as Iran, Darfur, Myanmar and the Middle East.

Western politicians and rights groups have accused China in the past of selling Khartoum arms that end up in Darfur and fending off stronger U.N. Security Council resolutions.

Brown said on Wednesday he had just talked with Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao about Darfur and would have talks with him in China about stepping up pressure for a peaceful settlement.

On Iran, Britain has supported its ally, the United States, in pressing for new sanctions against Tehran's nuclear activities, but China wants a negotiated solution.

And unlike Britain, China has been reluctant to criticize Myanmar's military rulers publicly.

Some business contracts are expected to be signed during Brown's first visit to Beijing as prime minister.

But the Chinese diplomat said he would be surprised if they were comparable with the near $30 billion of deals French President Nicolas Sarkozy oversaw during his visit in November.

Britain has been the biggest European Union investor in China over the past few years but it has been less successful than European rivals in exporting to China.

Chinese figures released last week showed German exports to China were worth nearly six times as much as British exports.