Brown to Raise "Rights, Democracy" With China

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown arrived in a snowy Beijing on Friday on a short trip to boost trade with the world's fastest-growing major economy and to discuss human rights and democracy.

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

Premier Wen Jiabao greeted Brown at the Great Hall of the People, the iconic heart of Communist Party rule, and the British leader then introduced his delegation of businessmen, including entrepreneur Richard Branson.

Brown said he wanted discussions to focus on "an enhanced dialogue" as well as "greater cooperation on economic, financial and many other matters affecting the global economy and global society". He said discussions would also include matters including "rights and democracy".

Britain sees opportunities to sell more services to China in areas such as finance, insurance and retail. Chinese officials also see scope for greater cooperation on clean energy technologies where Britain has expertise.

Brown insists Britain is well placed to weather the global financial crisis, but there are signs a 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.

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.

Human Rights Watch said in an open letter to Brown that he should use his visit to press Beijing on human rights in the run-up to the Olympics.

A Chinese diplomat said it was very important for Britain and China, as permanent members of the U.N. 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 Sudan arms that end up in Darfur and of fending off stronger U.N. Security Council resolutions.

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.

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

Wen said it was a good omen that Brown arrived a day after the year's first snowfall in the capital.

"China has an old saying that snow augurs a successful year, and this symbolizes a fresh start in Sino-British relations in the new year and even greater development," he said.