Cameron meeting with Dalai Lama could cost Britain billions

By Malcolm Moore | Canberra Times

ON THE WEB, 7 May 2013

David Cameron has effectively been barred from visiting China because Beijing is so angry at the British Prime Minister for meeting the Dalai Lama last year.

China wants Mr Cameron to apologise for hosting Tibet’s spiritual leader, who disputes Beijing’s territorial claims on the region. The British government insists there is nothing to apologise for.

It is feared the frosty diplomatic relations could put at risk Chinese investment in Britain, worth about £8 billion ($12.1 billion) last year.

Chinese sources have made a veiled threat that for investment in Britain “there needs to be a strong relationship”.

That raises the prospect of large infrastructure projects such as the High Speed 2 rail network and the government’s nuclear investment program missing out on billions of pounds of key investment from China’s sovereign wealth fund.

Under a bilateral agreement, Mr Cameron was due to visit China last northern autumn but that visit was called off. This year it was the turn of Chinese Premier Li Keqiang to visit Britain, but plans for that have been put on hold.

Last month, a British trade trip to China, also due to have been led by Mr Cameron, did not take place.

Last May, China warned Mr Cameron and Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg of “serious consequences” for Britain after a private meeting with the Dalai Lama in St Paul’s Cathedral.

Britain’s ambassador in Beijing, Sebastian Wood, was summoned to receive a rebuke from China’s vice-foreign minister, Song Tao.

The foreign ministry said the meeting with the exiled Tibetan leader had “seriously interfered with China’s internal affairs”. Mr Song urged Britain to take “practical actions to correct the error”.

The pleas were ignored, and China is now exerting public pressure on Britain to bow to its demands and make amends.

The Beijing foreign ministry intensified the row on Monday by insisting Britain must “work with us to bring the relationship back on to a healthy track at an early date”.

Diplomatic sources said Mr Cameron was now not welcome to visit China and Mr Li will not visit the UK until Britain resolves the situation.

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