British PM Cameron has no plans to meet Dalai Lama

Chancellor of the exchequer George Osborne addresses staff and students at Peking University

Chancellor of the exchequer George Osborne addresses staff and students at Peking University in Beijing on 14 October 2013. File photo/PA/Stefan Rousseau

By Nicholas Watt | The Guardian

ON THE WEB, 14 October 2013

David Cameron has no further plans to meet the Dalai Lama, George Osborne has said as he made clear Britain is determined to move on from a row with Beijing over contacts with Tibet’s spiritual leader.

Unveiling plans to streamline visas for Chinese business leaders and tourists, the chancellor said the UK should show respect for a “deep and ancient civilisation” as Beijing deals with its problems.

Osborne told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme from Beijing: “There is a bit of a British attitude which treats China as a sort of sweat shop on the Pearl river. One of the things I am trying to do this week in China is to change British attitudes to China. This is a country that is right at the forefront of medicine and hi-tech and computing and hi-tech engineering.”

The chancellor is leading a five-strong ministerial delegation to China that is designed to pave the way for an official visit by the prime minister, who has not visited the country for three years. Cameron was forced to abandon a visit to China earlier this year after Beijing downgraded its relations with Britain after he met the Dalai Lama in May last year.

Osborne, who has dismissed Foreign Office calls for Britain to tread carefully in its relations with China, said the prime minister was unlikely to be meeting the Dalai Lama for some time. “We have said the prime minister is not planning to meet the Dalai Lama,” he told Today. “But of course he did meet the Dalai Lama, as previous British prime ministers have. We understand we have different political systems and we raise the issues we have about that but we have an incredibly important economic relationship and I want to make sure this week we take the next big step in Britain and China’s relations with each other so that we can create jobs and investment in each other’s countries.”

The chancellor announced on Monday that Britain would make it easier for Chinese business leaders to visit the UK by introducing a 24-hour “super priority” visa service. A separate pilot scheme will allow selected Chinese travel agents to apply for UK visas simply by submitting the application form used for the EU Schengen visa.

The scheme is aimed specifically at the high-end tourism market, after figures showed that wealthy Chinese tourists were not bothering to apply for a UK visa after applying for a Schengen visa, which allows them to visit 22 out of the 28 EU member states plus Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland. Osborne highlighted China’s interest in Britain as he pointed out that 160 million Chinese people watch Downton Abbey “which is more than double the number of people who actually live in the UK”, he said.

The Foreign Office has no difficulty with the relaxed visa system, which will be administered through its embassy in Beijing and consulates in Shanghai and other high-growth cities. But concerns have been voiced to the chancellor and the prime minister from within the Foreign Office that Britain needs to tread with care in the light of China’s human rights record and its aggressive cyber-attacks.

Cameron is understood to have listened to the Foreign Office’s concerns with sympathy. But he is determined to open a new chapter in Britain’s relations with China after declaring that the “Bric” countries – Brazil, Russia, India and China – are a priority. He has led two trade missions to India but has visited China only once as prime minister, three years ago.

Osborne said Britain should show respect for the way the new Chinese leadership was dealing with problems such as corruption. He said: “Britain and China are two very old civilisations. China represents a fifth of the world’s population. Of course we can bring up issues we have concerns about. But we do also have to respect the fact it is a deep and ancient civilisation that is tackling its own problems and going about it in the way it thinks is appropriate. We can point out where we would do things differently. But we do need to show some respect for that.”

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