David Cameron 'must apologise' for meeting Dalai Lama to restore diplomatic relations with China

Downing Street denies PM has been barred from visiting China

Prime Minister David Cameron aims to visit China before the end of this year, Downing Street said today.

A spokesman gave no details of the hoped-for visit, which emerged amid reports that the PM has effectively been barred from visiting the Far Eastern superpower because of anger in Beijing over his decision to meet the Dalai Lama last year.

Number 10 denied that Mr Cameron had been banned from the country, and noted that there have been a number of ministerial visits and an increase in UK-China trade and investment links since the Tibetan spiritual leader's visit to London in May 2012.

The Chinese government always lobbies hard against ministers from foreign governments meeting the Dalai Lama, who is seeking a measure of self-rule for his homeland.

It is understood that China wants Mr Cameron to apologise, and the Daily Telegraph today quoted a Beijing foreign ministry spokesman as saying that the meeting had "undermined" UK-China relations and that Britain must "work with us to bring the relationship back on to a healthy track at an early date."

Asked at a regular Westminster media briefing whether the PM felt under pressure to apologise, a Downing Street spokesman replied: "Not pressure, no."

Questioned over whether Mr Cameron was effectively banned from China, the spokesman said: "No. I believe the Prime Minister aims to go before the end of the year."

He declined to reveal whether dates for a proposed visit had been discussed with officials in Beijing.

But he said: "We regularly discuss issues of mutual interest and importance with the Chinese.

"The Prime Minister has recently had warm engagements with both the (Chinese Communist) Party secretary and premier. Government ministers have had around 14 meetings with their Chinese counterparts since May last year. Six British ministers have visited China and four Chinese ministers have visited the UK in that period.

"The figures speak for themselves. Chinese investment in the UK was 8 billion dollars in 2012. That's four times more than the previous total. Meanwhile, UK exports to China grew by 13.4% last year, which is more growth than any of our European partners.

"We want to establish a stronger relationship with China, recognising that it is in the interests of both countries to manage our differences with respect and co-operate as much as possible."

The meeting between Mr Cameron and Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg and the Dalai Lama was part of the Government's approach of seeking "dialogue and discussion and gathering a wide range of viewpoints on issues of importance", said the spokesman.

It is thought that the venue for last year's meeting at St Paul's Cathedral was designed to stress that the Dalai Lama was being dealt with as a spiritual leader, but the Number 10 spokesman today declined to say whether religious issues were discussed, saying only that it was a private meeting.

The spokesman added: "It is entirely reasonable for the Prime Minister to decide who he meets.

"The Chinese government always lobbies hard against any meetings between foreign governments and the Dalai Lama. We have made clear in advance to the Chinese government that British ministers will decide who they meet and when they meet them."

Mr Clegg today made clear that he was not willing to put concerns over human rights to one side because of China's growing economic clout.

The Deputy Prime Minister told Sky News: "We have a very important relationship with the Chinese authorities. It's, self-evidently, one of the great economic superpowers of today and particularly the future. We have a very important economic relationship with them.

"But that doesn't mean we should somehow give up on what we believe in when it comes to human rights and freedoms which we will continue to express in a respectful but nonetheless firm way."

In a statement issued ahead of today's media briefing, a Number 10 spokesman said: "We haven't cancelled any PM visits to China. We want to deepen our relations with China and indeed we already are - UK exports to China grew faster than any of our main European partners last year and we were the only EU country to benefit from increased trade and investment.

"Of course we engage with China on a huge range of issues; on some we agree, on others we disagree, but we strongly believe it is in the interests of both countries to manage our differences with respect, and co-operate as much as possible. Our position on Tibet is long-standing and clear: we regard Tibet as part of the People's Republic of China.

"The PM spoke to Premier Li Keqiang in March and they agreed that they looked forward to meeting and continuing to strengthen relations in due course."

PA

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