Brown presses China on press freedom

Gordon Brown today urged China's leaders to continue with the greater press freedoms opened up for the Beijing Olympics after the Games are over.

At a meeting with President Hu Jintao, the Prime Minister said that it would be in China's own interest to make the easing of restrictions on journalists permanent.

Mr Brown arrived in Beijing for the final days of the Games, including the formal handover to London for the 2012 Olympics at the closing ceremony on Sunday.

The question of press freedom was one of a number of human rights issues which he raised during his one hour meeting with the Chinese president.

Mr Hu, in turn, used his opening remarks at their meeting in the Great Hall of the People to refer to the controversial London leg of the Olympic torch relay earlier this year.

"When the Olympic torch ran in London, Mr Prime Minister, you personally welcomed the torch and you also expressed support for the Beijing Olympic Games for which we would like to express our appreciation and gratitude," he told Mr Brown.

The event was in fact dominated by pro-Tibetan protests, while Mr Brown notoriously refused to touch the torch himself when he welcomed the relay in Downing Street.

No 10 aides insisted however that Mr Hu's comments had not been intended as a barbed reference to the torch's reception in London and that the "atmospherics" between the two men had been very good.

Mr Brown, who praised the "spectacular" success of the Beijing Games, said that he had made clear that he hoped the greater openness which the Olympics had brought would not end once the Games were over.

"It is in China's interest. It would be a very important gesture to the rest of the world if they were to say that these restrictions could be permanently removed," he told reporters.

Mr Brown said that he also urged the Chinese to pursue their talks with representatives of the Dalai Lama of greater autonomy for Tibet to a "productive" conclusion when discussions re-open in the autumn.

"I think there is more common ground between the Chinese authorities and Tibet than is sometimes realised," he said.

The Prime Minister also tackled Mr Hu over China's stance on Zimbabwe and Darfur, where it has been criticised for supporting repressive regimes.

"He responded by saying that these are issues that will be part of our continuing discussions," Mr Brown said.