Cameron confronts the biggest society

PM may raise case of dissident Nobel laureate at Chinese banquet

David Cameron will risk antagonising his Chinese hosts today by criticising their political system and their disregard for basic human freedoms.

In a provocative message to the Beijing government, coming amid worldwide condemnation of the imprisonment of the Nobel peace laureate Liu Xiaobo, Mr Cameron will insist that democratic elections, independent courts and uncensored media are essential in a modern economy.

The Prime Minister's comments will anger the Chinese government, which is in the middle of an energetic crackdown against its critics. Beijing has not been shown the speech in advance, and Mr Cameron's words will not be shown on the country's heavily controlled television network.

Mr Cameron did not discuss Mr Liu's case directly in talks yesterday with Wen Jiabao, the Chinese premier. But protests mounted last night after the Nobel prize-winner's lawyer was stopped at Beijing airport and banned from travelling to the UK, and Mr Cameron was considering raising the imprisonment at a banquet in his honour at Beijing's Great Hall. Mr Liu is serving an 11-year prison sentence after co-authoring a manifesto promoting political reform in China.

Mr Cameron provoked an angry backlash in China three years ago when he made milder comments about the country during a visit as Leader of the Opposition. The dilemma for London is whether the Prime Minister's candour could undermine efforts to double British trade with China over the next five years.

British officials denied last night that he wanted to "lecture or hector" his hosts, but he will leave them in little doubt of outside dismay over their failure to ease their grip on China's 1.3 billion population. Mr Cameron will pointedly contrast multi-party democracies in the West with China's one-party regime.

And in a coded reference to the numbers of opponents of the Chinese regime behind bars, he will say: "All the time the [British] government is subject to the rule of law. These are constraints on the [British] government, and at times they can be frustrating when the courts take a view with which the Government differs. But ultimately we believe that they make our Government better and our country stronger."

He will add: "If I were not in Beijing this Wednesday afternoon, I would be preparing for my weekly session of Prime Minister's Questions in the House of Commons, where MPs question me freely about the whole range of government policy."

He will also take a swipe at the constraints on Chinese newspapers, the control of state television and the censorship of foreign websites. "Through the media, the public get to hear directly from people who hold different views from the Government. That can be difficult at times, too. But we believe that the better informed the British public is, the easier it is for the British government to come to sensible decisions and to develop robust policies that command the confidence of our people."

He will conclude: "The rise in economic freedom in China in recent years has been hugely beneficial to China and to the world. I hope that in time this will lead to a greater political opening because I am convinced that the best guarantor of prosperity and stability is for economic and political progress to go in step together."

Mr Cameron was accused by the Communist Party of being "arrogant" when he uttered similar sentiments during a visit to China in 2007.

One of Mr Cameron's travelling companions also upset the Chinese last year. Michael Gove, the Education Secretary, who is in Beijing, denounced China as a "police state, with thousands executed by government fiat every year".

How the two leaders compare

Wen Jiabao

Age 68

School Nankai High School, "China's Eton"

Student days Studied Geomechanics at the Beijing Institute of Geology

Other half Zhang Peili, director of China's National Centre of Jewellery

Before politics Geomechanics Surveyor in Gansu Province

Big break General Secretary fast-tracked him straight into Communist Party's Central Committee and then Politburo from Gansu Provincial Geological Bureau

David Cameron

Age 44

School Eton College, Berkshire

Student days Studied Politics, Philosophy and Economics at Brasenose College, Oxford. Joined the infamous Bullingdon Club

Other half Samantha, handbag pioneer

Before politics PR man for Carlton TV, and some advising for Norman Lamont

Big break Buckingham Palace called Conservative Party HQ to say the young David Cameron they were to interview was an "exceptional young man"

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