Cameron on the outer with China

By James Quinn, Malcolm Moore

Fears frosty diplomatic relations since PM met Dalai Lama could put at risk $14b of investment in Britain.

David Cameron. Photo / AP
David Cameron. Photo / AP

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 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.

There are now fears the frosty diplomatic relations could put at risk Chinese investment in Britain, worth £8 billion ($14.6 billion) last year.

Chinese sources have made a veiled threat that for investment in the UK "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 programme missing out on billions of pounds of key investment from China's sovereign wealth fund.

The damaging stand-off has seen a cooling of relations up to the level of the countries' leaders.

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

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

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

Sebastian Wood, Britain's Ambassador in Beijing, was summoned to the Foreign Ministry to receive a rebuke from Song Tao, China's Vice-Foreign Minister. The Foreign Ministry said the meeting with the exiled Tibetan leader had "seriously interfered with China's internal affairs". Song urged Britain to take "practical actions to correct the error".

However, the pleas were ignored, and China is now exerting pressure on the Government to make amends. The Beijing Foreign Ministry escalated the row yesterday by insisting the UK must "work with us to bring the relationship back on to a healthy track at an early date".

Diplomatic sources told the Daily Telegraph that Cameron was not welcome to visit China and Li will not visit the UK until the issue is resolved.

Alistair Michie, the deputy chairman of the 48 Group, a pro-China British business organisation, said Britain's position was "doubly unfortunate" because a new generation of Chinese leaders has just taken charge for the next 10 years. "The UK has not fully grasped the significance of the handover to the new leaders and we have got off on the wrong foot. None of our leaders has a personal relationship with any of the new Chinese leaders, and relationships are key to doing business with China."

Government sources admitted there had been frustration after the Dalai Lama meeting but denied any visits had been cancelled because of it. They insisted Beijing had been warned beforehand and sources said Cameron would visit before the end of the year.

- Daily Telegraph UK

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