DAVID CAMERON FOCUSES ON DEMOCRACY IN CHINA SPEECH
David Cameron has been promoting the benefits of democracy in a keynote speech to Chinese students in Beijing.
He suggested China's growing economic freedom should go “in step” with political reform to ensure prosperity.
He acknowledged British society was “not perfect” and insisted he was not trying to place the UK in a position of “moral superiority” over China.
The prime minister is on a two-day trade mission but had been urged to address China's record on human rights.
Mr Cameron had pledged not to “lecture or hector” China over political freedoms.
But he pointed out that, were he not in Beijing, he would have been preparing for Prime Minister's Questions and suggested that scrutiny from an official opposition forced leaders to listen to criticism and adapt their policies in response.
“All the time the government is subject to the rule of law. These are constraints on the government and at times they can be frustrating,” he told students at Beida University.
“But ultimately we believe they make our government better and our country stronger,” he said, adding that a free media ensured people with different views from the government were able to take part in public debate.
“We believe that the better informed the British public is about the issues affecting our society… the easier it is, ultimately, for the British government to come to sensible decisions and to develop robust policies that command the confidence of our people,” he said.
Mr Cameron acknowledged that leading a country of 1.3 billion people raised difficulties of a different order from those of a nation of 60 million.
But he said: “The rise in economic freedom in China in recent years had been hugely beneficial to China and to the world. I hope in time this will lead to a greater political opening, because I'm convinced that the best guarantor of prosperity and stability is for economic and political progress to go in step together.”
What he does not say is that if he were Chinese and campaigned for these views he could well end up in prison'
Acknowledging that Chinese people already had more freedom to choose where to live and work, to blog and send text messages, he said some change should be recognised.
But he added: “There is no secret we disagree on some issues, especially around human rights. We don't raise these issues to make us look good, or to flaunt publicly that we've done so. We raise them because the British people expect us to – and because we have sincere and deeply-held concerns.”
On Tuesday, Mr Cameron brought up the issue of human rights during talks with the Chinese Prime Minister, Wen Jiabao.
BBC political editor Nick Robinson said he understood Mr Cameron had also raised the case of Liu Xiaobo, the jailed dissident and Nobel Peace Prize winner, at a banquet that evening, although it was unclear how strongly.
The Chinese artist Ai Weiwei, who says he was recently put under house arrest by the Chinese authorities, had called on Mr Cameron to make a public statement about China's human rights record.
He suggested that, were he to avoid the matter, the prime minister would be putting trade ahead of human rights
Mr Cameron, who is being accompanied by four cabinet ministers and 43 business leaders, called the trip a “vitally important trade mission”.
Engine maker Rolls-Royce has won a £750m ($1.2bn) contract – the biggest of the visit so far – which is to supply a Chinese airline with Trent 700 engines for 16 Airbus A330 aircraft, along with long-term servicing.
On Wednesday, Mr Cameron visited the Great Wall of China and was due to meet President Hu Jintao before flying on to the G20 summit in South Korea.