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Volume 531: debated on Tuesday 19 July 2011

Across government we have regular visits and exchanges with the Chinese authorities at ministerial and official level. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister hosted Premier Wen of China for the annual UK-China summit on 27 June. In line with our commitment to boost exports and inward investment, the summit announced £1.4 billion-worth of trade deals.

As the Minister has just mentioned, £1.4 billion-worth of trade deals were signed between China and the UK. After his visit to the UK, Premier Wen went to Germany and signed deals worth £9 billion, which is six and a half times the value of the deals signed with the UK. There were 13 Chinese Ministers in Berlin signing deals with 10 German Ministers. The Economist described the UK visit as a “sideshow” compared with the German visit. What are the Government doing to make sure that the UK does not play second fiddle to the Germans when it comes to economic partnership with China?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for the attention and effort he affords to China, because I share his objective that British society and British politics as a whole should engage with China at a much higher level. I am delighted that the Foreign Secretary announced only a few weeks ago that as part of our network shift we will put an additional 50 staff into China to ensure that Britain plays an increasingly large role in what is now the world’s second largest economy.

This month the Chinese Communist party celebrated its 90th anniversary, with the Chinese Premier stating that there would be no progress without stability. Does my hon. Friend agree that there can be no progress in China until there is respect for human rights and that any progress without it would be tainted? Will he also join me in calling for the immediate release of the Nobel peace laureate Liu Xiaobo?

I think that it is right that we acknowledge the extraordinary economic advances that have been made in China in recent decades, with literally hundreds of millions of people being lifted out of extreme poverty, but my view, and the view of the British Government, is that the rule of law and respect for human rights goes hand in hand with further economic progress in China. We believe that it is very much in the interests of the Chinese to embrace the agenda that my hon. Friend has so accurately described.

I am sure the Minister shares our concern about the rising tensions in the south China sea, where there are many competing maritime claims. What discussions has he had with his Chinese counterpart on the situation, and does he believe that China’s planned deployment of its aircraft carrier would substantially alter the power balance in the wider region?

That is one of the subjects that we have regular dialogue with the Chinese about, and the hon. Lady is right to point out the tensions and concerns that exist in some of the countries bordering China. We continue to be vigilant in trying to ensure that that is not an area of the world where conflict is brought about or tensions rise.