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Brown seeks to take China relationship to new level

BEIJING - Prime Minister Gordon Brown told China on Friday he wanted Britain to be the number one choice for Chinese trade and investment as he sought to take the relationship to a "higher level".

Brown also raised human rights and democracy in his talks in Beijing with leaders of the world's fastest-growing major economy. He heads to Shanghai on Saturday and India on Sunday.

Britain's Prime Minister Gordon Brown declares the Asian division of the London Stock Exchange open by cutting a ribbon during a visit to a business centre in Beijing January 18, 2008. (REUTERS/Dylan Martinez)

"Britain will welcome substantial new investment from China in our country in the years to come," Brown told a news conference alongside Premier Wen Jiabao. "We want Britain to be the number one destination of choice for Chinese business..."

The two leaders set a goal of expanding trade to $60 billion by 2010, compared to about $40 billion last year, as they watched the signing of agreements on education cooperation, climate change, sustainable cities and clean-energy development.

Brown said he expected to see 100 new Chinese companies investing in Britain by 2010 and the number of Chinese firms listed on the London Stock Exchange to double, creating thousands of jobs.

He added that he welcomed investment from Beijing's huge sovereign wealth fund. Such funds are state-run investment agencies generally used to invest current surpluses for future generations, or to create larger returns than cash reserves.

"We are now able to sell to China not just financial and business services and environmental technologies, but also a whole range of British brands that are now becoming very popular among the rising number of Chinese consumers," said Brown.

"We are moving our partnership with China to a higher level," he added.


Brown, under pressure from activists at home to tackle China on human rights in the run-up to the Beijing Olympics, raised press freedom with Chinese leaders, British officials said.

He urged China to ratify the U.N. Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which sets out the rights to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, they said.

A Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman said he was not aware of Brown raising China's currency with Wen. U.S. and EU politicians have called for the yuan to appreciate, saying its artificial undervaluation unfairly boosts Chinese exports.

About 25 business leaders accompanied Brown, including Vodafone Chief Executive Arun Sarin, AstraZeneca Chief Executive David Brennan, Barclays Chairman Marcus Agius, Royal Dutch Shell Chairman Jorma Ollila and Virgin Group Chairman Richard Branson.

Branson said he planned "a number of businesses" in China including a clean-energy company.

Wen greeted Brown at the Great Hall of the People, the iconic heart of Communist Party rule. Wen assured reporters China was committed to eventual introduction of democracy.

"China will remain committed to advancing democracy -- that is to say our people will gradually exercise greater democratic elections and participation in political affairs," he said.

Brown said that he had raised the issue of elections in Hong Kong, which Britain handed back to China in 1997.

"I welcomed his assurances that they will move to elections both for the chief executive and for the council in Hong Kong over the next period of time," he said.

While Britain is keen to promote trade, the two countries do not always see eye-to-eye on Iran, Myanmar or the conflict in Sudan's Darfur province.

Wen said he and Brown agreed to press for a negotiated settlement on Darfur

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