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Britain desperate to rebuild China relations as David Cameron arrives in Beijing

David Cameron during a previous visit to Beijing in 2007. Photo: Andrew Parsons/PA Archive

China - The world's second biggest economy and the globe's most populated country.

Welcome to another trip on David Cameron's unashamedly commercial foreign policy tour.

Welcome to another plane packed with - as the Prime Minister told us - "the biggest business delegation ever to leave Britain's shores."

"You name it," Mr Cameron said referring to the different sectors of British industry on the trip with him, "it's on the plane."

David Cameron surrounded by a UK business delegation before a flight to China. Credit: Twitter: @David_Cameron

That is not to say this official visit has been easy to arrange.

Unlike recent trips, the pressure to visit was coming from one side: the British.

The date of the Autumn Statement was shunted back a day; the visitor has chopped and changed his schedule to accommodate his hosts; diplomats describe many "chaotic" rounds of organisation. But Downing Street was desperate to come - and come they have.

George Osborne, pictured during a recent visit to Beijing, has had his Autumn Statement put back a day. Credit: PA

I counted 127 business men and women on the plane. Each hoping for a slice of Chinese trade, a slither of the export market, an injection of Chinese cash in the UK.

Britain's exports to China lag behind those of other EU countries but the government points to a rise in the number of leaves goods and services bound for China.

It's not that David Cameron is doing anything he hasn't promised to do.

From the moment he became Prime Minister, he has pledged to refocus Britain's diplomats and foreign policy makers. To put them on a commercial footing. To enlist their help in the economic recovery.

But Mr Cameron is coming to a one party state - a country ruthlessly controlled by the Communist Party - where political freedoms do not go hand in hand with economic ones.

And he is not making the same loud noises about human rights as he has done elsewhere.

In Sri Lanka last month, he spoke about "shining the spotlight" on human rights abuses.

Cameron met Tamil refugees in northern Sri Lanka during his recent visit. Credit: Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire

In China, he will only say "nothing is off limits" and the bilateral "human rights dialogue" is the forum in which to raise those issues. (Bluntly put - the UK says "we have some concerns." China says "thank you very much - what's the next item on the agenda?")

Sino-British relations have also been in the deep freeze since David Cameron met the Dalai Lama - the exiled spiritual leader of Tibet where China suppresses the separatist movement.

David Cameron and Nick Clegg met the Dalai Lama last year. Credit: Downing Street/PA Archive

Since that point, the British have been desperate to rebuild relations and desperate to receive an invite to visit. The Chinese have not been so desperate to receive us.

But in the week in which the government will present its Autumn Statement - or mini-Budget (delayed one day by this trip) - it will do Mr Cameron no harm to be seen to be pushing Britain's economic case on the other side of the world.

And in 18 months time the Prime Minister will ultimately be judged by the strength of the economic recovery at home - not on how he submissive he was to China and the world's other new economic powers.

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