Clumsy Cameron under fire over 'sordid' China trade trip

David Cameron and Chinese Premier Li Keqiang

Critics at home and abroad accuse the prime minister of following a 'muddled, obscure' political strategy

LAST UPDATED AT 13:00 ON Tue 3 Dec 2013

DAVID CAMERON'S trade mission to China has been described as "increasingly sordid and humiliating" by critics concerned by his "inconsistent" political approach.

Downing Street has said it wants to "turn a page" on the diplomatic deep-freeze between the two nations prompted by a meeting between Cameron and the exiled Dalai Lama last year.

Putting human rights issues to one side, the Prime Minister arrived in Beijing yesterday and pledged to put his "full political weight" behind a proposed EU-China trade agreement.

But the Financial Times says Cameron has done himself no favours with the "diplomatic volte-face" and adds that few Western leaders have been "quite so muddled and inconsistent" as Cameron in their approach to political and trading strategies with China.

The FT is among several newspapers to point out that Cameron's push for an EU-China trade deal comes when he is the only European leader pledging to hold a referendum on quitting the bloc.

In championing the deal, says Peter Oborne in the Daily Telegraph, Cameron failed to mention the drawbacks such as China's naked protectionism, its contempt for human rights, the absence of free speech and the oppression of large sections of the population.

Luckily the EU was on hand to pour cold water on the PM, says Oborne. Brussels spokesman Alexandre Polack apparently "slapped down" Cameron, insisting that there were many details to be thrashed out before the EU enters into a trade agreement of any kind with the Chinese.

Oborne, who describes the PM's journey around China as "increasingly sordid and humiliating", backs Cameron's move to open up relations with China. "But it shouldn't be unconditional," he adds. "[And] we should feel grateful to Mr Polack for reminding us."

Meanwhile, China's Global Times questions Cameron's "sincerity" after reports that the Royal Navy's Chief of Staff, Admiral George Zambellas, met the Japanese defence minister and "supported Japan's stance" toward China's recently declared Air Defence Identification Zone in the East China Sea.

The tabloid says Cameron's administration should "acknowledge that the UK is not a big power in the eyes of the Chinese" but just "an old European country apt for travel and study".

In The Guardian, Kerry Brown describes Cameron's approach as "clumsy". Dextrous politicians can get across powerful points about such sensitive topics as Tibet and Xinjiang, says Brown. "But Cameron seems to like his narratives of engagement kept simple. Black and white positions rule the day."

The UK needs a" radically different diplomacy" to deal with a "radically changing China", he concludes. "This visit isn't the way to achieve it." · 

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