British, Chinese premiers target major trade expansion

( dpa ) - British Prime Minister Gordon Brown and Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao promised a major expansion of bilateral trade Friday as their two countries signed eight agreements covering education, climate change, clean energy and chemicals.

Brown and Wen agreed on a target of expanding bilateral trade to 60 billion dollars annually by 2010, up from about 37 billion dollars last year, they said at a joint press conference after their talks in Beijing.

Brown said Britain hoped to attract more Chinese investment, and he invited China's recently formed state fund for investing foreign currency reserves to open an office in Britain.

The British prime minister said he wanted to broaden dialogue with China from politics and economics to science, education, culture, the arts, sport and "all major issues affecting two countries and the whole world."

"Amidst the global economy's difficulties and turbulence, the importance of China and our growing relationship between Britain and China is absolutely crucial to the success of the global economy as a whole," Brown said.

The British leader said he had raised the issue of free elections in the former British colony of Hong Kong with Wen after saying earlier that he would discuss "rights and democracy" with Chinese leaders.

"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.

Asked by reporters about the possibility of democratic reform by China's ruling Communist Party, Wen repeated its leaders' commitment to gradual reform on its own terms.

"Each country's practice of democracy closely proceeds from national conditions, history and current circumstances," Wen said.

Wen and Brown said they also discussed international issues that included the crisis in Sudan's Darfur region.

They agreed that the trilateral consultation mechanism that involves the United Nations, African Union and Sudan's government should "fully play its role," Wen said.

"We urge the international community to make more efforts to improve the humanitarian and security situation in the Darfur region," he said.

The eight cooperation agreements signed Friday covered education, a "sustainable city" project, climate change, a feasibility study for commercializing clean energy technology, a chemical joint venture between BP Chemicals and China's Sinopec, and a framework agreement between BP and a Chinese firm to develop wind power.

Wen and Brown, who is travelling with a large delegation that includes Virgin Group founder Richard Branson, later chatted with students at Beijing's prestigious People's University and watched them play table tennis. They also attended a meeting of Chinese and British business leaders.

Wen invited Brown and his wife, Sarah, to attend the Olympics in Beijing in August.

"This year is going to be an incredibly successful year for both the Chinese economy and China as the host of the Olympic Games," Brown said earlier.

Brown's three-day visit is his first trip to China since he became prime minister in June. He was also scheduled to meet President Hu Jintao and travel to Shanghai before leaving China for India.

British officials said in London that Brown believed "tens of thousands" of British jobs could be created with the expected increase in business with China over the next two years.

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