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Cameron cautiously criticizes China in Beijing speech

By the CNN Wire Staff
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Ai Weiwei: Cameron comments 'very soft'
  • NEW: The British prime minister urges China to allow "more political opening"
  • The visit is Cameron's first trip China as prime minister
  • Hu: Cooperation is stronger than competition between the two countries
  • Cameron says a "dangerous tidal wave" of money is going from one side of the globe to another

Beijing, China (CNN) -- British Prime Minister David Cameron cautiously urged China to allow greater political freedom at home and play a more constructive role in international affairs Wednesday, in a speech in the capital Beijing.

"The rise in economic freedom in China in recent years has been hugely beneficial to China and to the world. I hope that in time this will lead to a greater political opening," Cameron said in the showpiece event of his two-day trip to China.

He talked about the importance of political parties that hand power peacefully back and forth after elections, an independent court system, and an informed public.

"I make these observations not because I believe that we have some moral superiority. Our own society is not perfect," he said.

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He also called on China to help fight global warming and nuclear proliferation in a speech mostly devoted to economic and trade matters.

Chinese artist and dissident Ai Weiwei told CNN after Cameron's speech that world leaders have to talk about human rights when dealing with China or it's "really pitiful."

Cameron later met Chinese President Hu Jintao, his office and Chinese state media said.

Hu said he was "impressed" by Cameron's effort to develop the China-Britain relationship, the Xinhua news agency said..

Hu noted that Cameron, at 44 the youngest British prime minister in 200 years, and his cabinet "are energetic" and predicted that bilateral relations would continue to grow under Cameron's leadership, Xinhua said.

Cameron and a contingent of ministers and business leaders descended on Beijing Tuesday as part of a tour to boost bilateral trade with the world's second-largest economy.

"This week I am leading one of the biggest and most high-powered British delegations ever to visit China," Cameron said in a guest column that appeared in the Wall Street Journal Tuesday. "We aim to deliver more than 40 specific agreements across the whole range of our bilateral relationship, from trade to low-carbon growth, to cultural and education initiatives."

Cameron's visit to China is his first as prime minister. He suggested the two sides expand cooperation in areas such as energy, environment and pharmaceutics, Xinhua reported.

"There is no secret that we disagree on some issues, especially around human rights," Cameron said in his speech Wednesday. "We don't raise these issues to make to us look good, or to flaunt publicly that we have done so. We raise them because the British people expect us to, and because we have sincere and deeply held concerns. And I am pleased that we have agreed the next human rights dialogue between our two governments for January."

The prime minister also spoke about the global economic situation.

"The truth is that some countries with current account surpluses have been saving too much while others, like mine, with deficits have been saving too little," Cameron said. "And the result has been a dangerous tidal wave of money going from one side of the globe to the other. We need a more balanced pattern of global demand and supply, a more balanced pattern of global saving and investment."

He also mentioned China's role in the global economic and energy arenas.

"No longer can we talk about trade without the country that is now the world's largest exporter and third largest importer," Cameron said. "And no longer can we debate energy security or climate change without the country that is one of the world's biggest consumer of energy."

Over the last 30 years, China's economic growth has averaged nearly 10 percent, surpassing Japan and moving into the No. 2 spot behind the United States.

"We are working to agree a new target to double the value of our bilateral trade with China by 2015 to more than $100 billion a year," Cameron said in his opinion piece. "And within this we intend to raise U.K. exports to China to $30 billion per year over the same period."