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British Foreign Secretary James Cleverley sought to mend relations with China on Wednesday during the British government’s first high-level visit to Beijing in five years, stressing the need for further dialogue, even if it included areas of “divergence”.

In a meeting with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, Cleverley said he had “always been able to speak frankly” with his foreign minister, but also noted that “if we can ensure that our bilateral relationship is positive, it can benefit the wider world “.

“As two countries with a global outlook, trading extensively around the world, whose future prosperity depends on peace and dialogue, it is very important for us to maintain these lines of communication,” he added.

Cleverly’s trip comes amid deteriorating relations between Washington and Beijing, casting a shadow over China’s broader relationship with the West and forcing international businesses to reduce their reliance on China.

It coincides with a visit to China by U.S. Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo, who this week also pushed for a reopening of communications with China, but warned that U.S. companies are starting to view China as “uninvestable”.

During the one-day visit, Cleverly also met with Chinese Vice President Han Zheng, who sought to strike a balance between pushing for more communication and emphasizing differences that weigh heavily on the relationship between the two countries. Year.

Cleverley has been criticized by his Conservative MPs for his trip to Beijing, with some raising concerns about China’s human rights record in Xinjiang and its policies in Hong Kong, where a 2020 national security law has suppressed protests.

“I’ve had many conversations with senior representatives of the Chinese government, I’ve raised human rights issues in every meeting, and I will continue to do so,” Cleverly told the broadcaster on Wednesday.

Responding to a question about Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, he said it was in China’s interest that the war “end justly and successfully,” according to the BBC. China has refused to condemn the invasion.

Wang Yi also adopted a similar cautious approach to Cleverley, emphasizing “dialogue and cooperation”, but also mentioned “current difficulties” and “noise” in Sino-British relations. path decision”.

British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and Chinese President Xi Jinping are expected to attend the Group of 20 summit in New Delhi next month.

“Ultimately, it’s also important for our prime minister and your president to have the opportunity to speak directly,” Cleverly told Wang.

Speaking with Cleverley at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, Han referred to meetings he had attended this year “with friends from the British business community”, which included HSBC, Standard Chartered and Jardine Matheson.

“British and Chinese companies look forward to more practical cooperation and deepen cooperation in economic and financial fields.” Han Zheng said.

In a meeting at the British ambassador’s residence with about 15 British businesses doing business in China, Cleverley stressed the need to avoid a disconnect with China, according to a person who attended.

British business groups said the British Foreign Secretary’s visit was warmly welcomed by businesses, many of which sent senior executives to mainland China for the first time this year since the three-year zero-crown restrictions were lifted.

Julian Fisher, chairman of the British Chamber of Commerce in Beijing, said that “three years and zero COVID-19 puts China in a very unusual position”, adding that visits by senior representatives of the British government should be “more frequent”.

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