BEIJING, June 16 -- Chinese Premier Li Keqiang left for a four-day visit to Britain on Monday, a tour that is widely expected to rev up the two countries' partnership and business cooperation.
The visit, the premier's first to Britain since he took office in March last year, is another major diplomatic event between China and Europe following President Xi Jinping's Europe tour in late March.
During his stay in London, the Chinese premier will meet with Queen Elizabeth II and Prime Minister David Cameron, attend a banquet with the two countries' business representatives and deliver a speech to British think tanks.
Li's visit is of particular significance to China-Britain ties as the two countries have just crossed through a rough patch in their relationship since 2012.
In May 2012, Cameron met the Dalai Lama despite Beijing's objections, bringing China-Britain ties to a deep freeze.
A thaw in relations came one and a half years later, when a high-level British delegation headed by Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne visited China before a visit by Cameron in December 2013.
Cameron's visit to China "served as a sign that China-Britain relations had returned to normal," commented Ma Zhengang, a former Chinese ambassador to Britain.
"It's natural that China and Britain have differences as they have different social systems, different historical backgrounds and cultural heritages," said Liu Xiaoming, the Chinese ambassador to Britain.
"The two countries should, on the basis of equal treatment and mutual respect of each other, respect each other's core interests and major concerns, and appropriately settle such differences," he said.
Li's visit, which comes at a time when the two countries celebrate the 10th anniversary of their comprehensive strategic partnership, will "further cement China-Britain political trust" and "bring vitality and new content to the bilateral partnership," Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Wang Chao told a press briefing last week in Beijing.
The China-Britain comprehensive strategic partnership has borne rich fruits since the two governments issued a joint statement to upgrade their relations in 2004, said Liu.
Mutual political trust has been deepened with frequent exchange of visits between leaders of the two countries and a series of sound mechanisms have been established, said the ambassador.
There are the mechanism for annual meeting between the Chinese and British premiers, the mechanism for bilateral economic and trade development, the mechanism for financial dialogue, the mechanism for high-level human resources exchange and the mechanism for China-Britain strategic dialogue, according to the ambassador.
During Li's visit, a series of cooperation deals worth 30 billion U.S. dollars are expected to be signed.
According to Liu, over 40 agreements covering a wide range of sectors including energy, investment, culture, education, high technology and finance will be hammered out between governments and businesses.
Last year, the two country's bilateral trade volume exceeded the historic mark of 70 billion U.S. dollars and recorded an 11-percent upswing year on year, remarkably higher than the 2.1-percent growth for the overall China-Europe trade.
In the past two years, Chinese investment in Britain has amounted to 13 billion dollars, surpassing the total sum of the previous 30 years.
"Chinese investment are becoming more and more welcome in Britain," said Liu. "Britain is participating actively in the establishment of the offshore Chinese yuan center here, and I believe there is huge potential for cooperation in the field of economy, trade and finance between the two countries," he added.
Britain and China share considerable economic complementarity and sound cooperative foundation, said Ma.
He said China, with well-developed manufacturing experiences, and Britain, which boasts highly developed finance and service sectors and advanced technology, need mutually beneficial cooperation.
"For one thing, China has technology in infrastructure construction such as high speed railways, which is exactly what Britain needs now; for the other, China should learn from Britain's experience in financial management," Ma said.
People-to-people exchanges, Liu noted, have also registered substantial progress. Britain is now home to 25 Confucius Institutes and nearly 100 Confucius classrooms, making it the leader in Chinese language teaching and learning in Europe.
"Culture plays a very important role between every relationship," said Deputy Speaker Michael Bates of Britain's Upper House.
Bates, who visited China for the first time in 1997, said Chinese ancient history and culture have a huge influence on the world, adding that Westerners are also becoming more interested in Chinese cuisine.
He noted that education collaboration will help Britain and China boost their culture exchange, saying many British universities have cooperated with their Chinese counterparts.
Thanks to efforts made by the two countries, he said, their culture exchange is going to be very strong.
"It's already happening. It will grow not because governments say so, but because more people-to-people exchanges have been increased," he added.