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London (AFP) June 15, 2014
Chinese Premier Li Keqiang begins a three-day visit to Britain on Monday, hoping to "change misperceptions" about his country and improve diplomatic relations with London.
Relations between the two countries remained frozen for more than a year due to a row over Tibet, but Li said the visit, which will include a meeting with Queen Elizabeth II, would help to "deepen co-operation in various fields".
Writing in the London Times, the number two leader of China's ruling Communist Party said his trip had three main purposes.
Along with strengthening economic ties, Li wrote that he wanted "to present the real China so as to change misperceptions and ease misgivings" and also "to draw on British perspectives and experience."
Despite the diplomatic spat, sparked by Prime Minister David Cameron's decision to hold a private meeting with the Dalai Lama in May 2012, Li called the United Kingdom "a great country and an important partner of China".
The high-ranking official wrote of his determination to modernise his nation through urbanisation and industrialisation, acknowledging that China was still "far from achieving its development goals".
He also moved to soothe fears that a more powerful China would be a destabilising geopolitical force, writing in the British paper that his country "will actively engage in global dialogue, and will promote the 21st century as an era of peace and co-operation."
Li's trip to Britain is the first by a Chinese premier since his predecessor Wen Jiabao visited in 2011. The last Chinese president to go was Hu Jintao in 2005 whose visit was dogged by protests by pro-Tibet and human rights campaigners.
China's leaders reduced diplomatic contacts after Cameron's meeting with the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader whom Beijing characterises as a "political exile engaged in anti-China separatist activities in the name of religion".
The relationship began to thaw last June, when both countries' foreign ministers spoke by phone.
That paved the way for a visit last December by Cameron to Beijing, a trip billed as Britain's biggest ever trade mission to China.
But as Sino-British relations have warmed, China's leaders have continued to react sharply to international criticism of their human rights record.
After visiting Britain, Li travels to Greece, where he is scheduled to meet with Prime Minister Antonis Samaras and President Karolos Papoulias, before wrapping up his trip on June 21.
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