LONDON (AP) — Chinese premier Li Keqiang oversaw Tuesday the signing of trade deals with Britain worth billions during an official visit that kicked off with a meeting with Queen Elizabeth II at Windsor Castle.
Britain pulled out all its ceremonial stops for Li, who is on a three-day visit to boost trade ties and mend diplomatic relations that had cooled after Prime Minister David Cameron met with exiled Tibetan spiritual leader Dalai Lama in 2012.
Business, not thorny political topics, dominated Tuesday's visit, with the two sides focusing on potential collaboration in nuclear power, high-speed railways and finance.
Cameron announced business deals worth 14 billion pounds ($23.7 billion), saying Britain is a "strong and good friend of China and supporter of China's rise." He stressed how important the countries' ties are to Britain's economic recovery.
Earlier, a military band played to welcome Li and his wife Cheng Hong to Windsor Castle, before the queen greeted the pair in a lavishly decorated drawing room. The Chinese leader then traveled to central London for a formal inspection of British soldiers and a meeting with Cameron at his office in Downing Street.
Cameron told reporters he and Li also discussed terrorism, Iraq and Ukraine, among other topics. He did not directly address China's human rights record, a subject that often raises Beijing's ire.
Around 100 rights activists campaigning for Tibetan independence and other issues staged a colorful protest near Downing Street, fighting for attention with a rival pro-China group. A heavy police presence held the protesters at arms' length, though their chants could be heard as Cameron and Li shook hands and posed for photographers.
Li's meeting with the queen was a significant political gesture because the privilege is typically granted to a head of state. Analysts say China likely pushed for the royal audience, underscoring its increasingly aggressive approach to diplomacy.
As the world's second largest economy and a rising political force, Beijing considers its leaders deserving of all honors and distinctions when they go abroad — and it isn't afraid to make demands.
China and the U.S. have tangled over protocol surrounding state visits, with Beijing insisting they be defined as top level.
The last Chinese premier to visit Britain was Wen Jiabao in 2011.
Associated Press writer Christopher Bodeen in Beijing contributed to this report.