PM planning visit to China

Tony Blair is to set the seal on Britain's increasingly close relations with China with a visit to the country later this year, Foreign Secretary Jack Straw confirmed today.

Mr Straw said that London and Beijing had put differences over the Iraq war - which China opposed - behind them and were seeking deeper diplomatic and trade relations.

He was speaking after talks with China's new foreign minister Li Zhaoxing, who is on a two-day visit to the UK during which he also met Mr Blair at 10 Downing Street today.

Mr Li said Beijing was looking forward with enthusiasm to greeting Mr Blair, who he described as "a good friend and an old friend of China".

But he called for a greater role for the United Nations in post-war Iraq, saying: "On Iraq, I believe it should be resolved, worked out, through the work of the UN.

"The UN still is the biggest and most important and most influential international and inter-governmental organisation, the role of which no other international organisation or mechanism can replace."

China was "ready to co-operate" with other UN security council members on the issue, he said.

Mr Straw welcomed China's support for security council resolution 1483, which lifted sanctions on Iraq and put in place the current arrangements for administering the country.

He added: "As friends, we had some differences earlier in the year, but we have put those behind us and are now working very well together."

He said today's talks reflected an "increasing bond of close and deep friendship" between China and the UK, which is now the largest European investor in the giant Asian nation.

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