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Last Updated: Monday, 5 September 2005, 16:02 GMT 17:02 UK
Chinese get a taste of Blairism
By Nick Assinder
Political correspondent, BBC News website, with Tony Blair in Beijing

It must be a coincidence mustn't it?

Tony Blair and Peter Mandelson
Old pals act: Mr Blair applauds his former cabinet colleague

But the minute Tony Blair flew into Beijing insisting "bra wars" was entirely Peter Mandelson's problem, peace broke out.

Needless to say, the last thing Mr Blair wanted was for the textiles dispute to overshadow the summit which, he believes, goes to the heart of his current agenda as both prime minister and holder of the rotating presidency of the EU.

In fact he saw the row as a glaring example of the EU failing to rise to the challenges posed by the new economies of China and India.

The same desire for a resolution was also true of the Chinese government.

So it is probably accurate to say that the two prime ministers did not need to "step in" to the dispute even though they inevitably touched on it in their meetings.

Mr Mandelson and his opposite number, on the other hand, were still required to stay up all night to hammer out the deal.

Increasing trade

There were always plans for big things from this stage of the prime minister's four day mission to China and India.

There was much excitement when the Chinese prime minister, Wen Jiabao, appeared to make stronger than usual comments about his desire to extend democracy in China

And neither side wanted their more long-term and significant announcements on trade, climate change and cultural and political relations to be relegated to the second division of stories coming out of Beijing.

So the very fact this summit was happening was probably enough to focus minds. Summits tend to do that.

The only wrinkle was the need for the deal - which is set to see the Chinese off-setting half of their textiles quota against next year - to be ratified by all the other EU states.

But this was an issue the summit leaders wanted taken off the agenda - particularly the media's agenda.

The bigger picture, for the summit leaders, was growing trade relations.

As the UK prime minister said, that picture is one of increasing trade between the EU and China that is likely to be worth $200bn and thousands and thousands of jobs.

Communist trappings

Chinese prime minister Wen Jiabao agreed with Mr Blair that "difficulties and frictions" in the growing trade relations were inevitable, as with the textiles dispute, but they were of "minor" significance.

Jose Manuel Barroso, Tony Blair and Wen Jiabao
A deal was always on the cards

What mattered were trade deals and action on climate change - which saw a new agreement in which the EU will help China cut carbon emissions with the gift of a new, clean power station.

All this came, symbolically, in the spectacular Great Hall of the People, on Tianenmen Square, still proudly displaying its old-style Communist trappings - all red flags and giant pictures of Mao.

All around, of course, are the giant offices, malls and building sites, standing as reminders of the transformation this country is going through and which is driving China to become the greatest economic power in the globe within 40 years.

And that, of course, is Tony Blair's point.

Blairism

It is one he has been making for some time and on which he turned up the volume when he took over the rotating presidency of the EU.

Europe and the rest of the world need to face up to the challenges presented by this huge economy and, in a characteristic bit of Blairism, turn them into opportunities.

As he told the summit: "there is a place for managing change but no place for resisting change".

That was a pretty clear hint to EU countries who had cut up rough over the import of Chinese textiles.

The UK prime minister's instincts are free trade and anti-protectionist and he believes that is the only realistic and successful way of meeting the challenges posed by China and India.

With that point, he believes, made, Tuesday will see the focus shifting towards cultural relations.

Celebrities including ballerina Darcey Bussell, athlete Colin Jackson, former England soccer boss Sir Bobby Robson, film maker Richard Curtis and architect Lord Norman Foster will all give master classes in their respective specialisms to youngsters and students.

In the evening the prime minister will leave for New Delhi for the second leg of this tour.




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