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Blair in China for Talks on N. Korea


British Prime Minister Tony Blair is in China for talks on trade and how to solve the North Korean nuclear crisis. But his Asian tour continues to be dogged by the apparent suicide of a former British weapons inspector in a scandal over whether Mr. Blair's government overstated the threat from Iraqi weapons to justify the invasion.

Military bands played, as China's prime minister, Wen Jiabao, greeted his visiting British counterpart, Tony Blair, Monday in Beijing.

Mr. Blair, accompanied by executives from oil, automotive, and drug companies, says he hopes to expand trade between the two nations, which already exceeds $11 billion annually.

"The relationship between Britain and China has strengthened enormously over these past few years," he says. "I've got no doubt at all that it will continue to strengthen still further, both in the economic field, where we are the largest European investor in China, but also in the political field, as well, where we are working together, and resolving some of the critical issues that face our world."

Mr. Blair has already been to Japan and South Korea to discuss the dispute over North Korea's nuclear weapons program. All the leaders agreed multilateral negotiations were the best way to find a solution.

Mr. Blair has said he is particularly worried that North Korea might export nuclear weapons or technology.

The Blair visit comes during an intense Chinese diplomatic push to get North Korea and the United States to resume some kind of dialogue on the nuclear issue. Beijing hosted inconclusive three-way talks between the United States and North Korea in April, and is hoping to resume discussions soon.

For more than nine months, North Korea has been insisting on direct talks only with the United States, saying it is threatened by American weapons and wants a U.S. security guarantee before addressing its nuclear program.

The current round of diplomacy comes amid new reports North Korea may have a secret second nuclear facility capable of making weapons-grade plutonium.

The North Korean issue has been somewhat eclipsed by media questions over the apparent suicide of former weapons inspector David Kelly last week. The biological warfare expert was named as the source for a controversial story accusing the British government of distorting intelligence information in an effort to justify attacking Iraq. Mr. Blair has ordered an inquiry into the tragedy, and is refusing to discuss any details now.

Tuesday, Mr. Blair heads to Hong Kong, which is in the midst of its own political turmoil after half-a-million people marched to protest a proposed new security law backed by Beijing.

Critics of the proposed law say it threatens the free speech and press that are part of Hong Kong's British colonial legacy. Beijing promised to allow Hong Kong to keep its Western-style institutions for 50 years in the agreement that returned the city to Chinese rule in 1997.

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