David Cameron seeks to build 'special relationship' with India

David Cameron

Britain is to join forces with India to counter the growing cyberthreat from China and criminal gangs across the world as David Cameron seeks to deepen ties with the subcontinent's booming economy.

The prime minister, who admitted on the first day of his visit to India that Britain can no longer expect favours from its former colony, is to offer British expertise for a new taskforce that will tackle the growing global danger of online crime.

The taskforce, which is to be launched by Cameron and his Indian counterpart, Manmohan Singh, at a meeting in Delhi on Tuesday, is designed to help India tackle the threat from neighbouring China, which is regarded with increasing concern in Delhi. Britain also hopes to benefit from the initiative by ensuring that vital data belonging to millions of Britons stored in India will be adequately protected.

The announcement in Delhi will follow a move by the prime minister on the first day of his visit to recast Britain's relationship with India.

Speaking in Mumbai after flying into India's commercial capital with the largest overseas trade delegation ever assembled by a British prime minister, Cameron said that Britain has to work hard to forge a "special relationship" with India.

"There are some strengths that come from the past – shared language, culture, ties, the diaspora in Britain," Cameron said as he expressed hopes that Britain would become India's "partner of choice". But the prime minister added: "There is no resting on the laurels, there is no thinking that this partnership is ours for the taking. We have got to make our case about why we would be the best partner for so many of these endeavours. That is what we are doing this week."

Cameron announced that Britain will provide £1m to help fund a feasibility study into building a new 600-mile economic "corridor" between Mumbai and Bangalore, its hi-tech centre. The cash, which will be provided if India matches UK funding, is an example of the new support from Britain as it ends its aid programme to the country in 2015.

The prime minister, who announced a relaxation of consular rules that will now allow Indian investors to secure a British visa in a day, said the cyber taskforce was an example of the new partnership.

Cameron was careful not to overplay the threat from China after a weekend report in the Sunday Times of a cabinet split over Beijing. The paper reported that William Hague and Nick Clegg believe that Britain needs to be prepared to stand up to China, which has a record of launching cyberattacks. Cameron and George Osborne were reportedly arguing in favour of a more conciliatory approach as the Treasury tries to persuade Chinese sovereign wealth funds to invest in Britain.

Asked how much the thinking of the new group was driven by China, Cameron said: "The threat in terms of cybersecurity comes from all sorts of different places and organisations – a lot of it is criminal. What the British have done is [bring] together a strategy to help protect key industries, key infrastructure, key capabilities in terms of cybersecurity and that is work we want to share with others."

Asked about the rise in Chinese hacking, he said: "Hacking bothers me wherever it comes from."

Cameron will use his meeting in Delhi with Singh to offer assurances that Britain is not involved in allegations of corruption over the £483m deal to buy 12 luxury helicopters from AgustaWestland. Delhi has taken steps towards cancelling the AW101 helicopters, which are due to be built in Yeovil, Somerset, after Italian police arrested the chief executive of the defence manufacturer Finmeccanica. AgustaWestland is a subsidiary of the Italian firm.

The prime minister said Britain had in place "some of the toughest anti-bribery legislation in the world".

Cameron will also remind Singh of the merits of the Eurofighter Typhoon jets after the Indian PM and François Hollande, the French president, failed to finalise a $14bn (£9bn) deal for India to buy 126 Dassault Rafale fighter jets. He said of the jets, made in part by BAE Systems: "I think Typhoon is a superior aircraft."

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article was written by Nicholas Watt in Mumbai, for The Guardian on Tuesday 19th February 2013 00.53 Europe/London

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