London rolls out the red carpet for Chinese state visit

Xi’s visit celebrated in some quarters, but activists protest human rights issues

 

One can expect the first state visit by a Chinese president to the UK in a decade to be marked by pomp and splendour, and prime minister David Cameron is really rolling out the red carpet for Xi Jinping.

The lavish five-day itinerary includes speeches to parliament and meetings with Queen Elizabeth – Xi and his wife Peng Liyuan will use the same bed in Buckingham Palace that the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge slept in on their wedding night.

The Chinese leader will go to Manchester City’s Etihad stadium, and the visit will be accompanied by a flurry of more than 100 trade deals – nearly one for every salvo in the 103-gun royal salute.

The visit, which began yesterday, highlights stark divisions in Britain between those, led by the government, who are keen to boost trade links and those, such as the Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, who want human rights to play a greater role in the UK-China dialogue.

The financial rewards are enormous, despite China’s slowing economic growth. Beijing plans to issue debt in China’s yuan currency in London, a huge win for that city’s financial centre, and is exploring ways to link the London bourse with Shanghai.

Decisive year

The British government is being very careful to avoid friction with China, mindful of the tense relations between Beijing and Washington over trade issues, human rights, cyber-warfare and sovereignty issues in the South China Sea. With its eyes clearly on trade advantage, Britain became the first major Western nation to join the China-led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) earlier this year, annoying Washington.

In 2012, Cameron met the Dalai Lama and sparked a period of deep freeze in relations, which worked to Ireland’s benefit – Xi’s visit that year was seen as both a way of showing China’s interest in developing links with an Anglophone euro zone country, but also as a snub to Britain for hosting the Tibetan Buddhist leader.

Cameron won’t meet the Dalai Lama again, while chancellor George Osborne, visiting China last month, declined to address human rights, winning the praise of the state-run Global Times newspaper for his “pragmatism”. It should be “diplomatic etiquette for foreign leaders not to confront China by raising the human rights issue”, the paper added.

Industry leaders in Britain are delighted at their government’s approach. John Cridland, director general of the Confederation of British Industry, wrote that “2015 will be a year to remember for China and Britain. Despite a slight slowdown in China’s growth, its choice of the City of London to lead the world in debt issuance in renminbi and the chancellor’s recent visit are signs that our thriving trading partnership lies at the heart of the UK’s economic future.”

Some deals, however, have caused discomfort even in the business community. Two Chinese state companies are expected to finalise a deal to acquire a 30-40 per cent stake of the £16 billion (€22 billion) Hinkley Point nuclear power plant, which has raised security concerns.

Imprisoned protesters

The People’s Daily, the official paper of China’s ruling Communist Party, made oblique reference to the issue of human rights, calling for “mutual understanding and an open mind”.

“Due to differences in social systems and ideologies between China and Western countries, the bilateral relationship is tarnished by some noises, or even disturbances and sabotage,” it said. “China and Europe should boost mutual understanding and trust, and seek common ground while shelving differences.”

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