President's visit shifted focus of ties between China and UK

2015-10-26 08:23China Daily Editor: Wang Fan

The roar of the engines of the Air China Boeing 747 carrying China's President Xi Jinping home has long faded from the skies over Manchester, leaving Britain and its leaders to contemplate the new dynamic that is the link between the two countries. [Special coverage]

Relations between the two powers, for decades a rollercoaster of highs and lows, have changed dramatically as a result of Xi's four-day state visit at the invitation of Queen Elizabeth II.

Behind the extraordinary images of state carriages, formal state banquets, parades and honor guards and carefully staged photo opportunities with the great and the good, a real change has taken place.

For countless decades, Britain's colonial outpost, Hong Kong, blighted relations, and at the same time modern China was still struggling to find itself and its role on the world stage.

Since 1997, when Hong Kong reverted peacefully to Chinese sovereignty as a special administrative region, things have changed.

At the heart of it has to be the extraordinary growth of the Chinese economy over the past 20 years. With it has come a strength and confidence as China takes its rightful place in the world order.

And that's what Britain and its leaders have taken on board as a result of Xi's visit.

Here at China Daily UK we have been at the heart of events that are part of the UK-China Year of Culture, and are very much in the front seat of the so-called golden era in relations predicted by both sides.

But behind the deals and the flood of public appearances, the people of Britain are learning there is much, much more behind the public face.

Trite as it may seem, it was the ultimate photo opportunity that parted the bamboo curtain.

Chinese officials, we learn, had pressed for Prime Minister David Cameron to take President Xi to the local pub for a couple of beers and some traditional English fish and chips.

Now, it's not the first time I've written about celebrities and politicians taking part in staged pictures in a pub. Usually it's a couple of sips and then out of the door.

Not these two. Two pints each of Greene King IPA bitter and healthy inroads into cod goujons and chips, and the two leaders were on their way, smiling broadly, in just over half an hour. Not bad going.

Then there was the selfie with Cameron and Manchester City striker Sergio Aguero. Both of these events went viral, and, while cynics may dismiss it as news management par excellence, I prefer to see it as a genuine side of Xi, who clearly enjoyed himself, being shown.

Then there was first lady Peng Liyuan, a celebrity singer in her own right, who dazzled photographers with her wardrobe and her command of English, and who traded handbag gifts with Cameron's wife, Samantha, herself a fashion icon, before leaving.

UK Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne described the huge shift in diplomacy. While Xi told listeners the UK was China's strongest advocate in the West, in itself an extraordinary statement, Osborne described it as a partnership and added that a partnership meant the ability to discuss problems such as cheap Chinese steel bringing down the price on world markets, cybercrime and even human rights.

Contrast that with the restrained, barely polite exchanges during Xi's visit to the U.S..

You get the feeling the United States simply can't make the same connection with China that the UK has - they are hung up on cybercrime, worried about the security threat posed by too much Chinese investment in certain industries as well as the arrival of a new superpower.

Welcome to the new normal.

Chris Peterson, the author, is the managing editor, Europe for China Daily.


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