President Xi Jinping’s four-day state visit to the UK kicked off on Tuesday, heralding a golden era of partnership between China and the United Kingdom. The President of the worlds fastest growing economy was jubilant in recognition of the interdependence between the two countries, stating that he believes the visit will lift ties between the two nations to “new heights”.
The political sentiment was matched by the pomp, as Jinping was greeted by a 41-gun artillery salute and a lavish carriage drawn by white horses, which delivered him to Buckingham palace. Fitting, as such visits are considered the highest of all political protocol, culminating in a lavish state banquet where the visitors were entertained by a host of personalities, ranging from the political elite to business leaders and entertainment giants. At the banquet, the Queen echoed the views of the President saying this “was a very special year for our bilateral relationship”.
David Cameron also outlined the significance of the visit, saying it will open the UK to more than £30 billion of investment and commercial deals, with a potential to create more than 3,900 jobs across the UK. The fruits of this deal are already starting to show: oil giants BP and China National Petroleum set to announce plans for close co-operation. This is just the first of a string of highly lucrative deals that are set to emerge throughout the week. In terms of infrastructure, Chinese investment will also finance the Government’s most ambitious projects, such as Hinkley Point nuclear reactor, High Speed Rail 2, and even the Northern Powerhouse project.
However, not everyone was basking in the pageantry as the event faced a significant amount of protest from political commentators and campaigners. Amnesty International and pro-Tibet protesters lined the streets as the procession went ahead, engaged in a chanting war with the one-party state’s more favourable supporters. The campaigners urged David Cameron to press the President on China’s human rights abuses and were generally critical of the PM’s decision to grow stronger ties with a country often recognised for its lack of social liberty.
There was a further flurry of incidents that may have dampened the occasion. One came in the form of indirect barbs from Commons Speaker John Bercow, who during the Westminster address made a reference to the recent visit of Aung San Suu Kyi, declaring her, “international symbol of the innate human right of freedom.” To further incite tension, Prince Charles had chosen to miss the banquet due to his support for the exiled Tibetan leader the Dalai Lama.
Lastly, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn was given a surprising one-on-one meeting with the president where he raised human rights concerns and the process of cheap steel dumping. The latter of which has dealt a major blow to the already struggling British steel industry, resulting in plants closing, thousands of job losses, and steel giant Caparo Industries filing for administration. This has been the result of cheap, subsidised Chinese steel flooding the markets in a bid to cease the summer stock market crash. Overall, Corbyn declared the talks “cordial and constructive”.
The deal has been described as “win-win” by the government, but perhaps a bit more for China in reality. It is the culmination of a three-year courting process meaning that David Cameron will not let it fall by the wayside. This allows China to revel in its many abuses; there is no incentive for the Chinese government to cease its human rights violations, its cyber attacks, or its actions in the South China Sea. The UK has distanced itself from getting entangled in such touchy subjects, a stark contrast to the US State Department, which is more liberal when criticising the one-party state.
Overall, both parties will want the state visit to go off without a hitch. For the UK, investment in infrastructure remains the Conservative Government’s highest priority. For China, they will want confirmation of long-term financial responsibility after the nation was embarrassed by its summer stock market meltdown. This will also be very domestically important for the Chinese populace, which will want to see the communist leader shown respect by western nations upon the world stage.