The Chinese President Xi Jinping visited the UK on the week commencing the 19th of October. Chinese media described his reception as a “redder than red carpet” welcome, as David Cameron and George Osborne clearly attempted to impress Xi in an attempt to win Chinese investment in the UK and encourage trade.
The week began with Xi addressing Parliament in the royal gallery. Commons Speaker John Bercow introduced the visiting President in a speech which praised the speed of China’s industrial revolution, but also highlighted the importance of international law and the personal freedom of nations. Bercow also spoke positively of Burma’s opposition leader, Aung San Sun Kyi and of the “innate human right of freedom”. Xi said that he was “deeply impressed by the vitality of China UK relations and the profound friendship between our peoples”, adding that the two countries are “increasingly interdependent”.
This was followed by a state banquet at Buckingham Palace. Xi and his wife were taken by horse drawn coach to the Palace. Pro-China demonstrators, as well as human rights activists and Free Tibet protesters lined the Mall as his coach passed. Many of the pro-China demonstrators intentionally blocked the signs of the human rights activists with their own, as well as holding flags in front of TV cameras that tried to film the activists. Furthermore, the pro-China crowd seemed to have been intentionally organised, with individuals being referred to by others as ‘group leaders’ and flags being distributed from boxes marked with tape that identified them as coming from the Chinese Embassy.
China’s poor human rights record was also raised with Xi by Opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn when the two met. Others attacked Cameron for his treatment of Xi. The artist Ai Weiwei, who was detained for 81 days at his home in China, accused Cameron of “putting human rights aside” during the President’s visit. Steve Hamilton, formerly Cameron’s director of strategy, described how the visit was handled as a “national humiliation”. James McGregor, an American journalist, businessman, and China expert, told the Today programme “If you act like panting puppy the object of your attention is going to think they’ve got you on a leash”.
As Xi continued his visit, heading to Manchester, where he visited Manchester City Football Club’s grounds and later a pub with Cameron, but human rights were not the only cloud to hang over the visit. As three British steel manufacturers admit they face financial troubles, 5000 jobs are expected to be lost. Many accuse China of flooding the steel market with cheap imports Kevin Brennan, the shadow business secretary, said: “[The Government] seem content to let Britain’s steel industry disappear in the face of Chinese dumping. While the Chinese president is riding down the Mall in a gilded state coach, British workers are being laid off because our government is not standing up for them”.
By the end of the visit, Downing Street was insisting that “up to £40 billion” in trade and investment. Sajid Javid, the business secretary, had early in the week had named the figure at £25 billion. Downing Street was sketchy about how the figured had been reached, but the official statement provided a long list of deals, including a promise from Chinese firm HNA to buy £1.4 billion worth of Rolls-Royce jet engines, and £6bn worth of investment in the Hinkley Point nuclear power plant.
However, the Chinese investment in Hinkley has proved controversial; with The Times reporting that intelligence agencies had warned ministers that it posed a security risk. It also emerged that ministers had guaranteed a consumer price of £92.50 for every unit of electricity, double the current market price.
The Guardian also reported that many of the ‘deals’ contained in Downing Street’s release “had a familiar ring about them”, suggesting that the Government was reannouncing previously agreed deals. Some also questioned how the figures of each deals had been reached.