'So far, so good' for Xi's British visit
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Heaven knows what President Xi thought when he was faced with a dalek from Dr Who and a smouldering love scene on the set of the TV series Poldark.
He must have wondered what eccentric episode was coming next from this odd island people.
At least their rain was predictable. He'd been warned that the golden autumn sunlight that blessed his carriage ride down the Mall couldn't last, and at least the weather gods smiled on him for the pageantry pictures that will go in the national photo album.
In fact, overall, "So far so good" is the feeling in the Chinese camp, with President Xi about halfway through his state visit. There are one or two small clouds, like the decision by the Prince of Wales to stay away from the state banquet at Buckingham Palace.
But at least that was flagged up well in advance so that back in Beijing, China's Ministry of Foreign Affairs had plenty of time to calibrate the chill factor for its frosty response to a reporter's question:
Xi Jinping and David Cameron at press conferenceImage copyrightReuters
"Certainly Prince Charles would have had his reasons for not attending the banquet. China will not lightly say this is, to use your wording, rude… President Xi had friendly discussions with the parents of Prince Charles."
Harder to handle was steel. With the British media awash with indignation about job losses in the UK steel industry, due in part to cheap Chinese imports, steel was inevitably going to come up in discussion.
Sigh of relief
But while part of the Xi Jinping image is the folksy man of the people, the other part is the Chinese patriot with iron in his soul. In his brief Downing St encounter with the press, he refused to take responsibility for British job losses, insisting that China was also a victim of global overcapacity.
Here too, the legions of Chinese officials following the President around breathed a sigh of relief. They often tell me they find the British press frightening and outrageous, and certainly the Westminster press pack are far less biddable than their Chinese counterparts.
That means a quite unspeakable level of risk to a Chinese official whose career stands or falls on the perfect choreography of a car journey across Beijing let alone a state visit.
President Xi does not hold news conferences at home, and has never given anything other than a written interview with the western media. So it was interesting to me to see him up close.
He looked comfortable at the lectern, smiling patiently across the heads of scribbling reporters as he batted away the one question permitted from a British reporter on human rights.
"We combine the universal value of human rights with China's reality… looking around the world we know that there is always room for improvement. All countries need to continuously improve and strengthen human rights protection."
And after this briefest of nods towards the host country's traditions on freedom of speech, the President and his delegation swept smartly out of the visit's major danger zone and got back to the agenda they prefer, turning the so called golden era in UK China relations into a win-win gold rush for both sides.
That means hard cash rewards for the hosts in the shape of a slew of business deals, and the glitter of another banquet for the guest, this time with Britain's great and good in the City of London.
Date: 2015-12-21
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