China Ink

Dave who?

His predecessors came with Dragoons. David Cameron tried to create a stir in Beijing with the UK’s biggest ever trade delegation.

Respect is due…

A prime minister, his chancellor, 3 other cabinet ministers, 40 journalists and close to 50 captains of industry. Not a bad haul, the Chinese media agreed.

But no sign of Cameron’s deputy Nick Clegg, originally announced as the UK’s point person on China relations (Cameron was to handle India). As we noted in WiC70, drawing the number two card was never likely to impress the Chinese. But Cameron seems to have got the message, turning up in person with goals to “double trade” with the Chinese to $100 billion a year by 2015.

“David who?” was the Guardian’s rather unkind take on the trip. Apparently locals have been confusing the British leader with James Cameron (of Titanic and Avatar fame). One even plumped for “Churchill?” when asked to name the UK prime minister.

British exports to China are “disappointingly small”, admitted the Daily Telegraph, and there was little chance of matching the €15 billion of business announced during Hu Jintao’s visit to France last week. True enough, the early deals weren’t jaw-droppers (step forward Eco-Solids of Bournemouth, and its £1 million a year contract for “stabilising sewage sludge”). But by Tuesday the pace was picking up with a $1.2 billion tie-up between China Eastern Airlines and Rolls Royce.

A new era for relations:

“Cameron means business” was the headline in the Global Times, which thought trade tensions with the UK government to be less likely. It thought that, compared to the last Labour government, Cameron is less beholden to the trade unions (whatever happened to socialist solidarity?). But the “upper class, businessmen and intellectuals” of the Conservative Party were expected to be “more pragmatic”, especially on human rights issues. There were even fond words from the Beijing News for Margaret Thatcher, for having done the right thing in surrendering sovereignty of Hong Kong.

Jonathan Fenby, writing for the Financial Times, took a moment to contrast China’s buoyancy with the self-doubt of “austerity” Britain. He saw similarities between Beijing’s confidence today and that of Britain during the high Victorian period of supremacy 150 years ago.

The Daily Telegraph went back further still, to reminisce on Lord Macartney’s famous trade mission to the Emperor Qianlong in 1793. He turned up with a 66-gun man-of-war and a detachment of Light Dragoon, the Telegraph noted. Cameron arrived on a Virgin Atlantic jumbo jet (with an escort of flight attendants).

Anything unmentionable?

Earlier this year the British foreign secretary William Hague got involved in an “unpleasant exchange” over human rights during a visit to Beijing, the China Daily noted. Other local editorials wondered why foreign politicians “cannot do a better job at home but enjoy barking around another’s tree”. But this week? No mention of such matters in the Chinese press.

No “lecturing and hectoring” from him, Cameron told the UK media. But Cameron says he raised human rights “privately” during his trip, and he also mentioned it in a speech to students. The British also stood their ground over Remembrance Day poppies, according to the Guardian. A British official told the newspaper: “The Chinese said it was inappropriate for us to wear poppies because of the Opium Wars. We informed them they meant a great deal to us and we would be wearing them all the same.”


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