What's at stake as China talks business in Britain?

Jun 16, 2014

Premier 'demanded' an audience with the Queen as confident China promises UK investment

Jason Lee-Pool/Getty Images

China's prime minister Li Keqiang arrives in London today in the first visit by a Chinese premier since an 18-month diplomatic freeze imposed on the UK in protest at a 2012 meeting between David Cameron and the Dalai Lama.

During a three-day visit which the coalition hopes will herald a new era of Chinese investment in the UK, Li will meet the Queen. He will also bring with him an entourage of Chinese business people.

The Guardian says Li's visit may signal "deepening Chinese involvement in energy, nuclear power and infrastructure" to the tune of £18bn. The prime minister will be accompanied by "about 200 Chinese business leaders … including the heads of some of the country's biggest banks".

As well as backing a proposed nuclear plant at Hinkley Point in Somerset, Li is expected to announce plans to invest in UK financial services. George Osborne says that will turn London into the "world centre for renminbi trading".

According to many reports, China insisted on a meeting with the Queen – which is unusual, as Li is not a head of state – a sign that it wants to be taken seriously as a dominant power. The Daily Telegraph said last week China issued a "direct threat of cancellation" unless he was allowed to meet the monarch.

The South China Morning Post says the audience shows "how aware China has become of its world status" and, writing for The Times, Li acknowledges: "Many countries have high expectations of China, some even to the extent of seeing China as a global power."

In what The Times calls an "unusually self-effacing" article, Li says China still has a long way to go to achieve its development goals and will use its clout on the world stage to "dedicate itself to securing peace and co-operation".

He also confirms that this week's visit's primary purpose is to "discuss ways to deepen co-operation in various fields and thus spur the growth of our respective economies".

But for The Guardian, Nicholas Watt reports a less "self-effacing" side to a confident China. "With a date for tea with the Queen in the bag," he writes, "Beijing decided to put Britain ever so gently in its place."

Chinese ambassador Liu Xiaoming last night asserted that the UK now ranks third among European powers, behind Germany and France. The timing of his observations was distinctly pointed, says Watt.

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