Chinese President Xi Jinping and British Prime Minister David Cameron. Pic: AP.

Chinese President Xi Jinping and British Prime Minister David Cameron. Pic: AP.

Last week’s official UK state visit by Chinese President Xi Jinping has been interpreted in a variety of ways. The BBC referred to the lavish welcome afforded the Chinese head of state as a “redder than red carpet welcome”, while in the Guardian, comedian Stewart Lee satirized it as one big Royal ass-kissing.

British Prime Minister David Cameron touted the four-day stopover as the start of a “golden era” in relations between the two countries, desperately trying to sell the burgeoning alliance as a “win-win”.

Others saw much more serious consequences to this apparent sea-shift in British international relations.

Regarding the new stage in Sino-British relations, two thoughts spring to mind:

  1. Britain is not showing the kind of trepidation of its long-standing ally in embracing the country that is now, by some measures, already the world’s biggest economy. It is rather signaling a slight, but clear turning away from the United States — which some believe to be a fading super power — and beginning to ensconce itself the lap of an emerging one.
  2. Both the UK and China are finally putting aside the uncomfortable history of the Opium Wars, which ended with latter devastated, humiliated and driven towards isolationism. Britain, no longer an imperial power, now senses which way the wind is blowing — the East.

Yes, there was pomp and circumstance aplenty. But there are more immediate and concrete aspects to this meeting of an old European colonial power and what some general — be it Napoleon or Yamamoto or only fictive representations of either — may have once referred to as a “sleeping giant”. Apart from Royal overtures and diplomatic genuflections, what were the principal results of Xi Jinping’s London minibreak?

We see no conflict with having that very special relationship [with the US], with wanting to be a strong partner for China as the Chinese economy continues to grow and China emerges as an enormous world power.

—British Prime Minister David Cameron

Some highlights of China’s state visit to the UK

  • A trade deal worth a cool £40 billion ($61 billion) between the two countries, with the UK buying Chinese nuclear technology and receiving investment in a new high-speed rail line, while China moves into 6th place in terms of UK exports.
  • For China, a strong tie with the formerly chief — and still relevant — Western cultural and economic power, solidifying the world’s second largest economy as a major global player.
  • For the UK, a pivotal role in negotiation between the West — especially the US — and the emerging superpower, which is set to become the undisputed world’s largest economy. Besides, with Scotland threatening independence and a fractious relationship with the European Union — compounded by strengthening ties between the US and EU — China may be just the friend that the increasingly lonely island is looking for.
  • The Eden Project, a super-cool and much larger version of the multiple greenhouse complex in Cornwall, UK, to be built in Qingdao on the east coast of China. A Sino-British venture, China Eden will house a collection of plants from all over the world. It is a £100 million ($150 million) project that China hopes will become a major environmental tourist destination.

Originally posted here:
The Great British Leap Forward: The dawning of a new era in UK-China relations