President Xi Jinping yesterday arrived in London for a four-day state visit, meeting several members of the British royal family and addressing Parliament before sitting down for dinner with the Queen at a state banquet.
President Xi and his wife started the formal part of their visit by meeting the heir to the throne, Prince Charles, at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel, before taking a horse-drawn carriage to Buckingham Palace. Once there, they had lunch with the Queen and Prince Philip and exchanged gifts, with the president’s wife, Peng Liuyang, offering her hosts some recordings of her musical work. In return, the royal couple offered a collection of Shakespeare’s sonnets and a set of candlesticks. As Prince Charles did not attend the state banquet, President Xi also had tea with him at Clarence House later in the day, although it is not known what the two talked about.
Before tea, Xi addressed both Houses of Parliament in the Royal Gallery. After being introduced by the Speaker of the House of Commons, John Bercow, the president spoke on a range of topics, including the rule of law, the global economy and the strength of Anglo-Chinese relations. Of the latter, he expressed the hope that his visit would raise co-operation between the two nations to “new heights”. His speech quoted both Shakespeare and Francis Bacon, and was delivered in Mandarin. Interestingly,the British Prime Minister, David Cameron, did not listen to Mr. Xi using the headphones provided for translation of the speech into English. This led to Twitter speculation that he had either been learning Mandarin or was wearing a discrete earpiece that the cameras could not pick up.
President Xi’s last formal engagement ahead of the state dinner was a meeting with Jeremy Corbyn, the leader of the Labour Party, which was described by Labour officials as “constructive and cordial”. Subjects discussed included climate change, global inequality and international terrorism; all three will be discussed in meetings between subordinates later in the week.
The state dinner itself was, unsurprisingly, a very formal affair. The dress code was white tie, and guests included the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Governor of the Bank of England and the Lord Mayor of London. Princess Kate, the Duchess of Cambridge, was also in attendance in what was her first state dinner since her marriage to Prince William. Music included a selection of bagpipe medleys and some Chinese folk songs, as well as Eleanor Rigby by The Beatles and Nobody Does It Better from the James Bond film, The Spy Who Loved Me.
As is traditional, the Queen welcomed her guest with a speech, proclaiming a year of “unprecedented cooperation” as the two countries seek to take their relationship to “new heights”. She also made a point of praising the leadership of former president Deng Xiaoping, who she said had set his country on a path to reform that was still bearing fruit today. She called the progress of China since his presidency “a huge and historic achievement with far reaching positive effects on people’s lives.”
Mr. Xi’s speech focused on the forging of the Anglo-Chinese relationship during World War Two, when Britain provided moral and economic support that he said his country would never forget. He also said that as permanent members of the UN Security Council, the two nations worked together to shoulder the “lofty burden” of maintaining peace in the world.
Tomorrow will be a day of business, with various officials from both countries engaging in talks on a variety of topics. David Cameron is expected to confirm plans to reduce visa costs for Chinese citizens, including cutting the price of a two-year visa to the level currently charged for a six-month permit. For his part, Mr. Xi is expected to announce approximately £16bn of investment in two British nuclear plants being built by EDF. The two leaders will hold formal face to face talks at Downing Street, where the Prime Minister has promised, under pressure from Labour, to raise the situation of the UK steel industry. Mr. Xi will carry out a range of other formal engagements throughout the day.