If symbolism and subtle messages are the essence of diplomacy when it comes to China, Britain spoke in coded language even as it rolled out a lavish royal welcome to China President Xi Jinping on Tuesday.
Minutes before formally welcoming Jinping to address parliament, House of Commons speaker John Bercow took many by surprise when he unexpectedly remarked to MPs: “Of course the Indian Prime Minister is the representative of a great democracy”.
Modi is scheduled to arrive here on 12 November on a three-day visit.
The visit has raised hackles among many, including Bercow, who pointedly praised democracy icon and Burmese leader Aung San Suu Kyi in Jinping’s presence. As one who often raises human rights issues, Bercow called upon China to aspire to provide ‘moral inspiration’.
Prime Minister David Cameron’s former strategy advisor Steve Hilton flayed the lavish welcome, and said that instead of “sucking up” to the Chinese, Britain should impose “sanctions’. He wanted Britain to engage more with democratic India than with China.
He told BBC: “The truth is that China is a rogue state just as bad as Russia or Iran, and I just don’t understand why we’re sucking up to them rather than standing up to them as we should be…I think that we should consider sanctions on China, not rolling out the red carpet”.
Using equal subtlety and coded phrases, Jinping reminded Britain that no nation “stays strong or weak forever”, and noted increasing “interdependence” between London and Beijing.
Speaking in a building called the ‘mother of all parliaments’, Jinping reminded his hosts: “In China, the concept of putting people first and following the rule of law emerged in the ancient times.”
In his short speech, Jinping quoted Shakespeare as well as ancient Chinese proverbs, and reminded the audience of involvement of Chinese troops in the Normandy landings in the Second World War.
On Tuesday, Cameron announced that from January, new visitor visas for Chinese tourists will be valid in the UK for two years – four times the usual six-month limit for a standard visitor visa. He also announced his intention to go further with plans for a new 10 year multi-entry visa for Chinese tourists at no extra cost.