Britain’s ”golden era” of relationship with China was put to question after Queen Elizabeth was caught on camera saying how Chinese officials were “very rude” to the British ambassador before President Xi Jinping visited London in October 2015.
Speaking to Lucy D’Orsi, the police commander who was in charge of security during the visit, the Queen said she was aware of the difficult time the former had during the visit’s preparations.
The commander told her that it was a “testing time”.
Buckingham Palace and the government later sought to limit the damage by claiming that Jinping’s visit was “extremely successful”, but it was the second time on Tuesday that candid camera caught controversial comments made by Britain’s leadership.
The Queen’s comments were made at a garden party, but earlier in the day Prime Minister David Cameron was caught telling her about Thursday’s anti-corruption summit, which would be attended by leaders of “fantastically corrupt” Afghanistan and Nigeria.
Foreign secretary Philip Hammond said Cameron was merely stating a fact about corruption in the two countries. Nigerian President Muhamamdu Buhari said he was shocked at the remarks, but would not demand an apology since he admitted his country was corrupt.
Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani is scheduled to attend the summit.
The Queen’s conversation caught by the pool cameramen went thus:
Lord Chamberlain: “Can I present Commander Lucy D’Orsi, who was gold commander during the Chinese state visit.”
Queen: “Oh, bad luck.”
Lord Chamberlain: “And who was seriously, seriously undermined by the Chinese, but she managed to hold her own and remain in command. And her mother, Judith, who’s involved in child protection and social work.”
Judith Copson: “Yes, I’m very proud of my daughter.”
Lord Chamberlain: “You must tell your story.”
D’Orsi: “Yes, I was the gold commander, so I’m not sure whether you knew, but it was quite a testing time for me.”
Queen: “Yes, I did.”
D’Orsi: “It was … I think at the point that they walked out of Lancaster House and told me that the trip was off, that I felt …”
Queen: “They were very rude to the ambassador.”
D’Orsi: “They were, well, yes she was, Barbara [Woodward, the ambassador] was with me and they walked out on both of us.”
Copson: “I know, it’s unbelievable.”
D’Orsi: “It was very rude and very undiplomatic, I thought.”
Reacting to the Queen’s comments, a spokesman for China’s foreign ministry declined to say if the “golden era” between the two countries was enduring, but said: “President Xi’s visit to the UK last year was a very successful one. Both sides have made great efforts for the success of the visit and the two sides highly recognised that”.
BBC censored in China
The BBC reported that in China, items about the queen’s remarks were censored from its news bulletins.
The Chinese authorities often censor items they object to from foreign news bulletins, which can only be seen by very few people in China as foreign TV channels are only allowed in high-end hotels and a tiny number of select apartment buildings.
A spokeswoman for the queen said: “We do not comment on the queen’s private conversations. However, the Chinese state visit was extremely successful and all parties worked closely to ensure it proceeded smoothly.”
Xi’s visit was full of pomp and ceremony, with Cameron and his finance minister George Osborne keen to impress the Chinese leader and present Britain as China’s firmest friend in Europe.
The queen has been careful to keep her views to herself during her 64-year reign, but several other members of Britain’s royal family have made undiplomatic comments about China in the past.
Watch | Queen calls Chinese delegation ‘very rude’
The queen’s husband, Prince Philip, warned some British students in China in the 1980s that they would get “slitty eyes” if they stayed there too long.
Her eldest son, heir-to-the-throne Prince Charles, has skipped two state banquets for Chinese guests in Britain, and described some Chinese officials in a journal that was leaked to the media as “appalling old waxworks”.
Relations between London and Beijing have been complicated by the weight of history, particularly the 1860 Opium War when British and French troops stole piles of plunder from the Summer Palace in the Chinese capital, then burned it to the ground.
In 2010, Cameron and a delegation of ministers caused offence during a visit to Beijing by wearing poppies - a symbol of remembrance of fallen troops for Britons, but in China a reminder of the opium trade that helped trigger the conflict.
With inputs from AFP