British PM David Cameron may have been all smiles as he celebrated multibillion pound deals with Chinese leaders, but Beijing’s official media rained on his parade, saying that the UK is no longer a major power, and is only good for travel and study.
“China won’t fall for Cameron’s ‘sincerity’,” reads the headline of a sharply-worded editorial in the official English-language Chinese newspaper Global Times on Tuesday, the second day of Cameron’s three-day trip to China.
The PM hit back at the criticism, saying that he would “stick to facts and figures.” Speaking in Shanghai, he said that the trip had seen “substantial discussions” as well as “delivered almost £6 billion-worth of deals.”
Cameron is heading Britain’s largest-ever trade delegation to China, with over 100 leaders from the business, education and cultural sectors, as well as well as six government ministers.
The visit is being seen as a sign of a thaw in Sino-British relations, which were rather frosty following a row over Cameron’s private meeting with the Dalai Lama in May last year. The incident infuriated Beijing, which considers the exiled Tibetan leader a separatist.
“The Chinese government will surely show courtesy to Cameron. But the public does not forget his stance on certain issues,” the Global Times editorial said.
This year, China has been actively promoting its trade and other relations with Germany and France, “which propels” London’s urgency to end the chilliness in bilateral ties, the Global Times wrote. Citing “some analysts,” the unnamed author of the venomously-worded article notes that the three European states reached an “unwritten understanding on the issue of Dalai Lama to provoke China: when the leadership of one country meets with the Dalai Lama, the other two develop ties with Beijing.”
The editorial’s sharp tone contrasts with comments made by the Chinese leaders during their talks with Cameron.
“We have become indispensable partners for each other's development. China and the UK must treat each other as equals,” said Prime Minister Li Keqiang, China’s second most powerful leader.
And according to China’s top leader, President Xi Jinping, it was the right time for the two countries to seek stronger cooperation.
Cameron, following his meeting with Li, announced: “An open Britain is the ideal partner for an opening China... No country in the world is more open to Chinese investment than the UK.”
Britain is among top the top 10 destinations for Chinese investors, and attracts more than double the investment of any other European nation, according to the BBC. In 2012, the world’s second-largest economy invested $6.2 billion in the UK, out of its $129 billion investment globally.
The Global Times editorial suggests that “there is no need to talk about ‘sincerity’ in terms of Sino-British relations” and it is time for the Cameron administration to acknowledge that the UK is no longer a major power in the eyes of the Chinese. “It is just an old European country apt for travel and study. This has gradually become the habitual thought of the Chinese people.”
Cameron rejected the idea that the UK had become less important for China in terms of trade and investment. In comments to BBC News, he argued that his visit “comes on the back of an 18-month period where we have seen more Chinese investment into Britain in the last 18 months than in the previous 30 years.”
“And also, it is a visit where we have seen very good, high-level, substantial discussions both with the premier and with the president – the premier who described the partnership as’ indispensable,'” Cameron said. “So I will stick with the facts and the figures.”
Seeking to win the Chinese’s good graces, the British premier avoided any discussions of Tibet – particularly human rights – and even registered for his own microblog account on Sina Weibo, the Chinese equivalent of Twitter.
But beyond geopolitics and global business deals, some Chinese people living in Britain feel the country is less than completely welcoming to them. RT’s London correspondent Polly Boiko reports that many don't feel welcome in a country positioning itself as a close ally of Beijing. London's Chinatown is frequently raided by the UK Border Agency – which insists that all its checks for illegal workers are always intelligence-led. Local businesses claim that the raids do not follow legal procedures, and some of them do not result in any arrests. The Border Agency’s reported heavy-handed tactics in these sweeps led to an unprecedented strike by staff and owners of small restaurants in Chinatown, who shut down in protest against what they see as discrimination.
Watch Polly Boiko’s report to find out more.