China and UK engage in fish and chips diplomacy

October 23, 2015, 9:14 PM UTC
Chinese President Xi Jinping visits UK
LONDON, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 22: China's President Xi Jinping (L) and Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron share a pint at a pub near Chequers, Buckinghamshire, northwest of London, Britain, on 22 October 2015. President Xi Jinping is on a four day state visit to the UK. (Photo by British Prime Ministry/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
Photograph by Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

China’s main media outlets are awash with ebullient dispatches from the landmark state visit by President Xi Jinping to the United Kingdom. After over a century of bitterness between the two countries due to the Opium Wars and differences over governance in Hong Kong, Chinese state media’s breathless coverage of the state visit indicates an intention to turn a new leaf in Anglo-Chinese relations.

Xi’s visit to the U.K. is the first by a Chinese head of state since 2005.

In a break with the United States’ tactic toward China, the U.K. has been largely happy to set aside differences over human rights in order to foster deeper trade relations. “I totally reject the idea you either have a conversation about human rights and steel or you have a strong relationship with China,” Prime Minister David Cameron said in a joint press conference with Xi. “You can have both, indeed you must have both.”

Over the course of the state visit, the two nations hammered out a series of trade agreements. Xi agreed not to use cyber espionage to steal commercial secrets from British companies, and a Chinese state company will invest 6 billion pounds (more than $9 billion) in a British nuclear power station, which is set to be built by 2025, according to the Guardian. Among other agreed investments, British company BP will supply Huadian, a Chinese state-owned power company, with liquefied natural gas in a $10 billion deal.

The arrangement certainly seems to be amenable to China. “The UK seems to have distanced itself from the Western group that may threaten China and explicitly wants to be friends with us,” an editorial in the nationalist Global Times newspaper said. Chinese media sites have lavished attention on the visit’s pomp and circumstance, dedicating headlines to the red dress that the Dutchess of Cambridge wore to the state banquet, Xi’s visit to a British pub with Cameron, and a visit to the Manchester City Football Club.


And Chinese social media sites have been fawning too, with Xi’s state visit the top-trending item on social networking site Weibo three days in a row. Xi and Cameron drank Green King IPA at the British pub, and one Weibo user noted that “Xi Dada’s face gets red when he drinks, too,” the Wall Street Journal reported.