UK pulls all stops to give Xi Jinping royal welcome

21 Oct 2015


Chinese President Xi JinpingChinese President Xi Jinping addressed both houses of the British Parliament on Tuesday afternoon as he and his wife began a four-day visit that has aroused concern among human rights activists.

Xi called the British Parliament "the mother of all parliaments."

Earlier, Xi hailed the "brighter future" of close ties with Britain at the start of a pomp-laden visit that should seal more than $46 billion of deals but drew criticism from rights campaigners.

The visit is designed to strengthen economic ties between Britain and China - including Chinese investment in the UK and commercial ties between the two countries. The rhetoric in advance of the meeting has been warm.

Xi was met with a royal 41-gun salute. He will stay in Buckingham Palace and he was greeted by members of the royal family.

Supporters of Xi turned out early Tuesday to welcome him on his way to the palace.

"He's our President. We are very proud of him," said Lin ze Qing, 31, who carried a huge portrait of Xi.

British Prime Minister David Cameron, speaking on CCTV, China's state broadcaster, said the visit would mark a "golden era" in UK-China relations.

But some human rights activists have raised concerns about the increasing coziness.

"We're not against trade," said David Mepham, the UK director for Human Rights Watch. "We're not against investment.

"But I think it is deeply disturbing that the British government appears to be saying this week that it just wants to talk about trade, and it just wants to talk about investment..And moral issues and human rights concerns and people suffering at the hands of the Chinese state should be shunted to one side."

Among the concerns is the level of executions in China -- a number that is not officially announced but is believed to be greater than the number of executions in the rest of the world put together, according to rights group Amnesty International.

Activists who accuse Cameron of turning a blind eye to rights abuses, including what they call a crackdown on civil liberties since Xi came to power in 2012.

The British government has said it will raise human rights issues with Xi, although the topic will not be on the official agenda.

At the same time, there concerns about some publicly discordant notes. Prince Charles, who greeted Xi on Tuesday, is a personal friend of the Dalai Lama, whom the Chinese government considers an opponent. The longtime heir to the British throne will skip the state dinner being held for Xi and meet him instead for tea.

And there are concerns in government circles as well that the new Labour Party leader, Jeremy Corbyn, will raise the issue of human rights in public.

The visit has also ruffled feathers among some of Britain's traditional allies, such as the United States, where Xi's visit last month was tainted by friction over cyber-theft and Beijing's moves in Asian maritime disputes.

Xi paid little or no attention to the criticism, even when the speaker introducing his speech to both Houses of Parliament referred to Myanmar's opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi as a symbol of freedom.

He instead told lawmakers via a translator that by working together both countries would "surely embrace an even brighter future" and that his visit would "lift the friendly ties between our countries to a new height" in a speech that made reference to Chinese proverbs and William Shakespeare.

Xi told the state banquet, where Britain's elite dined on turbot and venison under the glow from gilded candelabras, that "a growing China-UK relationship benefits both countries and the world as a whole".

(Also see: Elizabeth who? Chinese media hail King Xi Jinping)

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