Scotland/China articles

President Xi Jinping visits the UK

by Website Editor, concluded 23 October 2015

Chinese President Xi Jinping, accompanied by his wife Madame Peng Liyuan, was in the UK for a four-day State Visit over the last week. Although he did not come to Scotland, this is the first such visit since his predecessor Hu Jintao came in 2005, and some background might be useful to provide context for the visit. Below you will find information about Xi Jinping himself, the State Visit programme, and at the bottom, links to major announcements and media coverage during the visit - you can use this quick link to go straight to this.

Left to right - President Xi and his wife with The Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh at the formal welcome
on 20 October ; President Xi meets HRH Prince William during his visit to China in March 2015

The invitation for the visit was given to President Xi by HRH Prince William during his trip to China in March this year, in support of the UK-China Year of Cultural Exchange. At that time, President Xi noted that he looked forward to meeting British leaders during the visit jointly to plan out the future of China-UK relations, saying, “both China and the United Kingdom were influential countries in the world and they share common interests and responsibilities” and adding, “China and the UK are important representatives of Eastern and Western civilisations”.

In a lengthy and wide-ranging written interview with Reuters just ahead of his visit, President Xi said, “the UK has stated that it will be the western country that is most open to China”, adding “this is a visionary and strategic choice that fully meets Britain’s own long-term interest” (see full text here - well worth a read on many issues beyond simply UK-China relations). This article also notes Xi last set foot in the UK in 1994 when he was an official in the city of Fuzhou (this apparently included visits to Edinburgh and Glasgow as well as London and Oxford).

Official Chinese state media said, ahead of the visit, that the trip “will usher in a "golden era" in China-Britain relations and lay a more solid foundation for China-EU ties” (see here). Another article noted that “the two economies are complementary and vividly illustrate the international trade principles of division of labour and comparative advantage”, and that “China is highly interested in using its expertise and finance to invest in UK infrastructure projects”. In addition “the opportunities for cultural, educational and 'people to people' exchanges are also enormous. Shakespeare, Agatha Christie, Harry Potter and other classic and modern British icons are well known known cultural imports in China” (see here).

The visit follows significant UK-China activity throughout 2015, including a visit to China last month by UK Chancellor George Osborne, during which he stressed the economic opportunities offered by the relationship, and launched a bid for Chinese investment in the 'Northern Powerhouse' in northern England. In addition, the Magna Carta is currently visiting China. And of course the Scottish First Minister was in China in July (see our coverage here), although she apparently turned down an invitation to the State Banquet.

It is also worth noting that this visit comes after several years of rather cool diplomatic relations between the UK and China, following the meeting between Prime Minister David Cameron and the Dalai Lama in 2012.

Who is Xi Jinping ?

President Xi has held this role since March 2013, and that of General Secretary of the Chinese Communist Party since November 2012. He was born in Beijing although his family ancestral home is in Fuping County, northwest of Xi'an in Shaanxi province – his father was communist veteran Xi Zhongxun, who was purged during the Cultural Revolution but later rehabilitated. After serving as a “rusticated youth” between 1969-75 (notably in a rural country of Yan'an, in northern Shaanxi, the Communist base from the end of the Long March in the 1930s - see this interesting BBC report, and this one), Xi Jinping rose through the ranks.

Xi Jinping, second left, with other young men who were sent to the countryside during the Cultural Revolution, in Yanchuan county in Shaanxi province in 1973

He served in Hebei and then as the governor of Fujian between 1999 and 2002, then as governor and party secretary of Zhejiang between 2002 and 2007. Following the dismissal of Chen Liangyi, Xi was transferred to Shanghai as the party secretary for a brief period in 2007. Xi joined the Politburo standing committee in October 2007, and was groomed to become Hu Jintao's successor. He served as vice-president between 2008 and 2013. Since coming to power, his leadership has been noteworthy for a significant anti-corruption campaign, a reform programme aimed at widening the role of the market and the rule of law, efforts at military reform, and some tightening of internal security. His official biography can be found here, with further detail on Wikipedia here. A new CCTV series is to focus on his time in rural China, reports The Guardian.

President Xi has a reputation for being somewhat more informal and approachable than some senior Chinese leaders, so he can be expected to take advantage of opportunities to meet the British public. In addition, his wife Peng Liyuan, who is a notable contemporary folk singer and artist in her own right, might play a larger role than Chinese First Ladies have done before (see here for her biography and here for an interesting article by The Daily Mail).

The visit programme

This visit is a full-blown, formal State Visit - President Xi, as Chinese Head of State, has been invited by HM The Queen, as UK Head of State. This is the highest form of international visit under the rules of diplomatic protocol, so there has been much pomp and ceremony as well as politics, diplomacy and “people to people contacts”.

Left to right - The Queen with Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping during her 1986 visit ; the official 132-page ceremonial booklet for the 1999 visit of President Jiang Zemin - something similar will no doubt have been produced to cover this week's events ; The Queen is shown how to use her chopsticks at the
State Banquet in Beijing during her 1986 visit

The only previous visits of this kind in either direction have been The Queen's visit to China in 1986 (our Chairman Janice Dickson co-ordinated the UK media travel for that trip) ; President Jiang Zemin's visit to the UK in 1999, and President Hu Jintao's visit to the UK in 2005.

The four-day visit included :

  • on 20 October, a formal welcome in central London, starting on Horse Guards followed by a state carriage procession to Buckingham Palace
  • on 20 October, a speech to the UK Parliament
  • on 20 October, a courtesy call by the Leader of the Opposition, Jeremy Corbyn MP (see this C4 report, although such meetings are in fact routine for such a visit – William Hague MP, then leader of the Conservative Party in opposition, met President Jiang Zemin in 1999 - the Corbyn meeting is reported here)
  • on the evening of 20 October, a State Banquet at Buckingham Palace
  • on 21 October, a meeting with Prime Minister David Cameron MP (interviewed in advance of the visit by Chinese TV here), a China-UK business conference where the focus was on investment, infrastructure and innovation, and a visit to Huawei Technologies
  • also on 21 October, a visit to Imperial College London (previewed by Chinese TV here) and a creative industry event
  • on the evening of 21 October, a banquet hosted by the City of London, emphasising the growing financial links between the UK and China
  • on 22 October, a visit to Inmarsat and a Confucius Institute conference at UCL
  • on 23 October, a trip to Manchester, including a visit to the National Graphene Institute and to Manchester City's Eithad stadium and a civic lunch - President Xi is a keen football fan, although apparently he prefers Man United to Man City (see here and here) - President Xi left from Manchester airport

London's Chinatown decorated ahead of the visit

Typical general articles introducing the visit can be found in The Daily Telegraph and The Daily Mail, while this video shows how London's Chinatown prepared. Meanwhile, Bloomberg reports that the Chinese public and press are expected to “swoon” over the Royal welcome - this China Daily article is a good example, as is this Chinese TV piece.

HRH Prince Charles' position on China is well known (summarised here by the BBC), so it is not surprising he did not attend the state banquet (see this report) but he met President Xi separately for tea on 20 October (reported by the Embassy here).

Surrounding the visit, there was extensive discussion of human rights, notably by Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, and some demonstrations. Various media outlets touched on this, including The Guardian and the BBC.

Media coverage

We have listed the major announcements and media coverage during this visit in this section. It has been "wall to wall" and in some places rather gushing, in others, sharply critical.

  • 19 October - Chinese economic data for the first three quarters of 2015 was issued this morning - the headline growth figure was 6.9%, slightly below the target of 7% for the whole year - also notable were a continuing slowing of infrastructure investment, reasonable increases in retail spending, and a continuing decline in imports, all of which fit with the Chinese government's aim of rebalancing its economy more towards domestic consumption than exports and large asset investment - however, exports also remain weak
  • 19 October - the BBC and other sites report a speech by Prince William on the ivory trade, an issue he discussed with President Xi during his visit to China in March, noting that the speech was aired on Chinese TV
  • 19 October - the Guardian preview notes the expected demonstrations in London, with more here, on both pro- and anti-Chinese groups
  • 19 October - Xinhua reported that the President had left Beijing and that his entourage includes Wang Huning, member of the Political Bureau of the Communist Party of China (CPC) Central Committee and director of the Policy Research Office of the CPC Central Committee ; Li Zhanshu, member of the Political Bureau of the CPC Central Committee, member of the Secretariat of the CPC Central Committee and director of the General Office of the CPC Central Committee ; and State Councilor Yang Jiechi, the Chinese Foreign Minister. The BBC later reported the President's party had landed in London, in what appears in this Xinhua TV footage to be a specially converted Air China Boeing 747
  • 19 October - BBC Panorama aired a half-hour programme on President Xi's life - this may be on iPlayer in due course
  • 19 October - the first Chinese investment news has been announced, reports the BBC, with £5.2bn from SinoFortone Group for two waste power & food plants in Wales and an amusement park in Kent
  • 19 October - for a slightly less serious take on 'Things that Chinese and British share', see this China Daily video, which includes some amusing juxtaposed photos...
  • 19 October - for those readers who use Twitter, the hashtag for most "official" and mainstream news on the visit was #XiUKVisit - there may be other less official streams !
  • 20 October - the BBC is getting exercised over some trifling issues...a Sun Yat Sen jacket, as later worn by the President, seems to have been a prefect solution
  • 20 October - the Guardian had a live feed on the day's events, which still seems to be up
  • 20 October - Professor Michel Hockx, interviewed by the BBC, notes wryly that President Xi stayed on the night of 19-20 October at the Mandarin Oriental hotel, owned by the Jardine Matheson group, which has a certain history in China !
  • 20 October - opinions vary on the value of the visit - compare this in the Daily Mail with this from the Chair of the 48 Group, a leading British-China business group
  • 20 October - No. 10 has announced that the State Visit will bring "more than £30 billion worth of trade and investment deals completed, creating over 3,900 jobs across the UK", in sectors such as the creative industries, retail, energy, health, technology, financial services, aerospace and education
  • 20 October - Foreign Sceretary Philip Hammond has defended the UK government's approach on China
  • 20 October - the President's meeting with Jeremy Corbyn MP is reported here
  • 20 October - the Chinese President's address to the UK Parliament is shown on video in full here on Parliament TV, event starts properly at around 16:09 - a summary of his text is available from the Embassy here
  • 20 October - the Chinese Embassy report on the State Banquet is here
  • 20 October - various BBC reports on the day's events are here, here and here, while Chinese netizens' views on UK politicians are reported here
  • 20 October - Xinhua's take on the day is here
  • 20 October - the State Banquet is covered is extensive detail by the Daily Telegraph - we note the main course appears to have been Scottish venison from Balmoral, while the musical entertainment included a pipe programme of the Sound of Sleat and the Caledonian Canal, led by Pipe Major Martin MacDonald and performed by the 4th Battalion The Royal Regiment of Scotland and the Army School of Bagpipe Music and Highland Drumming - so Scotland has certainly been tasted and heard !
  • 21 October - this has been a day of political announcements, focused around the talks between President Xi and Prime Minister Cameron - see this general UK government news release (which also confirmed the Chinese investment in Hinkley Point C, with more here, and trails more investment announcements in Manchester later in the week), well as this one on health care (including a new venture on nursing training for Glasgow Caledonian University), this one on the creative and technology industries, this one on a dramatic increase in visa times for Chinese tourists, this one on research collaboration, and this one on intellectual property and counterfeit goods
  • 21 October - the full text of the joint press conference is here
  • 21 October - media coverage of all this includes reports from the BBC and the Guardian on Xi and Cameron's joint press conference
  • 22 October - further UK government news releases have been on the UK-China Joint Statement agreed during the visit (with Chinese Embassy reporting here), a summary of the business deals agreed, the talks at Chequers (also reported by the BBC)
  • 22 October - the President attended a UK-China business summit - his speech is here and David Cameron's is here
  • 22 October - the President's visit to Imperial College is reported by the Embassy here
  • 22 October - the President's visit to Chinese electronics manufacturer Huawei is reported by the Embassy here
  • 22 October - the President attended a creative industry event
  • 22 October - the full text of President Xi's speech at the Guildhall is on the Embassy site here
  • 22 October - The Independent takes a look at Chinese media coverage of the visit, which is - unsurprisingly - somewhat different to that in the UK
  • 23 October - President Xi visited Manchester on the final day of the visit, and various new Chinese investment for the 'Northern Powerhouse' was announced - this is covered by the BBC with a picture roundup from the Manchester Evening News
  • 23 October - Manchester is to get direct flights to China, reportsits local newspaper

The website of the Chinese Embassy in London is here, with various material usefully listed here. The main page for Xinhua, the Chinese state media agency, is here, and has been carrying many articles this week - it now has a special section dedicated to the visit, here.