Britain is “no longer any kind of big country’ and is “easily replaceable in China’s European foreign policy”, a Chinese state-run newspaper said yesterday, as Prime Minister David Cameron visits on a trade mission.
In a scathing attack, the Global Times – seen as an unofficial voice of the Beijing government – said the UK was only “suitable for tourism and overseas study”.
The newspaper also took Mr Cameron to task for comments backing expanded democracy in former colony Hong Kong, and said Britain was colluding with France and Germany to provoke China over the Dalai Lama.
Mr Cameron’s visit was originally scheduled for last year, but was postponed by China after he met the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader, who is reviled by Beijing.
“We’ve discovered that Britain is easily replaceable in China’s European foreign policy,” said the editorial in the newspaper’s Chinese edition. “Moreover, Britain is no longer any kind of ‘big country,’ but merely a country of old Europe suitable for tourism and overseas study, with a few decent football teams.”
The attack in the paper had echoes of a recent insult by an aide of Russian president Vladimir Putin, who said Britain was a “small island nobody pays any attention to”.
Mr Cameron yesterday held talks with president Xi Jinping and premier Li Keqiang over improving trade links, where they discussed opening the HS2 rail project to Chinese investment, following a deal brokered by Chancellor George Osborne last month for Chinese money to fund UK nuclear power.
Mr Cameron promised China’s leaders there would be “very open competition” for investments in the high-speed rail link. His comments came during a session at Shanghai’s Jiao Tong university, where he assured students who raised concerns over the UK visa system that there was “no limit” on the numbers of Chinese who could study in the UK and spoke of increasing them from the current 105,000.
The second day of Mr Cameron’s visit to China was devoted to business, as the PM welcomed the announcement of an £80 million investment in the manufacture of London taxis in Coventry by Chinese firm Geely, posed for a photograph with Jack Ma, creator of China’s biggest online retail site, and hailed a treaty that will allow easier access for British films to Chinese cinemas.
Responding to the criticism in the Global Times, Mr Cameron said: “This is a visit that has delivered almost £6 billion worth of deals. It comes on the back of an 18-month period where we have seen more Chinese investment into Britain than in the previous 30 years.”
Mr Cameron said he believed British people had “a very good understanding” of the need to rebuild economic prosperity after the financial crisis.
He added: “China’s economic rise is going to play a huge role in the world and Britain should be in there pitching for business, for investment, for deals, securing jobs at home.”
Mr Li said Mr Cameron’s trade trip, the largest business delegation the UK has led to the country, would “push the UK-China relationship into a new stage”.
Mr Cameron also met a group of rights activists in Shanghai to hear about the difficulties they face. The identities of the activists, including gay and disability rights campaigners, were withheld from the media.
Air defence zone worry for Britain
The UK is concerned about China’s new air defence zone which could see it send fighter jets to intercept foreign planes, William Hague said yesterday.
The Foreign Secretary said the concern was shared by the rest of the European Union, as MPs urged him to reveal whether officials had raised other tricky issues such as China’s human rights record during Prime Minister David Cameron’s visit to the country.
Mr Hague said: “We note with concern that China has established an air defence identification zone in the East China Sea.
“We urge all parties to work together to reduce tensions and to resolve issues peacefully in line with international law.”
Mr Hague also revealed he had held bilateral discussions on human rights when he met China’s foreign minister Wang Yi ten days ago at Syrian peace talks in Geneva.
But he said talks on concerns about China should not be allowed to get in the way of securing “new levels” of investment from the superpower.
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