26 May 2019
Prince William visits a butterfly exhibition in London with his wife, Kate, and their son, George. Photo: Reuters
Prince William visits a butterfly exhibition in London with his wife, Kate, and their son, George. Photo: Reuters

Can Prince William handle the thorny subject of HK?

Prince William will come to China early next year to promote Sino-British relations and his personal efforts to combat the illegal trade in wildlife.

It will be the first visit to the mainland by a member of the British royal family in almost three decades, 

Buckingham Palace said the prince — also known as the Duke of Cambridge and second in line to the throne — will officially open the Great Festival of Creativity in Shanghai, which aims to give more than 500 British businesses a chance to reach potential Chinese partners, Reuters reported.

William’s trip to the mainland is the first by a member of Britain’s royal family since Queen Elizabeth and her husband, Prince Philip, paid a visit in 1986.

It follows China’s refusal at the weekend to allow British lawmakers to visit Hong Kong to investigate pro-democracy protests seeking elections free from interference by Beijing.

Members of Parliament were due to visit as part of an inquiry into the state of the Sino-British Joint Declaration of 1984, which paved the way for the handover of the former British colony to China in 1997.

“The Duke will also undertake engagements in Beijing and elsewhere to promote UK-China relations, people-to-people links, and in support of his work to combat the illegal wildlife trade and support wildlife conservation,” the palace said in a statement.

How Beijing will welcome William remains to be seen, as his father’s strained relationship with China may have muddied the waters.

Prince Charles is a long-time supporter of the Dalai Lama, the exiled spiritual leader of Tibet, who has described the Prince of Wales as one of his “best friends”, having been entertained by him numerous times at Clarence House, the Daily Telegraph said.

Charles, who attended the handover of Hong Kong to China in 1997, has snubbed state visits to Britain by Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao, although he did meet Hu in 2009 when the Chinese president was in London at the G20 summit.

The Prince of Wales was also a no-show this summer when his mother entertained Premier Li Keqiang and his wife at Windsor Castle.

Many see Prince William’s trip as a test of his diplomatic skills. At the age of 32, he’s done little more than make ceremonial appearances, where his charm and wit have come in handy.

But it takes more than a pleasant demeanor to get on the political scoreboard.

For example, he will need to use finesse when talking about his favorite cause — a crackdown on the illegal trade in wildlife parts — in the country that is the biggest market for many products made from poached ivory, rhino horn and other body parts of endangered species.

William launched his own wildlife charity earlier this year, a consortium of seven wildlife non-governmental organizations that seeks to stop illegal trafficking of elephants, rhinos and tigers — a US$19 billion business that is largely fueled by Chinese demand.

“Our children should not live in a world without elephants, tigers, lions and rhinos. Enough is enough. It is time to choose between critically endangered species and the criminals who kill them for money,” William said in June at a United for Wildlife launch event.

Then, of course, there’s the prickly subject of Hong Kong.

While the kerfuffle about China’s barring of British lawmakers from the city will likely be resolved before William even gets on his plane, he could and should make Hong Kong a topic of discussion — even if it’s just a comment while inspecting the honor guard or a quick aside in the loo.

Prime Minister David Cameron has said Britain should stand up for the rights of people in Hong Kong, and William needs to do the same if he wants to be taken seriously.

After all, Prince William is going to be king someday, and that’s what kings do.

The Duchess of Cambridge, Kate, who is due to give birth in April, will not be making the high-profile trip to China, because of her pregnancy.

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A strategist and marketing consultant on China business

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