24 October 2016
The bedroom in the Belgian Suite at Buckingham Palace, where Xi Jinping and his wife will stay. Photo: internet
The bedroom in the Belgian Suite at Buckingham Palace, where Xi Jinping and his wife will stay. Photo: internet

Why is Xi Jinping getting a royal reception in Britain?

When Xi Jinping visits Britain next week, the president and his wife, Peng Liyuan, will stay in the Belgian suite of Buckingham Palace, where Prince William and Kate Middleton spent the first night of their marriage.

Nothing symbolizes better the level of the royal reception that Xi is being given.

He will address Parliament, ride in a royal carriage and be given a formal banquet by Queen Elizabeth.

It is as if Xi Dada (習大大) is the king or emperor of China.

There is no western country that is so welcoming.

When British finance minister George Osborne went to China last month, he made the astonishing decision to visit Xinjiang, where the government is facing an armed rebellion by a minority of Islamic fundamentalists.

Beijing was delighted – a member of the UN Security Council endorsing its rule of the troubled region.

Behind all this is an important economic agenda.

Britain wants to become the preferred European country for Chinese investment, state and private, and London the city where Chinese firms build their European headquarters and do business in renminbi.

Top of the agenda is Hinckley Point C, Britain’s first new nuclear power station for several decades, with a total cost of 24.5 billion pounds (US$37.9 billion). It will be the first of three such new plants.

For months, there have been intensive talks between Electricite de France (EDF) Energy, China National Nuclear Corp. and China General Nuclear Corp.

Early this month, Vincent de Rivaz, head of EDF Energy, said he hoped the two Chinese firms would take a 40 per cent stake in the project, with an agreement to be signed during Xi’s visit.

The project is backed by the governments of Britain, France and China.

But EDF and the two Chinese firms have been arguing over their respective shares and the financial burden they will take on.

The next nuclear project is Bradwell in Essex with 1,000 megawatts; China is expected to take the lead role and take a majority stake.

The two plants are very capital-intensive, requiring enormous investment before the investors receive a return.

In western countries, nuclear plants are controversial and are vulnerable to a second Fukushima disaster.

These would be the first nuclear stations built by China in a western country and make it a front-line competitor with Areva, the world’s largest builder of nuclear power stations.

Areva posted a loss of 4.8 billion euros (US$5.5 billion) last year.

China may take an equity stake in the ailing French firm.

Osborne has promised a taxpayer guarantee of 2 billion pounds if Xi puts Chinese money into the Hinckley project.

The chancellor of the exchequer is also hoping for Chinese investment in other infrastructure projects, such as the country’s first high-speed railway line, between London and Birmingham, with possible extensions to Manchester and Leeds.

The government also wants to electrify the line between the two northern cities.

Other possibilities include the Atlantic Gateway, projects linking Liverpool and Manchester, Science Central in Newcastle, a new retail quarter in Sheffield, and a South Bank regeneration project in Leeds.

Finance is another important item on the agenda.

Britain wants to make London the premier offshore centre for renminbi in the West.

Western media reported last week that the People’s Bank of China plans to issue up to 5 billion yuan (US$787 million) in yuan-denominated debt in London as early as this month.

It would be its first yuan issue in London.

The visit will give the Chinese media many opportunities to show their leader in a regal posture, as with his trip to the United States last month.

While he received blanket coverage at home, he was overshadowed in the US media by the visit by Pope Francis and the resignation of John Boehner.

Television broadcasts also showed the many critics of China – Falun Gong members, Taiwanese, Tibetans and Christians — who protested at Xi’s arrival.

Such demonstrations are likely in London, but of lower intensity.

None will be reported, of course, by the mainland media.

Huanqiu Shibao (環球时報 – Global Times) set the tone last Friday with a detailed tour of Buckingham Palace.

It has 775 rooms, nearly 80 toilets and 40,000 lightbulbs.

The Belgian suite has three rooms and is often used by the queen for private meetings.

Its main color is yellow, and the suite has has statues of George III and his wife.

The message was that Britain could not provide a more prestigious place for its visitor and his wife.

Buckingham Palace is small compared with the Forbidden City in Beijing, where China’s rulers lived for hundreds of years.

The Middle Kingdom lost its emperor 90 years ago – but Xi is the closest it has come to one in the post-1978 era.

He will relish his new regal surroundings.

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Hong Kong-based journalist and author. He had worked as a correspondent for the South China Morning Post in Beijing and Shanghai.

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