Donald Macintyre's Sketch: Chinese Premier Li turns on the charm as he inspects his new property

 

To Premier Li Keqiang’s undisguised delight at his press conference with David Cameron, he was asked a question in Mandarin by the BBC’s China Editor Carrie Gracie. To most of the Brits, the only intelligible words were “Nick Clegg” – which produced, as they often do, laughs from everyone, including the British Prime Minister.

Possibly because of the sheer unexpectedness of a British journalist fluent in a foreign language, the simultaneous translation halted after Ms Gracie’s question, which touched on human rights. While Premier Li was speaking, Cameron was therefore obliged to alternate between staring at his Chinese counterpart with an intensely concentrated frown and gazing visionarily into the middle distance.

Luckily two excellent  Chinese interpreters stepped in, though oddly the man translating Cameron’s remarks, while speaking very fast, took longer than the PM himself. Was he laying on the praise for China even more thickly than Cameron was? If that were possible. “Ours is truly a partnership for growth, reform and innovation,” the PM gushed.

Equally lyrical about the trading relationship between China and UK, Premier Li promised that “together we will create huge energy”. It was not immediately clear whether this was metaphorical. Or, more likely, a reference to the People’s Republic’s vast stake in the Hinkley Point C nuclear power station.

Either way he probably felt a bit like an absentee landlord looking over his new property, given China’s multi-billion investment into the UK. More investment, David Cameron said proudly, in the past 18 months than in the previous 30 years.

We were in the Locarno rooms at the Foreign Office, a gaudily chandeliered and spectacularly high-ceilinged suite which is presumably thought to be the nearest – if wholly inadequate – Whitehall equivalent of the Great Hall of the People. (Li presumably didn’t have to be told that the name is indelibly linked with dance halls of the 1950s.) In another Locarno room, crowds of Chinese and British businessmen, the latter almost salivating, queued up to sign contracts under the watchful of eyes of ministers like Vince Cable and Patrick McLoughlin.

Asked about the Chinese Ambassador’s remark that whereas Beijing used to think of “Britain, France and Germany” it now thought of “Germany, France and Britain,” Premier Li implied that British anxiety about this was like when he was a governor and he wanted his province to be best at everything. But there was an old Chinese proverb which said “wherever you are, sing the local song”. So he was happy to wish Britain to be best. Possible sub-text: “Get over it.”

Unhelpfully to Tory Eurosceptics he was unequivocally in favour of greater “European integration”. And this, he declared pointedly, he said everywhere he went. And he was also in favour of a “united United Kingdom” – while adding hastily that “I respect your choice”. He can hardly be nervous about the effect of an independent Scotland on Tibet. But Alex Salmond may worry about missing out on those billions.

But if Li did feel like the country’s new owner, he was quite good at disguising it. Li does not fit the stereotype of stern Chinese leaders. He has a ready smile, gesticulates a lot and rather dominated the press conference. He mentioned several times his pleasure at meeting “friends in the British press”. He is, well, scrutable.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: 3rd Line Virtualisation, Windows & Server Engineer

£40000 - £47000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A 3rd Line Virtualisation / Sto...

Recruitment Genius: Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Service Engineer

£26000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A successful national service f...

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Executive / Sales - OTE £25,000

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - Fixed Term Contract

£17500 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We currently require an experie...

Day In a Page

Syria civil war: Meet the military commander who says his soldiers will not rest until every inch of their war torn country is free of Islamist 'terrorists'

‘We won’t stop until Syria is back to normal’

Near the front lines with Islamist-controlled towns where Assad’s troops were besieged just last month, Robert Fisk meets a commander confidently preparing his soldiers for battle
The inside story of how Bill Clinton built a $2bn global foundation may undermine Hillary's chances

The inside story of how Bill Clinton built a $2bn global foundation...

... and how it may undermine Hillary's chances in 2016
12 best olive oils

Extra-virgin, cold-press, early-harvest, ultra-premium: 12 best olive oils

Choosing an olive oil is a surprising minefield. Save yourself the hassle with our handy guide
Sepp Blatter resignation: The beginning of Fifa's long road to reform?

Does Blatter's departure mean Fifa will automatically clean up its act?

Don't bet on it, says Tom Peck
Charles Kennedy: The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

Charles Kennedy was consistently a man of the centre-left, dedicated to social justice, but was also a champion of liberty and an opponent of the nanny-state, says Baroness Williams
Syria civil war: The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of this endless conflict

The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of Syria's endless civil war

Sahar Qanbar lost her mother and brother as civilians and government soldiers fought side by side after being surrounded by brutal Islamist fighters. Robert Fisk visited her
The future of songwriting: How streaming is changing everything we know about making music

The future of songwriting

How streaming is changing everything we know about making music
William Shemin and Henry Johnson: Jewish and black soldiers receive World War I Medal of Honor amid claims of discrimination

Recognition at long last

Jewish and black soldiers who fought in WWI finally receive medals after claims of discrimination
Beating obesity: The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters

Beating obesity

The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters
9 best women's festival waterproofs

Ready for rain: 9 best women's festival waterproofs

These are the macs to keep your denim dry and your hair frizz-free(ish)
Cycling World Hour Record: Nervous Sir Bradley Wiggins ready for pain as he prepares to go distance

Wiggins worried

Nervous Sir Bradley ready for pain as he prepares to attempt cycling's World Hour Record
Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

On your feet!

Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

The big NHS question

Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

Thongs ain't what they used to be

Big knickers are back