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
Life and Style
A monstrous idea? Body transplants might no longer be science fiction
Science An Italian neurosurgeon believes so - and it's not quite as implausible as it sounds, says Steve Connor
Demba Ba (right) celebrates after Besiktas win on penalties
footballThere was no happy return to the Ataturk Stadium, where the Reds famously won Champions League
Arts and Entertainment
Natural beauty: Aidan Turner stars in the new series of Poldark
arts + ents
Mia Freedman, editorial director of the Mamamia website, reads out a tweet she was sent.
arts + ents
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Arts and Entertainment
The write stuff: masters of story-telling James Joyce, left, and Thomas Hardy
arts + ents...begging to differ, John Walsh can't even begin to number the ways
Jose Mourinho on Sky Sports
footballEXCLUSIVE COLUMN Paul Scholes: It was not a leg-breaking tackle, as the Chelsea manager had claimed
2015 General Election

Poll of Polls

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Bookkeeper

£23000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This small, friendly, proactive...

Recruitment Genius: Photographic Event Crew

£14500 - £22800 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developers - .NET / ASP.NET / WebAPI / JavaScript

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Software Developer is required to join a lea...

Austen Lloyd: Corporate Tax Solicitor - City

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: A first rate opportunity to join a top ranking...

Day In a Page

HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

Time to play God

Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

MacGyver returns, but with a difference

Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

Tunnel renaissance

Why cities are hiding roads underground
'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

Boys to men

The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

Crufts 2015

Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
10 best projectors

How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

Monaco: the making of Wenger

Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

Homage or plagiarism?

'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower