Donald Macintyre's Sketch: Chinese Premier Li turns on the charm as he inspects his new property
Donald Macintyre writes political sketches for The Independent, having been Jerusalem correspondent since 2004, covering Israel and the Occupied Territories, as well as travelling for the paper to Iraq, Turkey, Jordan, Libya and Egypt. As Political Editor and then Chief Political Commentator, he previously covered the John Major and early Tony Blair era. He has written for the Daily Express, Sunday Times, Times and Sunday Telegraph, and Sunday Correspondent. He is the author of Mandelson and the Making of New Labour (2000).
Tuesday 17 June 2014
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.
- 1 Venezuela Expo Tattoo 2015: Extreme body art from 'Vampire Woman' to 109mm earlobes
- 3 Ball pool for adults opens in London
- 4 Game of Thrones season 5 trailer: The first full-length look is here
Boris Johnson claims porn-obsessed Islamic jihadists are 'literally w*****s'
Saudi preacher who 'raped and tortured' his five -year-old daughter to death is released after paying 'blood money'
Putin opponent reveals Russian President's daughter's secret identity
Ball pool for adults opens in London
Amal Clooney gives excellent response to fashion question at European Court of Human Rights
9 reasons Greece's experiment with the radical left is doomed to failure
Have we reached 'peak food'? Shortages loom as global production rates slow
Greece elections: Syriza and EU on collision course after election win for left-wing party
British grandmother Lindsay Sandiford faces execution by firing squad in Indonesia
Liberal Democrat minister defends comments suggesting immigration causes pub closures
King Abdullah dead: We can't afford not to hold Saudi Arabia's royals to account
Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: My client is a two form entry primary schoo...
Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: My client is an excellent, large partially ...
£90 - £140 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: I am currently working in partnersh...
£100 - £150 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: Year 3 Teacher Birmingham Jan 2015...