Pippa Crerar's China Sketch: In the charm offensive, George Osborne beat Boris Johnson on points


It was wands at dawn at Peking University in Beijing on Monday morning as George Osborne and Boris Johnson staged the world premiere of their future leadership battle.

Two of the most prominent contenders for the Tory crown were doing that rare thing for top politicians – sharing a stage – and neither looked very happy about it.

Osborne was up first, even though he was very much last to the party with his hastily planned trip, and delivered a speech dripping in deference and diplomacy.

There was less formality from Boris, who evoked the spirit of Harry Potter for his turn at the lecturn.

“If you want one final proof of how fast the world is changing then let me ask you who is the most famous student in contemporary literature?,” he asked his slightly perplexed audience.

“I’ll give a clue, he has a wand. Where does this train leave from to go back to school? Where does he buy his uniform and his text books? Where is the location of the ministry of magic?

“And who, according to JK Rowling was his first girlfriend? And the first girl Harry kisses? Cho Chang – a Chinese overseas student who happens to be studying at Hogwarts.”

The students didn’t know where to look when he told them that a Chinese firm, which owns Trinity Square in London, had loaned the buildings out as the new MI6 headquarters in James Bond film Skyfall.

“If that isn’t openness to China I don’t know what is,” he said. The Mayor even dragged his daughter into it, saying she was not only taking Mandarin lessons, but was coming over to Beijing next week to practice.

Asked afterwards about behind-the-scenes rumblings that he is unhappy his long-planned trade mission had been overshadowed by the Chancellor, Boris shot back: “We’re like two harmonious doves.”

Osborne quickly interjected: “More like yin and yang,” which had the students chuckling.