Mr and Mrs Jiang enjoy a lovely day out (except for all the protesters)

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Insofar as a city on the other side of the world impinges on his consciousness, this was the London a Chinese tourist dreams of. A day beginning under the Queen's roof at Buckingham Palace. Lots of flunkeys and functionaries in quaint uniforms. A visit to Greenwich, de rigueur for every Peking dignitary who counts. A spot of Shakespeare. And last but not least, as near an approximation of our legendary fog as a clammy autumn mist can manage. Pity about the demonstrators.

Insofar as a city on the other side of the world impinges on his consciousness, this was the London a Chinese tourist dreams of. A day beginning under the Queen's roof at Buckingham Palace. Lots of flunkeys and functionaries in quaint uniforms. A visit to Greenwich, de rigueur for every Peking dignitary who counts. A spot of Shakespeare. And last but not least, as near an approximation of our legendary fog as a clammy autumn mist can manage. Pity about the demonstrators.

From morning to dusk, as he travelled the city by river and road, President Jiang Zemin couldn't quite shake them off. They unfurled their banners from Blackfriars Bridge as as he set off to Greenwich. And in one guise or another, despite our authorities' every effort, they dogged him all day.

But first Greenwich. What is it the Chinese love about the place? Last year the reformist Prime Minister Zhu Rongji was there, and must have said something to the boss. Yesterday it was Mr Jiang's turn. Sharp at 10am, flanked by a posse of police boats, a dark-windowed bateau mouche called the Silver Sturgeon berthed in the shadow of the Cutty Sark to disgorge the illustrious visitor into a waiting Rolls Royce, bearing the red Chinese flag with its five gold stars.

Mr Jiang stepped along the gangway with measured dignity, looking straight ahead, without even a disdainful flicker of a glance at a dozen or so noisy people with flags - these however in the red, blue and yellow of Tibet - kept 70 or 80 yards away by a police contingent at least twice as large. Up at the Royal Observatory, the sightseeing continued, as the President adjusted his watch to Greenwich Mean Time and then stood at the line of the prime meridian with his wife Wang Yeping, him in the Eastern hemisphere, her in the Western.

And therein, perhaps, lies a clue to the fascination Greenwich seems to exert on the Chinese mind. For what must the man from the Middle Kingdom feel as he stands at the spot which - however arbitrarily secured by the British in 1884 during our imperial heyday - is literally the middle of the global kingdom, from where longitude is measured on its maps and where humanity's official clock is kept ?

But there was no escaping those demonstrators, even if they were coming just one at a time. At the Millennium Dome, Greenwich's own Xanadu and Mr Jiang's next stop, one intrepid man dressed up as a construction worker to get within a yard of the Presidential limo and cry "Free Tibet" before being hauled off. Ditto, almost, as Mr Jiang's motorcade arrived at the Savoy for something slightly more like business - a reception marking the 70th anniversary of the London branch of the Bank of China. How was it that a Tibetan exile managed to slip in ahead of the Rolls on a bike - and remained there for fully 15 seconds before a posse of policemen dragged him to the ground?

This slight to his presence cannot have escaped the visitor's notice. One way and another it was not exactly what Tony Blair means by "constructive engagement," and for all their insouciance, our diplomats tremble at the possible consequences.

But neither at the Savoy, nor later at the Banqueting House in Whitehall for a lunch given by the China-Britain Business Council where another 70-odd protesters had assembled, did Jiang betray any outward irritation.

At the Banqueting House, just to be on the safe side, they brought him in at the back. And, as far as could be gathered, there was no improvised departure from his speech as last March in Berne, where he excoriated the Swiss for "losing a good friend" by allowing demonstrators too near him. Here in London, tourism is tourism and business is business - just as both sides want. Not a mention in the speeches of Tibet, Taiwan, or China's dubious employment practices. Just words of warning that all was not entirely well with the Chinese economy, and that Peking would not be bullied into sacrificing its national interests to join the World Trade Organisation.

As he left the Banqueting Hall for a spot of downtime at the Palace a few demonstrators were left. "Jiang-Ze-Min, Out, Out, Out," they chanted as once they did against Mrs Thatcher. Small hope. Then it was on to The Globe and an extract of Julius Caesar , first performed at the theatre in 1599. Another safe stop, you might imagine, on the tourist round, especially with our doughty police keeping those tiresome demonstrators under control in a fashion their Chinese counterparts would have been proud of.

But the man who reputedly aspires to become China's "third Red Emperor" after Chairman Mao and Deng Xiaoping is also something of a student of Shakespeare.

Might not he have pondered the musings of Brutus as he worries about the effect of total power upon Caesar? "He would be crowned. How that would change his nature, there's the question." A question answered after the deed was done: "But as he was ambitious, I slew him." That section of the play Mr Jiang did not see.

Nor, we may be sure, did he set eyes on a letter to the Foreign Office from Mark Rylance, the Globe's artistic director in which, for all his "enormous respect" for the Chinese people, he "struggles to understand many of their actions ... especially towards Tibet." Yes, Mr Rylance had agreed to Mr Jiang's visit but "I will be dismayed if this relationship is being built only to benefit trade and economic wealth, rather than to establish a dialogue on human rights."

But back to Julius Caesar, and more precisely Act IV, Scene III, as the murderers Cassius and Brutus meet in their tent before the final battle, it is a moment of rage followed by reconciliation "...love and be friends and two such men should be" , in Shakespeare's words.

A parable for Britain and China after the Opium Wars, the row over Hong Kong, and many a sleight real and imagined? No so said the Globe, in a deliciously po-faced disclaimer: "We imply no direct comparison between Brutus and Cassius and the leaders of Britain and China."

Mr Jiang, one suspects, was not fooled but plainly he enjoyed himself, following the text, making points to his wife, and applauding enthusiastically when it was over.

A few minutes later the Rolls Royce carrying him back to the Palace swept past 30 or so protesters. "Shame on you," they chanted. This time, unmistakably Mr Jiang looked their way. And was it an illusion, or did he actually smile?

The tour of London

8.00am Breakfast at Buckingham Palace. 8.55am Sailed to Greenwich down the Thames alighting at Greenwich pier, avoiding the Tibetan-flag-waving protesters. 10.10am Toured the Royal Observatory with the Lord Chancellor, adjusting his watch to Greenwich Mean Time and straddling the meridian line where the Earthÿs two halves meet. Mr Jiang stood on the eastern side of the globe and shook hands with his wife, Wang Yeping, by his side on the western half. 11.00am Continued to the Millennium Dome to view work on the exhibition. 11.40am Travelled by limousine to the Savoy for a reception to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the London branch of the Bank of China. Journey marred only by protest banner unfurled from Blackfriars Bridge as the motorcade passed underneath. 12.15pm Two-hour lunch at the Whitehall Banqueting House hosted by the China-Britain Business Council. President had to be ushered in the back to avoid protesters. 4.40pm On to Shakespeareÿs Globe Theatre for rehearsal of Julius Caesar and a short performance by the Tallis Scholars choir, squeezing in a quick meeting with BP/Amoco chiefs. 7.30pm Guildhall for banquet hosted by the Lord Mayor of London.

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