So, did that visit leave Britain feeling proud?

Good riddance to China's President Jiang Zemin, write Rupert Cornwell and Sara Bonisteel. It was a mistake to invite him here
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The Independent Online

Was it worth it? Did the four-day state visit by President Jiang Zemin, clouded by controversy, dogged by demonstrators, and capped by an alleged snub from the heir to the throne, no less, really advance the cause of relations between Britain and China? Or has it only succeeded in making the worst of an already bad job?

Was it worth it? Did the four-day state visit by President Jiang Zemin, clouded by controversy, dogged by demonstrators, and capped by an alleged snub from the heir to the throne, no less, really advance the cause of relations between Britain and China? Or has it only succeeded in making the worst of an already bad job?

Today, Mr Jiang is in France, where, if the advance word is correct, he could be in for an even rougher ride than he has had here, as he moves in an official progress that will then take him to Portugal, and on to the presumably safer havens of Algeria, Morocco and Saudi Arabia. But the reverberations of his foray to our shores alone will be enough for a while.

From the official welcome on Horseguards Parade on Tuesday to his last engagement at Cambridge University, the protesters did not let go. Greenwich, the Globe Theatre, the Savoy Hotel, Downing Street, the Chinese Embassy in Portland Place, the British Museum: almost everywhere Mr Jiang went, they went, too.

True, there weren't that many of them - rarely more than a few dozen - and they represented different causes. Most visible were the Free Tibet campaigners with their blue, yellow and red Tibetan flags. But sprinkled among them were members of the Taiwanese Student Association, the Alliance for a Democratic China, the New Testament Church of the UK, and members of the outlawed Falun Gong sect.

But passion made up for lack of numbers. The Free Tibet protester, Yangchen Dolkar, was typical: "Jiang doesn't see us, but surely the other Chinese dignitaries do. Many times people have said, 'Your shout is just a cry in the wilderness.' But back in Tibet, things have improved because the Chinese know we are making a big noise around the world."

So big a noise, indeed, in London that their activities overshadowed the entire trip. And the official reactions to them from both summit participants has done the reputation of neither no good whatsoever.

True, there were no diplomatic scenes such as in Switzerland last March, when some particularly feisty demonstrators prompted an enraged Mr Jiang to warn his hosts that they had "lost a good friend". But the complaint of his spokesman that Britain had done too little to keep the "disruptive imperialists" in check is merely advertisement of how blinkered, thin-skinned authoritarianism still reigns in Peking.

Britain, if anything, comes out of last week even worse. The mother of democracies has (admittedly not for the first time) been revealed as a hypocrite, preaching liberty and human rights to all and sundry, but ready to invoke archaic by-laws about royal parks to silence those who sought to remind the honoured Chinese visitor of those same rights and liberty so often trampled upon in his own country.

"He's responsible for what's going on in Tibet, and we're treating him as some marvellous leader," the Free Tibet activist Anne Dew said. "And we've arrested Pinochet. I find the parallel bizarre." She might have added, the parallel with Pakistan, whose new military government was perfunctorily kicked out of the Commonwealth before it had time to infringe a single human right.

So why the state visit? Why ask a person you don't get on with very well to stay at your house even though you are well aware you may be liking each other even less by the time he leaves? Well, money could be one explanation. Except that last week, and despite every attempt by British officials to suggest otherwise, not a single major new deal was signed. Britain prides itself on investing money in China - but hard currency foreign investment is exactly what Peking craves. Meanwhile, China enjoys a surplus of £2bn a year in bilateral trade, a figure rising year by year.

So, why then all the aggravation, with such scant tangible reward? Well, as the press release noted when the new emperor of the East was treated to a spot of Shakespeare's Julius Caesar at the Globe Theatre on Wednesday, communication and exchange help the brotherhood of nations.

A true and worthy sentiment. But such communication can take place without stilted state banquets and 21-gun salutes in Hyde Park. Perhaps the demonstrations brought home to Mr Jiang that the world beyond the Middle Kingdom is less admiring than he imagined. But, almost certainly, he learnt little about Britain he did not know already.

High level contacts can happen without causing a fuss. Eighteen months ago, Zhu Rongji, China's reform-minded prime minister, visited Britain. He did more business and spent more time with Tony Blair, yet not a demonstrator was in sight, hardly a headline was made.

At a lower level, officials of the two countries meet frequently. There is no shortage of contacts. The true lesson of the past few turbulent days, perhaps, is that state visits (of which there are never more than two a year) should be kept for real friends.

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