Hong Kong handover: Blair accepts invitation to visit China

Prime Minister tells Jiang that historic day marks new dawn in Sino-British relations

Tony Blair, the Prime Minister, last night accepted an invitation from President Jiang Zemin to visit China. During a 40-minute meeting, during which the Chinese president joked about Mr Blair's youth and how to overcome jetlag, the two leaders talked about "a new beginning" for a bilateral relationship which has spent the past five years on a roller-coaster of rows and recriminations.

About three hours before the British flag came down for the last time in Hong Kong, Mr Blair told the Chinese President: "I would very much like to see that as this chapter in our history ends, we open a new chapter for the future, one of partnership and prosperity for our countries." He said that Britain wanted a relationship "based on the 21st century, putting the battles and struggles of the past behind us because we want a new relationship for a new world". A red bound volume of Shakespeare's collected works was presented to Mr Jiang, who tends to be fond of quoting the bard when meeting foreigners.

Mr Jiang, remembering how, as mayor of Shanghai, he received the Queen in 1986, congratulated Mr Blair on his election victory and issued a formal invitation to Mr Blair to visit China. A couple of hours later, Mr Jiang was able to renew his contact with British royalty with a brief exchange with Prince Charles.

Coming from a country where top leaders tend to reach their position long after they are pensionable, the 70-year-old Chinese President was bedazzled by the 44-year-old Blair's youth. "If there is one thing I have to admire about you, you are a young man. And it is pointless to be jealous of that because it is an objective reality." His youth, it was suggested, might have helped him with the jet-lag.

No time scale was discussed for a Blair visit to China, which will be the first by a British prime minister since a disastrous trip in 1991 by John Major. Robin Cook, the Foreign Secretary, earlier told his counterpart, Qian Qichen, that he would like to visit before the end of this year. This autumn, Mr Jiang has both the Communist party congress and a state visit to the United States, so Mr Blair will probably have to wait until next year. He last visited China in 1988. "I was even younger then," quipped Mr Blair.

The good-natured exchanges of the meeting, however, will not be enough to ensure a smooth ride during the next phase of Sino-British relations. And Hong Kong is still going to be the sticking point. Mr Blair repeatedly emphasised that China's adherence to the Joint Declaration, including free and fair elections, was a prerequisite to a new era in bilateral ties. He also had talks with the Prime Minister, Li Peng.

Hong Kong's new leader, Tung Chee-hwa, promised elections by next May "at the latest", which would replace the China-appointed legislature sworn in last night. However, Mr Tung intends to change the voting system even for the minority of directly-elected seats, and the proposed new electoral systems would all result in a reduction in the number of seats likely to be won by the Democratic Party. It remains to be seen how tough the British government will be if it does not approve of the new system.

Mr Blair was also said to have stressed freedom of the press and human rights in Hong Kong during the meetings with Chinese leaders and Mr Tung. But Hong Kong's political activists will be waiting to see whether Britain starts soft-peddling in its avowed commitment to keep an eye on China's stewardship of the territory, preferring to put first the future potential trade and business links with the mainland.

Friendly overtures by China are likely to frost over if Peking decides London is trying to "meddle in China's internal affairs" - an accusation which tends to be defined broadly enough to cover anything. The British position is that as the Sino-British Joint Liaison Group continues its work until the turn of the century, this gives London the right to monitor developments in Hong Kong.

In the short term, with the vibes sounding much more buoyant than for a long time, the Government's biggest challenge will be trawl through London's bookshops. During last night's meeting, Mr Jiang said he was interested in a English novel called Waterloo Bridge, but neither Mr Blair nor his entourage had heard of it.

Life and Style
The new Windows 10 Start Menu
More than 90 years of car history are coming to an end with the abolition of the paper car-tax disc
newsThis and other facts you never knew about the paper circle - completely obsolete today
Arts and Entertainment
There has been a boom in ticket sales for female comics, according to an industry survey
comedyFirst national survey reveals Britain’s comedic tastes
Arts and Entertainment
Hilary North's 'How My Life Has Changed', 2001
books(and not a Buzzfeed article in sight)
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
Mystery man: Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike in '‘Gone Girl'
films... by the director David Fincher
Kim Jong Un gives field guidance during his inspection of the Korean People's Army (KPA) Naval Unit 167
newsSouth Korean reports suggest rumours of a coup were unfounded
people'I’d rather have Fred and Rose West quote my characters on childcare'
Life and Style
stoptober... when the patch, gum and cold turkey had all faied
Bruce Chatwin's novel 'On the Black Hill' was set at The Vision Farm
travelOne of the finest one-day walks you could hope for - in Britain
Arts and Entertainment
Gay and OK: a scene from 'Pride'
filmsUS film censors have ruled 'Pride' unfit for under-16s, though it contains no sex or violence
Life and Style
Magic roundabouts: the gyratory system that has excited enthusiasts in Swindon
motoringJust who are the Roundabout Appreciation Society?
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

Welsh Year 6 Teacher required in Barry

£100 - £110 per day + Plus travel scheme: Randstad Education Cardiff: The Job:...

Business Analyst - Surrey - Permanent - Up to £50k DOE

£40000 - £50000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

Welsh Teacher Year 2 required in Caerphilly

£100 - £105 per day + plus Travel Scheme: Randstad Education Cardiff: The Job:...

Year 4 Teacher

£100 - £125 per day: Randstad Education Chelmsford: Would you like to work in ...

Day In a Page

Ebola outbreak: The children orphaned by the virus – then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection

The children orphaned by Ebola...

... then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection
Pride: Are censors pandering to homophobia?

Are censors pandering to homophobia?

US film censors have ruled 'Pride' unfit for under-16s, though it contains no sex or violence
The magic of roundabouts

Lords of the rings

Just who are the Roundabout Appreciation Society?
Why do we like making lists?

Notes to self: Why do we like making lists?

Well it was good enough for Ancient Egyptians and Picasso...
Hong Kong protests: A good time to open a new restaurant?

A good time to open a new restaurant in Hong Kong?

As pro-democracy demonstrators hold firm, chef Rowley Leigh, who's in the city to open a new restaurant, says you couldn't hope to meet a nicer bunch
Paris Fashion Week: Karl Lagerfeld leads a feminist riot on 'Boulevard Chanel'

Paris Fashion Week

Lagerfeld leads a feminist riot on 'Boulevard Chanel'
Bruce Chatwin's Wales: One of the finest one-day walks in Britain

Simon Calder discovers Bruce Chatwin's Wales

One of the finest one-day walks you could hope for - in Britain
10 best children's nightwear

10 best children's nightwear

Make sure the kids stay cosy on cooler autumn nights in this selection of pjs, onesies and nighties
Manchester City vs Roma: Five things we learnt from City’s draw at the Etihad

Manchester City vs Roma

Five things we learnt from City’s Champions League draw at the Etihad
Martin Hardy: Mike Ashley must act now and end the Alan Pardew reign

Trouble on the Tyne

Ashley must act now and end Pardew's reign at Newcastle, says Martin Hardy
Isis is an hour from Baghdad, the Iraq army has little chance against it, and air strikes won't help

Isis an hour away from Baghdad -

and with no sign of Iraq army being able to make a successful counter-attack
Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

The exhibition nods to rich and potentially brilliant ideas, but steps back
Last chance to see: Half the world’s animals have disappeared over the last 40 years

Last chance to see...

The Earth’s animal wildlife population has halved in 40 years
So here's why teenagers are always grumpy - and it's not what you think

Truth behind teens' grumpiness

Early school hours mess with their biological clocks
Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?

Hacked photos: the third wave

Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?