Cameron arrived in China bearing gifts... but there will be a price to pay

David Cameron realises that this remains a tricky trip for him

Click to follow
Indy Politics

David Cameron came bearing gifts in a large aluminium case strapped across two seats of the Government's chartered Virgin 747 named 'Cosmic Girl'.

Among the goodies destined for the Communist leadership, were Charles Moore's biography of Thatcher, the first two volumes of Hilary Mantel's Booker winning novels about Thomas Cromwell and a framed black and white photograph of him and Samantha. You wonder what they'll make of them.

But beyond the pleasantries the gifts this has been a tricky trip so far for Mr Cameron.

On the one hand he is desperate to increase inward Chinese investment into the UK and clear the path for British firms to sell their products to the hugely expanding Chinese market. This he believes is key to securing and maintaining the economic recovery - as well as easing the pressure on stretched Government capital spending resources.

But on the other hand there is a price to pay for bringing the touchy and nationalist Communist leadership onboard.

While superficially the Chinese have rolled out the red carpet (and the Union Jacks flying from lamp posts in Tiananmen Square) there are still big underlying tensions.

Mr Cameron put Anglo-Chinese relations in the deep freeze for over a year after agreeing to meet the Dalai Lama in 2012 and this visit was postponed and postponed.

Mr Cameron knows his public utterings on human rights will be closely scrutinised by Beijing and he has been at pains not to cause offence.

But deference in China can be seen as subservience at home. And Mr Cameron's comments will equally be judged in the UK on very different terms.

So far Mr Cameron's carefully crafted language appears to be doing the trick.

Asked if he spoken to President Xi about Tibet or China's imprisoned Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo, Mr Cameron replied: "We spoke about all those issues as I always do."

But he certainly did not embarrass him with them publicly.

What worries some Chinese observers is that while the lure of investment from such a growing and dynamic economy may seem irresistible it may, in part, turn out to be a mirage.

They point to grand promises of a more open China in the past that have come to little. And they add that some of the firms lining up to invest in the UK may, when it comes to it, not actually have funds to put on the table.

The question Mr Cameron needs to ask is: What is the political price worth paying.