The Duchess of Cambridge’s fashion sense may have helped revive the British/Chinese relationship.
HONG KONG — When the Duchess of Cambridge wore a bright red dress to the state banquet honoring Chinese President Xi Jinping in London this week, China’s media went to town.
“Kate is wearing Chinese red to greet the President and his wife,” trumpeted a headline in the state-owned China Daily newspaper, a reference to the wife of Prince William, second in line to the throne of his grandmother Queen Elizabeth II, who hosted the dinner.
Attention to such details, the pomp that’s marked Xi’s visit to the U.K., and old-fashioned political pragmatism have helped revive a relationship in a way that seemed unlikely just seven months ago.
Since the U.K. in March became the first major western country to join the China-led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, London has been steadily campaigning to become what Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne calls “China’s best partner in the West.” In contrast to the aftermath of Prime Minister David Cameron’s meeting with the Dalai Lama in 2012, when China’s media portrayed Britain as a destination only good for tourism and education, it’s now touting a “golden era” of ties.
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And unlike U.S. President Obama, who raised the thorny issues of cyberespionage and territorial disputes with his Chinese counterpart during a state visit to the U.S. last month, Cameron hasn’t let political differences overshadow Xi’s time in the country.
“The more we trade together the more we have a stake in each other’s success and the more we understand each other and the more we can work together,” Cameron said this week.
The approach is paying off: Cameron said Xi’s trip will bring more than 30 billion pounds ($46 billion) to the U.K., including a Chinese company taking a stake in Hinkley Point, the world’s most expensive nuclear-power station.
“Britain really has moved out all the highest protocols, all the bells and whistles,” Victor Gao, a current-affairs commentator, said on official broadcaster China Central Television. “There is a lot of symbolism, but it also reflects well in substance. If both China and Britain can treat each other as equals with the full respect of the other side, the economic and financial side will benefit.”
It wasn’t just the red dress that wowed China. The media chronicled how three generations of royalty feted Xi, from the Queen’s tour of her personal collection of Chinese treasures to Prince William’s visit with him to see the car that special agent 007 drives in “Spectre,” the latest James Bond film.
Another no-detail-is-too-small example was the Scottish wool cape given to Xi’s wife, Peng Liyuan, by the Imperial College London.
Xi has come across as relaxed during the trip, more so than his time in the U.S. where he appeared stiff and over-rehearsed. The imperative for the U.K. to avoid tensions with China is potentially more acute, given it is a much smaller trading partner of China than the U.S.