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Asia

China's Xi to embark on 'visually impressive' UK trip

As Chinese President Xi Jinping makes his first state visit to Britain next week, Professor Steve Tsang tells DW the most important aspect about the trip is the visual impact it will make back in China.

DW: The UK will be the only destination of Chinese President Xi Jinping's upcoming trip to Europe from October 20 to 23. Why is this trip so important to China?

This upcoming state visit will be an occasion for the host nation to roll out the red carpet and make sure that everything goes right. For President Xi, the visit is about giving the impression back in China that he is achieving his objective of promoting the "China dream."

Prof. Steve Tsang

'The state visit will be an occasion for the host nation to roll out the red carpet,' says Professor Tsang

In your opinion, what topics will dominate the agenda?

For President Xi, the single most important thing is the visual impact the visit is likely to make back in China. And you cannot get a more visually impressive state visit than being received by the British Queen Elizabeth II.

Moreover, a state visit is not an occasion when you expect serious negotiations on any subject. That said, the UK government will be making joint announcements with China in terms of a few big projects that have already been agreed.

Xi's upcoming visit follows a trip to China by UK Chancellor George Osborne last month, during which he said Britain should be China's "best partner in the West." However, he was low-key in terms of adressing human rights issues. Is this a new way of dealing with China?

No, it is not. As finance minister, Osborne has an exceptionally strong influence over UK-China relations. When finance ministers deal with these issues, they do it in a very peculiar way that does not fall in line with normal foreign policies even in a country such as the UK.

The UK was among the first countries to join the China-led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), despite strong objection from Washington. Moreover, London's reactions to the South China Sea dispute and cyber-espionage claims have also been relatively weak. How different the UK's China policy from that of the US?

I don't think the UK's China policies are very different from those of the United States. President Barack Obama has gone out of his way to try to accommodate China. Over the past 20 years or so, you cannot find any US president who has been more accommodating to China than Obama.

You can say the same about British PM David Cameron. However, the UK has gone much further than the US for two reasons: The United States is an Asia-Pacific power whose strategic interests compete with those of China. But the United Kingdom has no regional conflicts of interest with China.

The second important factor is the way George Osborne is seeking to shape UK-China ties. He seems to think that by going out of his way to accommodate the Chinese authorities he will win the friendship of the Chinese government, which will then improve bilateral relations and put his country in a better position when dealing with China as compared to other western nations.

At the same time, there are growing concerns the UK government has thus far failed to properly address human rights abuses in China. During Chancellor Osborne's recent visit to China's restive region of Xinjiang, he was criticized for failing to raise such issues. What are the implications of this approach?

George Osborne China Besuch Urumqi Schule Schüler

'The Chinese know that London is willing to pay a higher price under the influence of Chancellor Osborne,' says Tsang

I don't think that what Osborne did necessarily received widespread support in the UK. While Xi's upcoming visit may be seen as a positive response to Osborne's China policy, in the long run, such an approach will not do the UK any good given that it will only encourage the Chinese leadership to demand a higher price for cooperation. The Chinese know that London is willing to pay a higher price under the influence of Chancellor Osborne.

This is not limited to, for instance, the UK getting more investments from China for the construction of nuclear power plants. It could also refer to things such as British ministers visiting places like Xinjiang, sending the wrong signals that their country does not care about human rights issues in China.

Steve Tsang is Professor of Contemporary Chinese Studies and a Senior Fellow of the China Policy Institute at the School of Contemporary Chinese Studies of the University of Nottingham.

The interview was conducted by Li Shitao.