Newspaper article International New York Times

Fragile Egos Take Toll on China Visit

Newspaper article International New York Times

Fragile Egos Take Toll on China Visit

Article excerpt

The June meeting between David Cameron, the British prime minister, and the Chinese prime minister, Li Keqiang, revealed both nations' insecurities.

Before the Chinese prime minister came to Britain to sign billions of pounds' worth of business contracts last month, a brief diplomatic spat erupted. The planned length of the red carpet rolled out for Li Keqiang at Heathrow Airport fell short of the plane by about 10 feet, his aides complained. Could this be fixed?

Prime Minister David Cameron's office responded that it had more important things to worry about, according to several accounts in the press. But Mr. Cameron did give in to another Chinese demand: Mr. Li, who had reportedly threatened to cancel his trip if he did not get an audience with Queen Elizabeth II, was received for a hastily arranged cup of tea at Windsor Castle, an honor typically reserved for heads of state.

It was a meeting of an emerging great power with a former great power. But it was also a meeting of great insecurities.

China, which by some estimates will become the No. 1 economy in the world this year, still seeks validation in protocol, in this case from the onetime colonial power that humiliated it with opium wars and gunboat diplomacy. Britain, with an indebted state and an economy that has still not fully recovered, needs the investment.

"Welcome to the new world order," John Crace concluded in The Guardian.

Incensed at the leaks about China's requests in the British press ("China sees Red," was The Daily Mail's triple pun), a newspaper controlled by China's Communist Party, Global Times, swiftly hit back, calling Britain an "old, declining empire" that engaged in "eccentric acts" to hide its fading importance.

To be sure, Britain is in a bit of a funk. Its main parties are still reeling from their defeat by the anti-immigration U.K. Independence Party in the recent European elections. A referendum on Scottish independence in September could start a process that eventually reduces Great Britain to Little England. And another possible referendum on Britain's membership in the European Union in 2017 -- promised by Mr. Cameron if he wins re-election next year -- could all but wipe out the country's already limited clout on the Continent. …

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