JLG catches London through-tram
From DAVID WALLEN, Europe Editor, in London
FOR those who dwell on nuances, metaphor and the diplomatic skills of saying very little with many words, the start of the 31st meeting of the Joint Liaison Group in London yesterday was a triumph.
As these events go, those who like to read between the lines could only have been impressed at the warmth of banter between the two sides.
It was enhanced by senior British representative Hugh Davies' own ink-sketched Christmas card to Ambassador Zhao Jihua featuring a picture of Father Christmas and a tram - no doubt a through-tram - rattling along in Central.
Ahead lie three days of talks centred around the Court of Final Appeal, China's concerns over the non-return of the Vietnamese and issues including the offshore sewage outfall.
They began by Mr Davies commenting on the sunny weather.
But then came the first faux pas. Mr Zhao, through a translator, said he had studied English language and literature at university. It was his first time in Shakespeare's home town, perhaps unaware that the bard came from Stratford, 140 kilometres away.
The tone changed: 'There is a lot of sunshine and it is quite clear today,' he said. 'But I think in London one can't expect sunny days for three days consecutively.' Mr Davies was not downcast. He hoped the Chinese ambassador would not be influenced by Charles Dickens, he said somewhat curiously, adding 'we have made some progress in clearing up our pollution'.
Was this a reference to the troubled sewage outfall, smoggy days in Shanghai, or clean skies over London? It was not clear.
Then he cited Dickens' A Christmas Carol. As he had told Mr Zhao's predecessor, ambassador Guo Fengmin, it was time to give Christmas presents to each other by making progress in the talks.
Ambassador Zhao warmed to the theme and wished everybody in London and the UK 'seasonal greetings'. He did not mention Hong Kong.
Ahead lie talks which the British side hope will be an improvement on the stalemate of late, helped by the more lively and independent character of Mr Zhao leading the Chinese side for his first JLG meeting.
Just in case he gets bored the British have lined up a trip to the Channel Tunnel on Saturday, where there are definitely through-trains - although it took a long time to make them work.