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Xi Jinping's UK state visit

Stronger ties between China and Britain will foster growth

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 25 October, 2015, 1:06am
UPDATED : Sunday, 25 October, 2015, 1:06am

The new "golden era' of relations between China and Britain has arrived. President Xi Jinping ended his four-day visit on Friday with more than 100 agreements and billions of dollars in business deals having been signed, proving the strength of ties. But it is the wider implications, beyond the pomp and circumstance, reddest of red carpet treatment and smiles and handshakes that is significant. New respect and understanding have been gained and with sustained effort, that can only lead to a relationship that is ever-more beneficial.

Britain went out of its way to fête its illustrious guests. Xi and first lady Peng Liyuan stayed at Buckingham Palace, rode with Queen Elizabeth in a royal carriage, were hosted by her at a banquet, were accompanied to Manchester by Prime Minister David Cameron and the president gave a rare speech to both houses of parliament. Flattering words were expressed to the point that some Britons worry self-respect was sacrificed.

Echoing chancellor George Osborne's earlier sentiment that the nations have a "relationship that is second to none", Xi told parliament he hoped his visit could take ties to "new heights". The deals struck aim to do that, among them Chinese investment for a much-delayed nuclear power plant, support for developing London as Europe's centre for renminbi trading, clearing and settling, and exploration of linking the stock markets of the British capital and Shanghai. Britain also backed China's efforts to forge a free-trade pact with the European Union, a move that would help solidify its position as the gateway to the continent. The nations' economies are already complimentary, with Britain offering expertise and China increasingly providing a market for almost all Britain produce.

Britain's special relationship with the US will be strained by moving closer to China at a time when Washington is increasingly ambivalent about whether to embrace or contain Beijing. Britain's independence in decision-making was on show when it became the first Western country to sign up to the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank; it was similarly quick to recognise the People's Republic just three months after its founding, and last year became the first developed country to issue a sovereign bond in renminbi. But the nations also have obvious differences in political systems, attitudes to human rights and foreign policy that are bound to test ties.

Both sides can prosper from one another, but they can also learn. From deeper engagement will come growth and strength.