British Prime Minister David Cameron abandoned a trip to China planned for this month as Beijing punished him for meeting the Dalai Lama.
Cameron is understood to have cancelled the trip after Beijing indicated that he was unlikely to be granted meetings with senior figures. He is now expected to visit in the autumn, two years after his first and only visit as prime minister.
In a blow to Cameron, who had hoped to hold an annual summit with the Chinese leadership, French President Francois Hollande was on a full state visit a few weeks after the British prime minister was due to visit China.
Cameron met the Dalai Lama in London last May.
British government sources said tentative plans for Cameron to visit this month were put on hold for the simple reason that the new Chinese leadership only took over in March.
But The Guardian understands from diplomatic sources that a visit was firmly placed in the prime minister's diary for this month. This was abandoned when it became clear that the prime minister would be denied the access usually granted to a leader of a member of the Group of Eight.
Douglas Alexander, the shadow foreign secretary who has just returned from China, told The Guardian: "David Cameron came to office claiming he would prioritise the UK's diplomatic and trade relationship with China, and yet the real difficulties in relations have now been laid bare. I was in China … and it is clear that the new Chinese leadership is focused on the French president's visit, along with a large number of French companies looking for business."
Zhang Xiaojing, the director of Renmin University's Centre for European Studies, said: "I think The Guardian's report quite makes sense, although Cameron's meeting with the Dalai Lama is not the key reason for Beijing's new leadership choosing French President Francois Hollande as their first guest from the EU."
The tight schedules of President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang in the two months since the leadership reshuffle were the key reason for putting off the British prime minister's trip, he said.
Shi Yinhong, a foreign-relations professor at Renmin University, said: "China looks at Britain, France and Germany as the three most important key UN friends."
However, he said, the central government was disappointed that Cameron had met the Dalai Lama "in disregard of Beijing's core interests".
Additional reporting by Minnie Chan