BEIJING: British Prime Minister David Cameron faced demands for the return of priceless artefacts looted from Beijing in the 19th century on Wednesday, the last day of his visit to China.
Cameron travelled to the southwestern city of Chengdu on the third day of what embassy officials said was the largest ever British trade mission to the country.
British officials say £5.6 billion-worth of deals have been signed so far on the trip, but Cameron has been derided by both Chinese state-run media and the country’s sharp-tongued Internet users.
The prime minister last Friday set up his own microblogging page on Sina Weibo, China’s version of Twitter, attracting more than 230,000 followers by Wednesday. He invited netizens to ask questions, saying that he would aim to reply during the visit.
One of the most popular questions was posted by a prominent Chinese think-tank, the China Center for International Economic Exchanges, which is headed by former vice-premier Zeng Peiyan and includes as its members many top government officials and leading economists.
“When will Britain return the illegally plundered artefacts?” the organisation asked, referring to 23,000 items in the British Museum which it says were looted by the British Army, part of the Eight-Nation Alliance that put down the Boxer Rebellion at the end of the 19th century, a popular uprising against the incursion of European imperial powers in China.
To the Chinese, the ransacking of the Forbidden City, and the earlier destruction of the Old Summer Palace in Beijing in 1860 about which one British officer wrote: “You can scarcely imagine the beauty and magnificence of the places we burnt. It made one’s heart sore to burn them” – remain key symbols of how the country was once dominated by foreign powers.
Even now the ruling Communist party appeals to nationalism to bolster its popularity.
Beijing was outraged by Cameron’s meeting with the Dalai Lama – who it condemns as a dangerous separatist – last year, which led to a diplomatic deep-freeze between the two nations.
Despite the trip being billed as a trade mission, it has widely been seen as an attempt to repair some of the damage caused to China-British relations.
But a leading state newspaper launched an attack on Cameron Tuesday, saying Britain should recognise it is not a major power but “just an old European country apt for travel and study” in an editorial under the headline “China won’t fall for Cameron’s ‘sincerity’”.
The prime minister has taken more than 100 businesspeople with him to China, including the heads of Jaguar Land Rover, Rolls Royce and Royal Dutch Shell and the chief executive of the London Stock Exchange. – By AFP
China won’t fall for Cameron’s ‘sincerity
Some analysts say that the UK, France and Germany have reached an unwritten understanding on the issue of the Dalai Lama to provoke China. When the leadership of one country meets with the Dalai Lama, the other two countries develop ties with China.
Such an argument does echo the real situation of China’s relations with Europe, especially when yesterday, the British Royal Navy’s Chief of Staff, Admiral George Zambellas met with Japanese Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera and supported Japan’s stance toward China’s recently declared Air Defense Identification Zone in the East China Sea. This has added doubts over Cameron’s sincerity in improving ties with China.
Perhaps there is no need to talk about “sincerity” in terms of Sino-British relations. What Cameron does is out of his own political interest and the UK’s national interest. His visit this time can hardly be the end of the conflict between China and the UK.
Beijing needs to speed up the pace of turning its strength into diplomatic resources and make London pay the price for when it intrudes into the interests of China.
China has gained some achievement in countering European leaders’ moves of meeting with the Dalai Lama. China’s strategic initiatives in its relations with Europe have been increasing. The UK, France and Germany dare not make joint provocations toward China over the Dalai Lama issue.
The Chinese government will surely show courtesy to Cameron. But the public does not forget his stance on certain issues. We know that the British government has been making carping comments on Hong Kong implementing universal suffrage for the chief executive’s election in 2017. It also gives ulterior support for those who advocate opposition between Hong Kong and the central government. This has added to the negative impression the Chinese public holds toward the UK. Chinese people believe that if London interferes in Hong Kong’s transition process of implementing universal suffrage, Sino-British ties can be halted again.
The Cameron administration should acknowledge that the UK is not a big power in the eyes of the Chinese. It is just an old European country apt for travel and study. This has gradually become the habitual thought of the Chinese people.
China has believed in “diplomacy is no small matter,” while after years of ups and downs, we have acquired the strategic confidence that “diplomacy is no big matter.” China will act accordingly given how it is treated.
Finally, let us show courtesy to Cameron and wish him a pleasant trip. – By Global Time