François Hollande will meet newly installed Chinese President Xi Jinping and Li Keqiang, premier, along with other top Communist Party officials during a two-day visit that analysts and diplomats say is partly aimed at applying pressure on London.
The UK government has been in China’s diplomatic deep-freeze since May last year when David Cameron, UK prime minister, met the Dalai Lama, the spiritual leader of Tibet, who is reviled by the Chinese government.
Since that meeting, top Chinese officials have cancelled planned visits to the UK and the only formal ministerial contact was between Simon Burns, former health minister, and one of China’s six vice-ministers of health last August.
The only other high-level contact came when a British minister informally met another Chinese vice-minister.
Officials say the British government would like to have annual reciprocal prime ministerial visits between the two countries but after Wen Jiabao, the then-premier, visited the UK in 2011, Mr Cameron did not go to China last year and is not expected to receive an invitation any time soon.
Mr Cameron has not officially sought a meeting with the new Chinese administration and British officials deny there has been a “snub”.
But Downing Street is fully aware that he is not top of Beijing’s list of welcome guests, even though he would like to visit China this year as part of his “commercial” foreign policy and to drum up business for Britain’s struggling economy.
Last May, China’s foreign ministry angrily denounced Mr. Cameron’s decision to meet the Dalai Lama in London. It said the meeting “seriously interfered with China’s internal affairs” and “hurt Chinese feelings”.
Both Paris and Berlin have been subjected to Chinese fury during the last decade after their leaders met the Dalai Lama, but the anger towards the UK has lasted longer than in both those cases, analysts and diplomats say.
Although governmental ties have been virtually cut off, the political dispute appears to have had little impact on China’s appetite for British goods.
Last year Chinese imports from Britain increased 15.5 per cent, more than the 8.8 per cent increase in Chinese imports from the US or the 0.4 per cent increase in Chinese imports from the European Union as a whole.
A decade ago Britain was China’s fourth-largest trading partner and its economy was still bigger than China’s.
But China is now bigger than the UK by almost any measure and Beijing’s stance on issues it regards as core interests has hardened considerably.
President Hollande’s visit to China will be a welcome chance to show himself on the international stage after a torrid month at home where he has been beset by a damaging political scandal and mounting concern about the state of the underperforming French economy.
His approval ratings have dropped to as low as 26 per cent following the revelation that his former budget minister lied about holding a tax-dodging Swiss bank account.
With a big trade deficit bearing witness to France’s diminished international competitiveness, Mr Hollande will be looking to enhance opportunities in China for the country’s big companies, which range from luxury goods, through energy and infrastructure to cars.
Source : Financial Times