Opinion: China state visit to UK - a lesson in bilateral PR diplomacy

XI Jinping's UK roadshow shows how both nations are on the same page PR-wise by understanding one another's objectives and respectfully approaching each other's differences, says Cindy Tian, regional vice chairman of Edelman Public Affairs in China

Cindy Tian
Cindy Tian

President Xi's visit to the UK shows diplomacy at its best on both sides.

It reflects the pragmatic approach of China-UK bilateral relations, with a focus on generating tangible results, economic cooperation and business development – including a large Chinese business delegation travelling with the president and a number of major business deals being expected to be signed.

Both sides have made deliberate efforts to understand each other's core pursuit and work hard to help realise it.

I think the UK has made extraordinary efforts in this regard – behind the highest level of reception by Her Majesty the Queen is an understanding by the current British government that China wants to be treated equal. It is particularly significant and symbolic considering Britain's historic role and status in its relationship with China.

China and the UK are doing a great job communicating the visit, which is being positioned by both sides as a milestone to usher in a "golden era" in bilateral relations. Reuters' interview with President Xi prior to the trip not only set a strong and positive tone, but also provided context on key issues and topics.

On the topic of human rights, both sides are handling it well so far: the UK government promised that nothing is off the table, while the Chinese side did not appear to make a fuss about the street demonstrations during official activities.

For the Chinese, sensitive issues and differences can be discussed as long as they are not publicly humiliating, done in the right context and set a constructive tone.

China-US relations and China-UK relations are at very different stages and have different priorities to deal with. Between the two, the China-UK relationship certainly represents a good relationship model between major countries from China’s perspective.

Just a few examples of the momentum: two-way investment between China and the UK has grown rapidly. China's investment in the UK has risen at an annual rate of 71.7 percent over the past three years. Last year, the UK investment in China increased by 87.6 percent year-on-year, the fastest among major EU countries.

The UK became the first country outside Asia to obtain the RQFII initial investment quota, the first Western country to issue RMB-denominated sovereign bonds and the first major developed country to include RMB into its foreign exchange reserves. President Xi described these as highlights of bilateral cooperation.

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