China's state media lauds ties with Britain, forgetting past acrimony

Britain's Prime Minister, David Cameron (right) shakes hand with Chinese President Xi Jinping during the UK-China Business Summit on Oct 21, 2015.
Britain's Prime Minister, David Cameron (right) shakes hand with Chinese President Xi Jinping during the UK-China Business Summit on Oct 21, 2015. PHOTO: EPA

BEIJING (Reuters) - From binge drinking and David Beckham to the Labour Party's role in recognising Communist China, Chinese state media has kicked into overdrive to praise Sino-British relations and point out shared interests as President Xi Jinping is feted in London.

Since the ruling Conservative Party decided it wanted Britain to be China's "best partner in the West", something championed by finance minister George Osborne, old arguments about human rights and the fate of formerly British-ruled Hong Kong have largely fallen by the wayside.

In China, formerly vitriolic blasts in the tightly controlled government press that Britain is good for little more than museums and education have been replaced by warm, if sometimes rather odd, compliments for Britain.

Images have been plastered across television and newspapers of the pomp and pageantry of Mr Xi's welcome, especially the involvement of Britain's royal family.

The official China Daily, used by the government as an English-language mouthpiece to the world, has put a video on its website listing 29 things the Chinese and the British share, including binge drinking, unhealthy food and "adorable creatures" like pandas and David Beckham.

"Now were are becoming close friends," it concludes.

The Global Times, a feisty and widely read tabloid that delights in upsetting foreigners with its nationalist editorials, has set aside the acrimony to cheer on Britain's new-found respect for China.

"When it comes to policy toward China, the UK bears no geopolitical burden. It is therefore more open-minded," it said in an editorial on Tuesday.

Even Mr Xi himself has gotten in on the love-in, quoting Shakespeare in a speech on Wednesday evening.

Mr Xi's meeting with Mr Jeremy Corbyn, who leads the main opposition Labour Party, proved a bit of a headscratcher for one Chinese newspaper, which decided to go beyond the brief Foreign Ministry statement of the event and explain the significance in a little more detail.

Under the headline "Why did Xi Jinping want to meet the leader of Britain's opposition party?", the Southern Metropolis Daily quoted a Chinese academic as explaining it was under the Labour Party in 1950 that Britain recognised China's new Communist government.

But in a country which has only had one ruling party since the 1949 revolution, the paper also had to explain what an opposition party was.

"The main obligation of an opposition party is to supervise the behaviour of the ruling party, and at the same time to accumulate political capital for becoming the ruling party upon winning a future election," it said.

The story was later removed from the paper's website.