Xi Jinping engages Britain's royals

Topics include football, wildlife protection and climate change

China's President Xi Jinping (left) wears 3D glasses while viewing robotic equipment at the Hamlyn Centre for Medical Robotics, during a visit to Imperial College in London on Wednesday.
China's President Xi Jinping (left) wears 3D glasses while viewing robotic equipment at the Hamlyn Centre for Medical Robotics, during a visit to Imperial College in London on Wednesday.PHOTO: REUTERS

BEIJING • Chinese President Xi Jinping talked football, wildlife protection and climate change when he met senior members of Britain's royal family during a state visit to London, according to Chinese government accounts.

The British royal family has had a mixed relationship with China over the years. Prince Charles, heir to the throne, is close to the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, while Prince Charles and his son, Prince William, have expressed concern that Chinese demand for ivory is encouraging the poaching of elephants.

However, Prince William received a warm welcome when he visited China in March and met Mr Xi.

Mr Xi told Prince Charles when they met in London he appreciated the royal family's efforts to promote Sino-British relations and would welcome more visits by them to China, the Chinese foreign ministry said.

The two also discussed sustainable development - a subject close to Prince Charles' heart - climate change and clean energy, the ministry said in a short statement.

Mr Xi spoke to Prince William about wildlife protection, explaining the important achievements China had made, especially in tackling the illegal trade in wildlife, it said.

They also "exchanged views" on Britain-China football cooperation. Mr Xi is an avid football fan, even if the national team generally performs poorly in international competitions.

He will visit Manchester City football club, accompanied by British Prime Minister David Cameron, tomorrow.

Mr Xi is also expected to be present when Sun Jihai, the first Chinese player to score a goal in the English Premier League, is inducted into football's hall of fame at the National Football Museum in Manchester, a museum source told Xinhua.

Despite the public display of goodwill, some British commentators have suggested Prince Charles had deliberately skipped a state banquet at Buckingham Palace in Mr Xi's honour .

A royal source told Reuters it was not a snub, pointing out that Prince Charles would be spending more time with Mr Xi than any other royal during his four-day visit to Britain. Prince Charles and his wife, Camilla, officially kicked off the visit when they picked up the President at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel before taking tea.

Unlike in 2008 and 2012, Prince Charles did not meet the Dalai Lama, who has described the Prince as "very close... best of friends", when he visited Britain last month.

The Global Times, an influential Chinese tabloid, downplayed Prince Charles' absence at the banquet, saying he still had a "grand meeting with Xi". The paper has, in the past, said Britain was good for little these days but tourism and education.

"Most elites in the UK are aware that Xi's visit bears an unusual and historical significance and means more to Britain. We believe that Prince Charles is better aware of this and, therefore, declined to meet with the Dalai Lama," it said in an editorial.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 22, 2015, with the headline 'Xi Jinping engages Britain's royals'. Print Edition | Subscribe