Chinese President Xi Jinping’s state visit to the UK is getting all the attention in Chinese media these days.
Calling Xi’s UK visit a “sign of strong Sino-UK ties”, a China Daily op-ed insists that the resulting bilateral relationship is what “both sides are calling a ‘golden age'”. And to a degree, this is correct.
UK Prime Minister David Cameron, who has rolled out the red carpet to welcome President Xi, has himself used this term. This past June in a meeting with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi at Downing Street, Cameron said this year will mark a “golden year” in the UK-China relations while also using it as early as February. Additionally, former Prime Minister Tony Blair increased the rhetoric by saying President Xi’s visit to the UK will usher in a “golden decade” of increased cooperation.
While leaders are using the term, the promise of “golden times” isn’t as apparent in the UK press while the Chinese media is using it constantly.
An op-ed by the People’s Daily Online doubled down, saying, “A new ‘golden era’ of Sino-UK relations and a new milestone in the Sino-EU friendship will be witnessed this golden autumn.” Meanwhile, an op-ed in the Global Times said the diplomatic ties will have glittery ramifications, writing: “Yet the ‘golden time’ will become an innovation in the field of international relations, and the high-level summit this week is bound to be a grand diplomatic feast.”
Another op-ed by the Global Times isn’t flattering to the UK, but is pragmatic about the strategic importance of having such an ally. “As an old empire, the UK has declined, but its foundation is solid. With a special relationship with the US, London knows how to communicate with Washington over China issues,” the Global Times wrote under the heading “Sino-UK ties herald golden time with West”.
The use of “golden” to describe UK-Sino ties has come up so much in the Chinese media that they’re reporting themselves as using it. Writing for CCTV, Shafei M. Hall writes, “The media is a buzz with anxiousness of TV anchors and columnists in expressing what new landmarks this ‘golden era of Sino-UK relations’ will yield.”
But as much as the Chinese press uses the term “golden” when describing UK-Sino relations, the term may have possibly originated from Chinese political circles.
In a speech made this past August, Chinese Ambassador to the UK Liu Xiaoming used the term “golden” 13 times in a 1,000 word speech about UK-China relations. Ambassador Liu explained in his speech that “golden time” is a “catch-phrase for this year”, concluding by saying, “Together, let’s embrace the ‘Golden Time’ of UK-China relations.”
Not to be outdone, in a speech given this past July, Counsellor of the Chinese Embassy Commercial Office Jin Xu said Sino-British economic and trade cooperation will soon enter “Golden Times” in the future. “The close and enhanced political mutual trust between China and the UK and the number of high-level exchanges will make 2015 an unusual year,” said Jin.
And in a written interview with Reuters this past Sunday, President Xi Jinping himself used the phrase “golden” when speaking of UK-Sino ties. Xi wrote that a better relationship between the two countries will “enable us to jointly usher in a ‘golden time’ for China-UK comprehensive strategic partnership.”
All told, that’s a lot of emphasis on the the term “golden”. And yet, even though the message appears to be coming through loud and clear, some people aren’t buying it. Despite the promise of “gold”, the Chinese public aren’t so enthused over the idea of China building closer relations with a country it once went to war with.
A poll conducted by the China Daily showed 51 percent of respondents answered “No” to the question, “Do you envision a ‘Golden Era’ for China-UK relations?” By contrast, 40 percent of respondents answered “Yes”.
Some Chinese netizens are likewise suspicious of President Xi’s state visit to the UK due to the shared history between the two countries that ultimately led to China’s “century of shame”. One person wrote, “This meeting is an insult to all Chinese simple, poor, or educated and affluent who lost their lives in the war against the invading enemy. It is an insult to all Chinese who fought for their country in the opium wars…”
Although not part of the “golden” rhetoric, the Chinese media have touched upon these suspicions in order to soothe the Chinese public.
In the China Daily Opinions section, writer Ted Mason hedged his bets on “sleeping with the enemy” by saying, “There are those who argue that a country should concentrate on its own problems rather than visiting the ‘enemy’. To them I say keep friends close and enemies closer.” Mason, who appears to be an ordinary China Daily reader with no official diplomatic capacity, consoled anxious readers by concluding, “I am certain that the UK will welcome President Xi with genuine enthusiasm.”
And in an article called “UK hailed for closer relations with China,” China Daily quoted director of the Dickson Poon China Centre at Oxford University and author Rana Mitter as saying any grievances between China and the UK are long gone. “Yes, of course, 150 years ago, the Opium Wars were a historical disgrace, but I think it is worth remembering that a century later the two sides were allies during World War II.”
We’ll just have to see if the Chinese public can overcome their suspicions of the UK and fully embrace the “golden times” that have been promised.