Monday, October 18, 1999 Published at 03:18 GMT 04:18 UK
UK prepares Chinese charm offensive
Britain wants to improve relations with President Jiang Zemin
By Diplomatic Correspondent Bridget Kendall
It is to be the first state visit to Britain by a Chinese president and the first time a Communist leader has ever stayed as a guest of the Queen at Buckingham Palace.
President Jiang Zemin's four-day stay in Britain, which begins on Tuesday, will be rich in pomp and ceremony, every moment choreographed and staged, the result of the meticulous planning that is usual for such a prestigious occasion.
The purpose of the visit is largely ceremonial, "not to reach an agreement on detailed issues" said the Chinese Foreign Ministry on Friday, referring to President Jiang's whole two-week sweep through Britain, France, Portugal and then Morocco, Algeria and Saudi Arabia. The UK Government would not disagree with that.
This is not the first chance President Jiang has had to display his ability at mounting a charm offensive.
Two years ago in the United States he disarmed his wary American hosts by donning a tri-cornered hat in the historical town of Williamsburg, and speaking out heatedly at Harvard University.
Watch out for him to display the same dexterity when confronted with media opportunities in Britain next week.
Ask British officials what the purpose of this visit is and there is unanimity.
China is a country of high importance for Britain and the UK Government wants better relations, both to draw China into international institutions like the World Trade Organisation, and to secure better trading opportunities.
Already Britain is the largest European investor in China, involved in more than 2,000 joint ventures.
But it would like to secure an even firmer foothold.
A new and warmer approach to China, as epitomised by this state visit, has now become possible because of the Hong Kong handover that restored the former British colony to Chinese sovereignty.
Relations have cooled
"We think the transition for Hong Kong has gone well and China has lived up to its commitment of one country, two systems," said one Foreign Office spokesman.
There is another, diplomatic, reason for wanting this visit to improve relations.
Since Nato's air strikes over Yugoslavia and in particular the unfortunate bombing of China's Belgrade embassy, Beijing's relations with Washington and its Nato allies have cooled significantly.
Like Russia, China disapproved of the Nato military action, and disapproved still more that it was taken without proper consultation and the express approval of the United Nations.
Like Washington, Britain is anxious to repair the damage. Without Chinese and Russian co-operation in the UN Security Council, difficult resolutions will be impossible to pass.
Human rights demonstrations
But here is the catch. The fallout from mistakenly bombing China's embassy in Belgrade may have made human rights abuses in China and worries about Hong Kong's democracy slip way down the agenda for the UK Government.
But that is by no means true for human rights groups. They, it appears, are planning a series of demonstrations to highlight what Amnesty International has called "a marked deterioration in civil and political rights in China".
Nothing could fill the British officials planning this state visit with more dread than the prospect of noisy protest rallies that might offend their Chinese visitor.
Last spring pro-Tibet demonstrators shouting outside the Swiss parliament in Bern prompted President Jiang to complain aloud that he had been insulted.
That is exactly the opposite of the sort of impression the UK Government hopes to make this coming week.
No doubt they will do everything possible, in discreet and suitable fashion, to keep protestors muted and a good distance from him.