When David Cameron and George Osborne were in government, the pair heralded a new ‘golden era’ where the UK would be China’s ‘best partner in the West’. However, since Theresa May moved into No 10, questions have been raised about the health of this partnership. Osborne ally Lord O’Neill has criticised May for a focus on New Zealand when the priority should be China. Meanwhile, just last week Osborne appeared underwhelmed by May’s trip to China – telling the Today programme that she needed ‘a plan to engage with the rest of the world like China’. Further still, the paper Osborne edits – the Evening Standard – claimed that May had held a chinese symbol for luck ‘upside down’.
But Mr S can’t help but wonder whether Osborne and his allies are being a tad harsh. Steerpike’s woman in Beijing reports that May’s trip to China – where the Prime Minister was nicknamed Auntie May – has been a hot topic for the Chinese. In fact, it has been receiving warmer coverage from Chinese media and people than she has met at home – where headlines included ‘Auntie May lost in China’.
Firstly, China Daily reports that May was actually holding the Chinese character correctly. It is custom to hang ‘Fu’ – which means luck or happiness – in reverse on doors or in windows, as it means good luck will arrive. The paper says it is the Standard that fails to understand Chinese culture.
In response to Mr and Mrs May’s visit to the Forbidden Palace, Chinese social media was concerned for her welfare:
Sophia-yiing: ‘It’s awfully cold in Beijing, you can wear leggings!’
Lining183: ‘Auntie May, please wear a pair of nude leggings’
Global Times, a leading tabloid paper subsidiary to the People’s Daily, has had enough of this sour western attitude. In an opinion piece entitled ‘Sino-British cooperation is unstoppable – tune out the background noise’, those British and Western media sources who continue to be disappointed in her performance – especially for failing to mention uncomfortable issues such as human rights and democracy – are given a right telling-off:
‘British Prime Minister Theresa May is current visiting China. Her head must be full of ideas on how to extend practical cooperation with China, so that she and her entourage, consisting of the international trade minister Fox and elders in British business, have not wasted their journey, and so as to aid the development of Sino-British trade and mutual investment for the near future.
But, some British and western media keep demanding something else from her. They hope she will say a few sentences that will make Chinese people uncomfortable, in order to display that Britain has ‘resisted China’s pressure’, consolidating the west’s attitude of educating China on politics.’
The piece concludes that just like the era of Cameron, the ‘era of Theresa May’ has ‘the potential and the conditions for strategic breakthroughs in bilateral relations’:
‘The support for Europe from a strong China is a powerful antidote to childish anti-Chinese behaviour. Cameron’s government won important strategic points by being the first western power to join the AIIB. In the era of Theresa May, the Chinese and British governments also have the potential and the conditions for strategic breakthroughs in bilateral relations. We hope that this visit to China by May will be the key to opening a new door of Sino-British cooperation.’
Time for Osborne to give her a break?