A New Special Relationship

China and the United Kingdom Rekindle Their Ties

Chinese and British flags fly in London's Chinatown, Britain, October 2015. Suzanne Plunkett / Reuters

From a Chinese perspective, Chinese President Xi Jinping’s first state visit to the United States was a disappointment. Despite long planning by both countries’ officials, the trip was overshadowed by Pope Francis’s visit, Russia’s unexpected military intervention in the Syrian crisis, and the surprise resignation of U.S. House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner. In the end, American media overlooked many of the positive results of the visit, including the U.S.-Chinese renewed dialogue on climate change, an agreement on cybersecurity, and Xi’s reassuring speech to the U.S. business community on China’s economic reforms.

Despite the disappointment, all eyes are now focused on China’s next state visit: on October 20, Xi will arrive in London at the invitation of Queen Elizabeth. His visit will include the usual symbolic perks—a stay at Buckingham Palace, a ride in a royal carriage, and an address to the British Parliament—but his stay will also feature important trade and economic announcements, and perhaps emphasize a new and unexpected honeymoon between two former enemies.

For the past two years, the United Kingdom has been cozying up to China in a way that has surprised even the Chinese. After all, it has been only 18 years since the British colony of Hong Kong was returned to China, following a century and half of Chinese humiliation. The long list of humiliations include the two opium wars, the ransacking of the old Summer Palace in Beijing in 1860, and the United Kingdom’s “borrowing” of Chinese territories (which became foreign concessions), not to mention the cession and colonization of Hong Kong—a territory where certain public places were once forbidden to ethnic Chinese residents.

The relationship began to change in December 2013, when British Prime Minister David Cameron, accompanied by six of his ministers, led an impressive 120-member-strong British business delegation to China, which included the CEOs of Rolls-Royce, BP, Royal Dutch Shell, Barclays, HSBC, GlaxoSmithKline, and Virgin, among other heavyweights. Calling for more

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