Five days on the road with George Osborne in China

George Osborne goes on a five-day tour to Beijing, the Chinese capital, as the leader of a delegation that looks rather like a magisterial envoy. The convoy waits as Business magnates and leaders of councils of the north leave their chartered plane and make their way to the convoy.

George Osborne in China
George Osborne in China

“I’m here as the prime minister’s envoy,” reiterated Mr. Osborne. His duties, as he describes them, include laying down the ground for the state visit of President Xi Jinping to Britain. But the hosts at Beijing are treating him like a Prime Minister.

The chairman of Standard Life is also part of the travelling party and he said the following about The President: “They see him as very powerful. They know he’s committed to China. They trust him.”

Mr. Osborne watched the Chinese perform their own versions of “Richard III” and “War Horse” at the National Theater of old. He then Mr. Osborne proclaims that the British and the Chinese have given a lot more to global culture than any other country.

For Mr. Osborne this trip turns out to be rather personal. His Mother learned Chinese at her university and even lived in Chine during the 70s. While his daughter now learns Mandarin at school. He himself travelled across China some 20 years ago.

He describes how he has always been fascinated by China and its people and describes how his travels through China helped him understand the country and its culture. He underlines the fact that his journey with a backpack on his back rather than on a high speed train in a convoy has allowed him to have a more personal connection.

Monday — Beijing

Mr. Osborne articulates the British policy towards China like a pop song medley much like Bryan Adams and his songs. He underlines the importance of these relations by saying “we should run towards China”. By which he means we should not neglect China and the advances they are destined to make.

Mr. Osborne seems to have taken a page out of Bryan Ferry’s book, when he proposed to stick together with China. While back in England, his supplications are intensely being scrutinized.

The main agenda item is the seventh Economic and Financial Dialogue, the occasion for a series of mind-numbing speeches, and for another small step to be taken in expanding the role of the City of London in Chinese finance.

Tuesday — Shanghai

Mr. Osborne visits the Shanghai Stock exchange which was the center of the much maligned Chinese market crash. Mr. Osborne delivers the main speech of his tour on this occasion, with the topic being the tactical and strategic arts of politics, which could be considered his forte


In being at Zhongnanhai Leadership Compound, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang (R) meets Mr. Osborne, the British Chancellor of the Exchequer on 21st of September 2015. Mr. Osborne is in China for a five-day tour on this occasion (Photo by Lintao Zhang/Pool/Getty Images)©Getty

George Osborne and Chinese Premier Li Keqiang

The location Mr. Osborne’s speech makes the headlines but Mr. Osborne’s affirmation that the crash in Chinese economy was merely a glitch is a tactically astute move as this signals to the Chinese government that this Britain-China relationship is not merely a short-term investment but a long term goal.

Mr. Osborne showed the same astuteness earlier this March when he declared his support for China’s Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank knowing that most other European would do the same. Mr. Osborne however outplayed them by being the first nation to join the venture and get the credit.

This tactical move had another significant affect. One that Mr. Osborne had intelligently predicted. The United States of America was furious with Me. Osborne’s move. But this too was part of his plan as this highlighted the importance of China to Britain, because this showed them that, for China, Britain was even ready to infuriate Washington, Britain’s closest ally.

Wednesday — Urumqi

The capital of the remote Xinjiang region awaited Mr. Osborne as he visited the area in an envoy of 17 cars. The highways are sealed and there are security personnel all over the place. While All the British journalists were ordered to avoid covering the visit in Beijing as a precautionary measure.

News breaks about allegedly violence over ethnicity some 400 miles away involving Muslims extremists. This ensues a security breakdown which pressurizes Mr. Osborne to question Beijing’s aggressive approach,

But Mr. Osborne seems more concerned with a local company’s trade dealings. The trade dealing in question are about the company’s plan to invest £60m in England’s real estate.

The fact that he did not raise or condemn Beijing’s stance on the Uighurs raises some questions about his role, with The Guardian suggesting he could be a tool for propaganda. He maintains that he raised the human rights issue in private. But his refusal to discuss it openly bides well with his hosts.

Mr. Osborne visits an industrial area in Urumqi

Watching Mr. Osborne’s work in Urumqi is rather educational. Mr. Osborne does not shy away from risk. He is bold in his decisions and those characteristics merit his post. But when it comes to the little things, he makes sure his media team maintains his outlook as a serious statesman.

Mr. Osborne refused to participate in some of the local activities, like wearing the traditional Uighur cap, because a hard hat is the only headwear allowed to the chancellor. He even declines other activities like the traditional Uighur dance and football.

Mr. Osborne brings the day to a close with a visit to Yar, a desolated city on the Silk Road. The city lies in the middle of Beijing and Europe. Mr. Osborne previously missed a chance to visit the area 20 years ago due to a shortage of flights. But is delighted to make the trip this time around.

Thursday — Chengdu

Mr. Osborne and his party then make their way to Chengdu, China’s northern powerhouse, after they fly out of Urumqi and over the Tibetan plateau. Even though the Sichuan province is towards the southwest.

Mr. Osborne is taken aback by the evolution of the city since his last visit two decades ago. The aerial view shows the battle against pollution with the industrial waste layers in the sky resisting the incoming sunlight.

George Osborne makes his way into the city to meet the people and the traders. The city has several traditional Hu tongs, which are Chinese alleyways in Beijing. This visit highlights the bond between the two countries as Britain markets itself as China’s biggest ally on the other side of the world. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Sunday September 20, 2015. See PA story POLITICS Osborne. Photo credit should read: Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire©PA

The ballroom at the Niccolo paints a stark and contrasting picture to the scene outside. Inside the hotel, George Osborne relives the tales from his previous visit to China, in a bid to win over the large number of potential investors inside the ballroom. He recalls several humorous stories and paints his dream picture of his northern powerhouse Sichuan.

Mr. Osborne’s Sichuan minister, Jim O’Neill, inventor of the BRICS concept socializes with the leader of Manchester, Liverpool, Leeds and Sheffield and engages them. He jokes: “They love each other so much now they want to merge their cities.”

Midnight: Mr. Osborne’s flights takes him back to London with the visit termed a success on a diplomatic level.

China’s English language media company praises Mr. Osborne’s pragmatic approach to diplomacy.

“That’s 1.3bn votes,” Mr. Osborne jokes. “Maybe we could get them all signed up as affiliated supporters of the Conservative party.”

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