London, AFP – China’s President Xi Jinping rode in a gilded carriage to Buckingham Palace with Queen Elizabeth II past protesters at the start of a visit to Britain expected to focus on massive business deals.
Thousands of supporters cheered and waved Chinese flags on Tuesday as the elaborate procession rode past, while around 200 campaigners booed and waved placards attacking China’s human rights record.
Xi also addressed parliament in a rare honour for visiting dignitaries, promising to lift relations between Britain and China to ‘a new height’.
Prime minister David Cameron’s office said the visit will secure trade and investment deals worth more than STG30 billion ($A64 billion) and lead to the creation of more than 3900 jobs.
The most keenly awaited deal is an agreement for a new nuclear power plant in Britain in which French business daily Les Echos said China could take a one-third stake together with energy giant EDF.
The Chinese leader also took tea with Prince Charles, a friend of the Dalai Lama and who will not be attending a state banquet for Xi later on Tuesday in what has been widely interpreted as a diplomatic snub.
Cameron has been accused by some observers of kowtowing to China in a bid for investment and the visit comes at a particularly sensitive time as thousands of jobs are being cut in Britain’s steel sector, partly due to low Chinese steel prices.
Leading Hong Kong pro-democracy activist Joshua Wong, 19, who attended a protest against Xi near Buckingham Palace, told AFP that the prospect of Chinese cash ‘has blinded the eyes of David Cameron’.
‘I just hope the British government and the British people can stand up for democracy because so many people in China are silenced and cannot stand up.’
At the protest, campaigners waved the Tibetan flag and held placards reading: ‘End the Crackdown’ and ‘Cameron: Don’t Trade Away Human Rights’.
But they were outnumbered by thousands of pro-Chinese demonstrators sporting hats, T-shirts and flags.
The four-day state visit includes a trip to Downing Street, Cameron’s country residence Chequers, and even Manchester City football club on Friday, in a city that is keen to attract more Chinese investments.
In a sign of increasingly close business ties, the People’s Bank of China on Tuesday launched a yuan-denominated bond in London for the first time as it seeks to internationalise its currency.
Cameron heralded the visit as ‘a very important moment for British-Chinese relations,’ but promised to address the protesters’ concerns.
His spokeswoman told reporters on Monday that he would raise human rights with Xi.
The Chinese-British relationship has been rehabilitated since Cameron met the Dalai Lama in 2012, sparking an angry response from Beijing.