Having arrived in Tokyo on Thursday, Prince William is currently in Beijing as part of a week-long tour of the Far East. But while he may be in China with the purpose of promoting ‘brand Britain’, the visit will test the second-in-line to throne’s ability to carry out a diplomatic role with ease.
This visit holds great significance – the last time a senior member of the Royal family visited mainland China was in 1986, when The Queen and The Duke of Edinburgh paid an official state visit to the country. Unfortunately, during that particular visit, Prince Philip made the now infamous gaffe of telling a group of British students that they would all become “slitty-eyed” if they stayed in China much longer.
The situation did not improve when attending the Hong Kong handover ceremony, marking the transfer of sovereignty over Hong Kong from the United Kingdom to China in 1997. Prince Charles reportedly referred to the Chinese officials as “appalling old waxworks”.
But it seems that Prince William is hitting all the right notes. After being invited to the Great Hall of the People to meet with the Chinese President Xi Jinping, William presented him with an invitation from The Queen for him to visit Britain later this year.
President Xi thanked the Prince for the invitation, saying: “I look forward to meeting her majesty and other British leaders during the visit and to plan jointly out the future of Sino-British relations. The British royal family has great influence, not just in Britain but across the world.”
Prince William told the Chinese delegation that he was looking forward to strengthening the relations between the two countries. They turned a bit sour in 2012 after British Prime Minister David Cameron met with the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama. However, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang visited Britain just last year and announced £14 billion worth of business deals.
“I’m particularly interested in the young people and seeing how the next generation develops and is aware of the world as it is,” the Prince said.
On Monday, Prince William took a walk around a traditional Beijing courtyard residence from the late 19th century. The courtyard underwent restoration and turned into a museum thanks to his father’s charities, The Prince of Wales’s China Foundation and The Prince’s Foundation for Building Communities.
During the tour, he stopped to talk to young people with hearing and visual impairments, from disadvantaged backgrounds or whose parents are in prison. Among them was 14-year-old Zhao Chen, who dreams to sing at a Royal Palace. Prince William spoke to him and promised to do what he could to make it a reality. Chen is visually impaired and has undergone six operations to his eyes. He told Prince William that he wanted to be a tenor, saying: “My dream is to go to your palace to sing opera.”
“Well, you have met the right man,” the Prince replied. “We might be able to arrange something.”
William received a colourful drawing of crops and vegetation made by a 10-year-old child, which he stated would “look nice in [Prince] George’s bedroom.”