Fish and Chips Elevated to `Delicacy Diplomacy' for Xi in U.K.

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The humble takeaway combo of fish and chips that’s a staple of all things British could become a strategic focus of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s four-day visit to the U.K.

Xi hopes to enjoy the calorie-rich meal during a trip that’s set to bring billions in deals and investment for both countries, alongside a drink at a pub with Prime Minister David Cameron, according to an editorial on official broadcaster China Central Television’s website. The meal, it said, would amount to “delicacy diplomacy.” CCTV didn’t say when the meal would occur.

“President Xi Jinping took the initiative to try some local delicacies to show the solid relations between a Chinese leader and the people in the U.K., and to bring them closer,” CCTV said. “The delicacy could serve as a bridge to bring the two peoples together and contribute more to China-U.K. relations.”

The Chinese leader has already enjoyed a state dinner hosted by Queen Elizabeth II at Buckingham Palace -- where he has been staying. The warmth of the visit, with Xi’s more relaxed demeanor and the two countries touting their financial ties, contrasts with his awkward appearance during a state visit last month to the U.S., including his summit with President Barack Obama.

The relationship with the U.S. is more fraught, overshadowed by disputes over China’s actions in the contested South China Sea, accusations of cyber espionage and its human rights record. The U.K. has seen a gradual thaw in relations with China -- which Xi said have the potential to reach a “new height” -- after a near two-year diplomatic freeze caused by Cameron’s 2012 meeting with the Dalai Lama.

‘Brighter Future’

“As the China-U.K. comprehensive strategic partnership enters the second decade this year, let us seize the opportunity and work together to usher in an even brighter future,” Xi said in prepared remarks at Tuesday’s state banquet. He dined on fillet of West Coast turbot with lobster mousse and ended the meal with Warre’s vintage port, according to a menu posted by the state-run China Daily.

Chinese leaders are known for their restraint in public and a lack of showmanship, favoring a collective style of leadership after the death of Mao Zedong. Xi has sought in several ways to display a more common touch than some of his predecessors.

A year after taking power in 2013, he visited a steamed bun restaurant in Beijing with an entourage of just two men. He spent 21 yuan and ordered pork buns, a plate of mustard leaf and a serving of pig liver stew. State media reported he paid the bill himself.

“Xi wants to show he’s man-of-the-people style and likes to be with common people,” said Qiao Mu, a communication professor at Beijing Foreign Studies University. “It shows to the domestic audience that not only that western politicians can dine with the people, but Chinese officials can too.”

‘Cultural Exchanges’

“Chinese politicians don’t have to act to win public support because they don’t need the votes, but Xi wants to use cultural exchanges as a tool to ease political and human rights tensions” with other countries, said Qiao.

Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne said in a September trip to China that the U.K. would refrain from criticism of China’s human rights record and not engage in “megaphone diplomacy.” China’s Ambassador to the U.K. Liu Xiaoming told the BBC ahead of Xi’s trip the leader was “not here for debate” on human rights.

Cameron said Monday that Xi would bring more than 30 billion pounds ($46 billion) in deals and investment on his visit, creating 3,900 jobs in the U.K. in sectors including the creative industries, retail, energy, health and technology, financial services, aerospace and education.

— With assistance by Keith Zhai

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