Chinese President Xi Jinping has addressed British politicians in London during a four-day visit in which more than $46b of trade and investment deals are expected to be signed.
The two countries are expected to cooperate on major infrastructure projects – ranging from building high speed rail links to developing nuclear power stations – which would create thousands of new jobs.
The expected flagship deal is a plan for two state-owned Chinese utilities to invest in a $25b nuclear power project being built by French utility EDF at Hinkley Point in southwest England.
Britain rolled out the red carpet for Xi, who was welcomed with a 41-gun salute and given a ride in a gilded carriage with Queen Elizabeth before given the rare honour of addressing politicians from both Houses of Parliament.
Hailed as the start of a “golden era” in Sino-British relations, the visit, which will seal $46.4b in deals, has been criticised by activists who accuse Cameron of turning a blind eye to Beijing’s rights abuses.
Police kept those protesting against China’s human rights record from the ceremonies marking Xi’s visit.
Shouting “Don’t trade away human rights” and “China: Buying UK’s silence on Tibet”, protesters expressed support for the Falun Gong, the spiritual sect banned as a cult in China, and called for independence for the people of Tibet.
Others took aim at what they called Xi’s crackdown on civil liberties since he took power in 2012. The visit “shows that England is not giving a damn about human rights”, said Aisha Nahmmacher, 24, from south London.
But their voices were drowned out by supporters who banged drums and held portraits of Xi as they took photographs outside Buckingham Palace, where Xi and his wife will stay as guests of the queen.
Britain eases China visa rules
During Xi’s visit on Wednesday, the British government also said it will try to encourage more high spending Chinese tourists to visit the country by introducing a two year multiple-entry visa.
“It’s focusing on one of the real attractions that we have. The Chinese population like coming here for our culture, our heritage, our retail,” said a spokeswoman for Prime Minister David Cameron.
Chinese visitors are normally issued with a six-month tourist visa at a cost of $130. The new scheme will, for the same price, issue a two-year tourist visa that allows the holder to leave and return without the need for fresh paperwork.
The scheme is due to be launched in January and could be extended to introduce a 10-year multiple entry visa.
The number of Chinese tourists visiting Britain has more than doubled over the last five years to 185,000 in 2014. The government estimates that whilst in Britain they contribute $770m annually to the economy.
“(Chinese tourists) contribute a huge amount to our economy… we want to make the most of that and look at how we can grow that in the coming years,” the spokeswoman said.