Prince's visit to China 'a major diplomatic breakthrough'

Tim Ewart

Former Royal Editor

The Duke of Cambridge painted the eye of a Shaun the Sheep sculpture at the British Ambassador's official residence in Beijing Credit: Reuters

The British royal family has not always endeared itself to the Chinese leadership.

Back in 1986, when he was here with the Queen, the Duke of Edinburgh made headlines after joking with British students about what he called "slitty eyes."

Fast forward to 1997, and the handover of Hong Kong to Beijing. It emerged that in a diary the Prince of Wales described Chinese leaders as "appalling old waxworks" and called Britain's loss of Hong Kong "the great Chinese takeaway."

And Beijing was not amused when Prince Charles gave a warm welcome to the Dalai Lama, seen by the Chinese authorities as a threat to their control of Tibet.

Enter the Duke of Cambridge. His stage, Beijing's Great Hall of the People; his host China's President Xi Jinping. Prince William's journey to China is not a state visit, but it certainly feels like the next best thing.

The Prince attended the opening of the Great Festival of Creativity, at the Long Museum in Shanghai, as part of his tour Credit: Reuters

The Prince came bearing an official invitation from the Queen, who has asked Mr Xi to visit Britain later in the year. William talked about "improving relations" between the two countries.

Mr Xi congratulated William on the imminent arrival of his second child and extended his own invitation - for all members of the royal family to come to China. That clearly included Prince Charles.

William wanted to come to China as part of the preparation for his eventual role as King.

Prince William's visit is already being seen as a significant diplomatic breakthrough Credit: Reuters

He has his own agenda, of course - most importantly, putting an end to the trade in ivory products. China has already decided to suspend that for a year, but he will want more.

He appears to have made considerable progress already, though. The first visit by a senior British royal for 29 years is already being seen as a significant diplomatic breakthrough.

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