The recent state visit from the president of the People’s Republic of China made the headlines for more than one reason.
There were questions over China’s human rights record. Indeed, as well as protestors lining the mall during the ceremonial drive from Horse Guard’s Parade to Buckingham Palace I am aware that there were requests for the Tibetan flag to be flown from public buildings.
There was also the question of trade links.
It was especially unfortunate that the loss of 1,200 job losses at Tata Steel in Scunthorpe – largely blamed on imports of Chinese steel – took place in the same week as the state visit.
State visits are paid between countries for a number of reasons – largely to boost trade and diplomatic relations.
Although an invitation to a fellow head of state can only come from the Queen as our head of state – in this case, delivered by the Duke of Cambridge – the visitor will not be the Queen’s choice of houseguest but chosen by the Government.
In her time, the Queen has been forced to welcome some rather unsavoury characters to stay in her palaces and dine at her table, including Nicolae Ceausescu in 1978 and Robert Mugabe in 1994. At the time, both were leaders of nations with which the UK wanted to maintain good relations.
There were suggestions that the Prince of Wales kept away from the state banquet held at Buckingham Palace because of his concerns over human rights and his relationship with the Dalai Lama.
While I cannot confirm or deny this, it should be noted that the Prince did take part in the ceremonial drive and met the president for private talks, which is a usual part of such a visit.
Playing a prominent part in the visit were the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge.
At state banquets, the Queen is always seated on the left of the visiting head of state and, if the guest of honour is a man, the next most senior royal lady will sit on his right. In the absence of the Duchess of Cornwall, her daughter-in-law took her place.
It is the first banquet that the Cambridges have attended and is part of the training that the Queen has been giving to them by including them in her engagements for when they will be King and Queen Consort.