The British ambassador to China has garnered a wave of criticism after she posted a photo of herself and her Chinese counterpart holding a book comprising speeches and writings of the Chinese leader Xi Jinping. The same book recently sparked controversy in Germany.
Caroline Wilson, the newly appointed British ambassador to China, met with the Chinese ambassador to Britain Liu Xiaoming before setting off to fill her new role in Beijing.
In a tweet on Sept. 16, the day of the meeting, Wilson posted a photo of herself holding the English translation of Xi Jinping’s book, “The Governance of China,” with Liu.
“Valuable meeting with @AmbLiuXiaoMing before heading to Beijing. We can and must work for ambitious UK-China collaboration, on climate, health, trade, engaging on trickier topics too. I look forward to supporting a mature, positive UK-China relationship, in line with UK values,” Wilson wrote.
Liu’s Twitter post of the same event came with a generic photo of the two standing together but social distancing.
Wilson’s choice of photo stunned Twitter users. Some, including many Hong Kong activists, called the photo “disturbing,” “shameless,” “humiliating,” and a “spineless and immature start” to her tenure.
“Seriously, how could you be so naive to do such a picture? But not only take the picture, but then be so naive as to share it to the world, putting your nativity [sic] on display. Unless of course you only have an audience of one. CCP already has you pegged as a naive pushover,” writer Richard Scotford wrote.
“Have you asked your boss @DominicRaab that waving a book of Xi Jinping Thoughts is acceptable for a diplomat representing HM Government, the British people and the British value?” Fight For Freedom. Stand With Hong Kong—a Hong Kong activists group, wrote on its Twitter account.
Some said the book was like the Chinese version of “Mein Kampf,” Hitler’s autobiographical manifesto, and compared Wilson with Neville Chamberlain, the former British prime minister who shook hands with Hitler.
Some compared the book with Mao’s “Little Red Book.”
“When John McDonnell waved Mao’s Little Red Book in his opening speech as Shadow Chancellor, he was slammed. I don’t see why the UK Ambassador to China posing with Xi Jinping thought is any different,” Johnny Patterson, director at Hong Kong Watch, wrote.
However, not everyone shared the same opinion regarding the diplomat.
Euripides L. Evriviades, the former Cypriot ambassador to the UK, praised Wilson’s professional record.
“Godspeed dear Caroline. Your diplomatic dexterity, accomplishments, outstanding professional skills & personal qualities will be a huge benefit in bridging the gap between theory & practice. Stay safe. Stay optimistic. Look over the horizon. @DominicRaab @PhilipRBarton @FCDOGovUK,” he wrote.
Chinese ambassador Liu Xiaoming said he hoped Wilson will “play an active and important role in promoting China-UK relations.”
“Glad to meet Caroline Wilson CMG @CWilsonFCO, the 13th British Ambassador to China and the 3rd I will be working with. I congratulated her on her appointment and hoped that she will play an active and important role in promoting China-UK relations,” Liu wrote on Twitter.
A spokesperson from the British Foreign Office defended Wilson’s tweet, telling the Voice of America that the UK has “a policy of engagement with China and our approach will remain consistent even if difficulties emerge.”
“We must have a calibrated approach and use engagement to raise matters on which the UK cannot agree or compromise with China, including on human rights and Hong Kong,” the spokesperson said.
Between 2012 and 2016, Wilson served as the consul general to Hong Kong and Macao. She told HKFP at the end of her tenure that the one country, two systems principle had been a “remarkable achievement” since there had only been one breach of it.
Flagrant Chinese Propaganda
Xi’s book was published in 2014 in nine languages, before being translated into more. The Chinese, English, Russian, Arabic, Spanish, Portuguese, German, and Japanese versions of the book were launched at The Frankfurt Book Fair in the same year.
In Germany, over 160 members of Parliament received the book from Chinese officials. Critics recently said that it’s a blatant propaganda campaign by the Chinese regime, DW reported on Saturday.
The book came under scrutiny after Monika Li, who describes herself as a Sino-expert and lover of Chinese culture, posted on Twitter her recent experience in a Berlin bookshop, DW said.
Li was overjoyed when she found a whole shelf of books about China on the third floor of the Thalia bookshop in Alexanderplatz, Berlin, before she saw “The Governance of China” among books about the Chinese new year and various novels.
After talking to staff, she found out the shelf was managed by an external merchandiser and does not hold books critical of the Chinese regime, which are in a different location in the shop. Li eventually found those books on an obscured shelf, but none of them had words related to “Xinjiang” or “Taiwan” in the title. Li thought that the unbalanced arrangement was de facto support for the Chinese regime’s propaganda.
Thalia told DW on Saturday that the merchandiser is China National Publications Import and Export (Group) Co. Ltd. (CNPIEC), a state-owned business with over 40 branches in China and abroad.
A statement Thalia sent to DW said the time-limited “experimental cooperation” in three of its branches is aimed at “serving the Chinese community and others interested in China.”
“The Chinese Partner would suggest the books, and Thalia’s management would then need to evaluate and approve the suggestions,” Claudia Bachhausen, a spokeswoman for Thalia, said in the statement. She said the shop would feature books critical of China, which would not be affected by the experiment.
German media RND quoted Karla Paul, a spokesperson for the online bookshop Mojoreads, saying that this kind of merchandising, where publishers pay bookshops to have their books displayed in a more prominent spot, is common practice.
Politician Dagmar Schmidt told RND that, in an open society, this kind of practice cannot be prevented, but that there should be greater transparency about the sponsor. She argued that rather than selling books, CNPIEC collaborated with Thalia to increase China’s visibility in Germany.
The Chinese regime won’t allow literature or institutions reflecting Germany’s values into the Chinese market, meanwhile, Beijing wants to push the boundaries in Germany, Schmidt said. “Thalia must consider if it wants to support this.”
The Chinese regime is “taking advantage of the open society that we are proud of in Germany,” Schmidt said, “but we are not allowed in China.”
According to DW, German politician Michael Brand said the Chinese regime posted Xi’s book to over 160 German members of Parliament in 2018, and requested they send back photos of the book in their offices. Brand, who was denied entry to China to visit Tibet, said the move was “shameless.”
Alexander Zhang contributed to this report