UK's Theresa May tries box-set diplomacy on China's Xi Jinping with 'Blue Planet II'

British Prime Minister Theresa May is signing trade agreements worth more than $12 billion (9 billion pounds) with Ch...

Posted: Feb 1, 2018 9:46 AM
Updated: Feb 1, 2018 9:46 AM

British Prime Minister Theresa May is signing trade agreements worth more than $12 billion (9 billion pounds) with China, but these massive deals could be overshadowed by a box set of DVDs -- on pre-sale in the US for about $30.

May is set to present Chinese President Xi Jinping with "Blue Planet II," a wildly popular documentary series on marine life produced by the British Broadcasting Corporation.

Her edition will include a special message from the documentary's host, famed British broadcaster David Attenborough, according to the prime minister's office, which revealed the gift ahead of the two leaders' meeting Thursday.

Millions of Chinese are said to have watched the BBC nature series, which received a score of 9.9 out 10 on the country's influential review site Douban.

May has tried to highlight shared concern and cooperation on environmental issues since she arrived in China for a three-day visit on Wednesday, visiting a plastic-cleaning project on the Yangtze River and announcing joint effort to tackle the ivory trade.

The gift is also seen by some as a reminder of China's growing importance in the global response to climate change, an issue over which US President Donald Trump has repeatedly voiced skepticism.

A Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman said Thursday that she didn't know if Xi had viewed the series but stressed China's positive role in global environmental protection.

"We're willing to keep working with the international community to deal with climate change and protect our planet," Hua Chunying said.

While Trump pulled the US out of the Paris Agreement aimed at cutting greenhouse gas emissions worldwide, Xi has publicly embraced it, and also increasingly treated solving environmental problems in China a top priority.

Upstaged by Macron?

While May's gift may have hit the right diplomatic note, it didn't quite have the same impact as the gift presented by another European leader who visited China last month.

French President Emmanuel Macron presented Xi with Vesuvius, an 8-year-old horse picked from France's presidential cavalry corps, in January.

"We really appreciate this friendly gesture," said Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang back then, echoing many Chinese internet users' praise of the "auspicious" and "thoughtful" gift from Macron whose name, when translated into Chinese, starts with the word "horse."

Vesuvius is expected to be released from a 30-day quarantine in less than two weeks.

Other notable gifts Xi has received from foreign dignitaries all have had a personal touch.

Former UK Prime Minister David Cameron in 2013 handed Xi, an avid football fan, a signed England team football shirt, while Queen Elizabeth II in 2015 gave him a book of Shakespeare's sonnets.

In 2016, Czech President Milos Zeman presented Xi with three pairs of Czech-made shoes, reminiscent of the style that a young Xi liked when his father gave him a pair as gift.

For his part, the Chinese leader usually gives foreign leaders gifts symbolizing traditional Chinese culture, including a calligraphy scroll to Trump when the two first met in Florida that reads: "A terrace nine stories high comes from baskets of piled soil; a journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step."

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