Britain's Prince Harry May Visit China, But Unlikely To Mend Diplomatic Tensions

 @crvillarreal
on September 10 2012 12:39 PM

Britain's Prince Harry may soon pay his first visit to China at the request of the British Foreign Office as part of a diplomatic mission to improve relations between the two countries, which have recently experienced a number of setbacks.

Tensions between China and the UK have arisen over Prime Minister David Cameron's meeting in May with the Dalai Lama, whom China considers an an enemy of the state as Tibet's spiritual leader-in-exile, as well as over the murder of the British businessman Neil Heywood by Gu Kailai, wife of disgraced Chinese politician Bo Xilai.

Prince Harry, 27, who has just been deployed as a Second Lieutenant in the British Army Air Corps on a four-month tour to Afghanistan, would presumably make the royal visit upon his return from active service.

As a prominent member of the British Royal Family, Prince Harry is considered a potential "ambassador" of sorts for developing international relations and furthering the UK interests abroad.

The Prince, however, also caused some embarrassment for the Royal Family after nude pictures of him vacationing in Las Vegas were leaked onto the Internet. The China visit would likely be expected to rehabilitate his reputation, slightly tarnished by the perception of him as an entitled playboy.

At the same time, the Prince's youthful and less restrained personality has also put a personable face on the royal family, which proved beneficial during his first set of diplomatic visits to Brazil and the Caribbean earlier this year.

In Brazil, Britain's then-culture secretary Jeremy Hunt described the Prince's presence as "electrifying" and having "impact of 1,000 politicians," the Daily Telegraph reported.

During his visit, the Prince played a game of polo for charity, joined in a game of cricket with children in Rio de Janeiro and met with some Brazilian celebrities.

In Jamaica, the Prince raced against the world's fastest sprinter Usain Bolt and danced to Bob Marley in a pair of blue suede shoes.

In this first set of diplomatic visits, it is clear that it is the Prince's ability to engage in light-hearted activities that channel his youthful energy that make him an effective ambassador.

It is not clear what a visit to China would entail, though the Prince may find himself in a considerably tense environment given the recent diplomatic riffs.

China's foreign ministry said Cameron's meeting with the Dalai Lama had "harmed Chinese-British relations" and "seriously interfered with China's internal affairs," the UNHCR reported.

China has accused the Dalai Lama of stoking separatist sentiment in the Tibet Autonomous Region, though the Tibetan spiritual leader has said that he only believes in "true autonomy" for Tibet and not independence.

This was not the first time the UK has angered the Chinese over its relationship with the Dalai Lama. Prince Harry's father, Prince Charles, has received the Dalai Lama at his home in London on several occasions and considers him a personal friend.

Prince Charles, who has never visited China, also caused some controversy after private remarks he made in a diary were leaked in 2005. Writing about the UK's handover of Hong Kong to China in 1997 -- itself a symbol of deep-seated diplomatic tensions since the historic city had been a British colony for over a century and a half -- Prince Charles referred to China's leaders at the time as "appalling old waxworks."

Prince Harry is likely to set a different tone for the next generation of British royals, though it seems unlikely that he would be expected to play any significant role in mending fences with senior Chinese leaders, who are of an older generation. Indeed, it would be difficult to imagine the young prince rubbing elbows with them while drinking a domestic Chinese beer or engaging in a friendly match of ping pong.

If anything, his role in China would be to present a positive image of British culture for China's younger generations, which may yet prove useful for British-Chinese relations in the near future -- so long as he keeps his clothes on.

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