Thousands of supporters lined the road to London's Buckingham Palace on Tuesday as Chinese President Xi Jinping arrived on his first state visit to the UK since taking over the Communist Party's leadership three years ago.
Also in attendance were dozens of protesters, including Falun Gong practitioners and Hong Kong pro-democracy activist Joshua Wong, who called on British Prime Minister David Cameron to raise China's poor human rights record with Xi.
"The Conservative party is really conservative to the issue of human rights," Wong, 19, told VICE News. "It is really unreasonable because the British always claim that they fought in World War Two because they fought for freedom and democracy, but how come after World War Two ended until now… they ignore requests and the importance of human rights."
Wong — who was a leader and spokesperson for Hong Kong's seismic pro-democracy "Umbrella Revolution" last year — is still facing a prison term of up to five years for his role in the protests. He said he experiences problems travelling to several countries, and is banned from mainland China, but came to the UK because Hong Kong citizens don't require a visa for travel to Britain. Many of those who participated in the protests have also had trouble getting a job, according to Wong, "because most of the corporations have a relationship with mainland companies."
He called on the UK to support Hong Kong, as a former colony governed by China under a "one country, two systems" policy. "Hong Kong is a well-developed global finance center, but judicial independence is continuously eroded by the control of the Communist Party… and also the silence of the British government," he said.
"I just hope that Britain can bear more responsibility of obligations in the future," Wong added.
Allan Hogarth, head of advocacy for Amnesty International, also called on Cameron to raise the issue of human rights with Xi.
"We can demonstrate here and be critical of the government without fear of arrest, detention, or harassment. That's not the case in China," he told VICE News.
"It's up to the government whatever trade deals and commercial interests it wants to pursue. However, that must not come at the cost of human rights. You can't trade away human rights. You can't ignore human rights because you just want to make more trade deals."
Protesters called for the release of lawyer Wang Yu, who was arrested along with more than a hundred other lawyers in July this year. In early October, her 16-year-old son Bao Zhuoxuan was detained in Myanmar, while trying to escape to the US. He has since been placed under house arrest in his grandparents' house in the Inner Mongolia region with journalists refused access to him.
Others were demonstrating in anger at the current situation in Tibet.
One of those protesting at the treatment of Chinese citizens who practice Falun Gong — a spiritual practice including meditation exercises — was 20-year-old Mia, who has lived in London for four years. She said she was in James' Park today to make people aware of the arrest, torture, and brainwashing that Falun Gong practitioners in China are subjected to. This includes allegations that Falun Gong practitioners have their organs harvested while they are still alive. These are then traded internationally by the Chinese government.
She said that China's population were generally unaware of this because of the internal "propaganda" in the country. "They don't know about the level of persecution," she said.
The dozens of protesters only made up a tiny minority of the total number of spectators in attendance at St James' Park. As the assembled critics chanted: "Shame on China," supporters shouted back: "I love China."
Wearing an "I heart China" t-shirt and waving a flag enthusiastically, 21-year-old Michael told VICE News that he had come out today to "see our chairman." He said he was very impressed at the event and the vast number of supporters.
"I'm very grateful the world cares about our country," said Michael, who asked his last name not be published. "Today I'm here for celebration, nothing else."
When asked about the protesters behind him, Michael replied: "I think everyone can have their point of view, I don't mind."
Xi eventually arrived with his wife, folk-singer Peng Liyuan. The two were welcomed by a 41-gun salute in Green Park, before meeting Queen Elizabeth, her husband Prince Philip, and British Prime Minister David Cameron. Tuesday night they will attend a state banquet.
Some 30 billion pounds ($46 billion) worth of trade and investment deals are expected to be signed during Xi's four-day visit, including an alliance between British Petroleum and the state-owned China National Petroleum Corporation, and an agreement to build a new nuclear power plant at Hinkley Point in Somerset, southwest England.
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