Chinese President Xi begins 4-day visit to UK amid human rights concerns

Story highlights

Xi calls the British Parliament "the mother of all parliaments"

Visit designed to strengthen economic ties between China and UK

Prime Minister David Cameron has said it marks a "golden era" in the bilateral relationship

CNN  — 

Chinese President Xi Jinping addressed both houses of the British Parliament on Tuesday afternoon as he and his wife began a four-day visit that has aroused concern among human rights activists.

Xi called the British Parliament “the mother of all parliaments.”

The visit is designed to strengthen economic ties between Britain and China – including Chinese investment in the UK and commercial ties between the two countries. The rhetoric in advance of the meeting has been warm.

Xi was met with a royal gun salute. He will stay in Buckingham Palace and he was greeted by members of the royal family.

Supporters of Xi turned out early Tuesday to welcome him on his way to the palace.

“He’s our President. We are very proud of him,” said Lin ze Qing, 31, who carried a huge portrait of Xi.

Activists fear human rights left off agenda

British Prime Minister David Cameron, speaking on CCTV, China’s state broadcaster, said the visit would mark a “golden era” in UK-China relations.

But some human rights activists have raised concerns about the increasing coziness.

“We’re not against trade,” said David Mepham, the UK director for Human Rights Watch. “We’re not against investment.

“But I think it is deeply disturbing that the British government appears to be saying this week that it just wants to talk about trade, and it just wants to talk about investment,” Mepham said. “And moral issues and human rights concerns and people suffering at the hands of the Chinese state should be shunted to one side.”

Among the concerns is the level of executions in China – a number that is not officially announced but is believed to be greater than the number of executions in the rest of the world put together, according to rights group Amnesty International.

Discordant notes

The British government has said it will raise human rights issues with Xi, although the topic will not be on the official agenda.

At the same time, there concerns about some publicly discordant notes. Prince Charles, who greeted Xi on Tuesday, is a personal friend of the Dalai Lama, whom the Chinese government considers an opponent. The longtime heir to the British throne will skip the state dinner being held for Xi and meet him instead for tea.

And there are concerns in government circles as well that the new Labour Party leader, Jeremy Corbyn, will raise the issue of human rights in public.

CNN’s Michael Martinez in Los Angeles, Katie Hunt in Hong Kong, and Don Melvin in London contributed to this report.