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Chinese paper calls Britain a declining empire as premier visits

BEIJING (Reuters) - A Chinese state newspaper on Wednesday called Britain a “declining empire” with a people prejudiced against China and a media obsessed with its human rights situation, as Premier Li Keqiang wrapped up a visit to London.

China's Premier Li Keqiang listens to Britain's Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne addressing delegates of the UK-China Financial Forum at Lancaster House, in London June 18, 2014. REUTERS/Sang Tan/Pool

The Global Times, a racy tabloid with a strong nationalist bent published by the Communist Party’s official People’s Daily, slammed what it said was unfounded speculation in the British press that China had demanded Li meet Queen Elizabeth.

“Diplomats might break out into laughter at such rhetoric. This hype only serves to reflect the narrow-mindedness of the British media and even the whole of its society. The once-powerful British Empire must now resort to such trickery to manifest its pride,” the Global Times said in an editorial.

Li, who is not head of state, arrived in London on Monday for a three-day official visit which included an audience with the queen. His trip was aimed at putting aside a recent history of political tension and building closer trade and commercial ties.

“British public opinion remains prejudiced against China and highly expects to embrace an opportunity to prove that it is superior compared with the emerging nation,” it said.

“A rising country should understand the embarrassment of an old declining empire and at times the eccentric acts it takes to hide such embarrassment.”

While the Global Times is known for being strongly opinionated, especially when it comes to areas where it feels national interests and pride have been wounded, it is not a government mouthpiece.

The editorial about Li’s trip appeared in both the Chinese- and English-language editions.

The same newspaper published a similarly strong editorial in December when British Prime Minister David Cameron was in China, saying Britain was “just an old European country apt for travel and study”.

Britain, keen to tap into the spending power of tourists from China’s expanding middle class and encourage businesses from the world’s second-largest economy, Britain announced a streamlined application process for Chinese visitors and a service to grant them visas within 24 hours.

Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Robert Birsel