Blog: Is equality Lost in Translation at UK-Chinese press conference?

The perils of bi-lingual press briefings were never more apparent than in yesterday’s shindig with the Prime Minister and his Chinese counterpart, Premier Li Keqiang. In a grandiose, gilded chamber […]

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By Vicky Ellis

The perils of bi-lingual press briefings were never more apparent than in yesterday’s shindig with the Prime Minister and his Chinese counterpart, Premier Li Keqiang.

In a grandiose, gilded chamber at the Foreign & Commonwealth Affairs HQ in Whitehall, politicians and hacks gathered to hear what the two men had spent the day chatting about.

We’d already witnessed the pair, along with Ed Davey, Vince Cable and their Chinese counterparts sign trade deals including ones with BP, Shell and on low carbon nuclear policy.

Sketch writers will probably poke fun at David Cameron’s fleeting scowl of annoyance when an interpreter left him in the dark about what was being said for several minutes.

Members of the press looked about in confusion when the soft, female voice in their headphones – so diligent in translating the Premier’s speech – stopped abruptly during the Q&A.

David Cameron took his earpiece out for several minutes, just about covering up his irritation.

Only when the Premier finished answering the first question – posed in Chinese by the BBC reporter – did the translator strike up again.

She must have been taking notes – and so it took an age to labour through each question.

But forgive me if none of this is about energy. I’ll sum up briefly (as the Q&A took so long the two politicians could only answer four questions, two apiece from English and Chinese reporters).

DC name-checked nuclear power as one of the ways Britain’s economy is “one of the most open in the world”. (It came third after banking and insurance in his list). OK. That was it.

The Prime Minister and Premier Li in London, 16.06.14. Image: ELN
The Prime Minister and Premier Li in London, 16.06.14. Image: ELN

But the biggest, unwitting, gaffe for me came from Premier Li.

Pointing to the first lucky Chinese reporter let loose on the mic, he referred to his speech which touched on equality.

And what better way to show this, he suggested, than follow suit and take a question from a female journalist, just as the Prime Minister had done with the BBC.

Cue wry smiles from the experienced BBC bod, plus men and women alike in the British press.

Later, he again referenced another Chinese reporter’s gender – and did I see a tightening in DC’s eyes?

Perhaps it was lost in translation. Perhaps we should humour it as a slightly ham-fisted, grandfatherly gesture.

Except, it would be unthinkable for a British politician (unless their name is Godfrey Bloom perhaps) to make such a remark.

Drawing attention to his magnanimity surely begs the question, is this special treatment, this equality, reserved for international eyes?

How do you behave towards women journalists on home territory? Perhaps I should count myself lucky to be in a team which sees women in the newsroom as standard procedure.