Prince William tries out football diplomacy in China

Prince William tries out football diplomacy in China

SHANGHAI - Britain's Prince William practised sports diplomacy in China on Tuesday, striding onto the football pitch at a Shanghai school.

Wearing a dark blue suit, he stopped a stray ball, tapped it twice with his black shoe before giving it a confident kick on the artificial turf.

His trip to China, making him the highest-profile royal visitor since Queen Elizabeth II in 1986, has been laden with symbolism as Britain attempts to improve top-level diplomatic relations with Beijing.

On Monday, William reached out to China's top leader, President Xi Jinping, telling him: "I also gather you're quite a football fan."

State media have called Xi an "avid" fan and the leader last year recommended that all Chinese children learn the game, state media reported.

William -- a supporter of relegation-threatened Aston Villa -- chatted with students taking part in the football clinic at Nanyang secondary school, part of a programme run by the British Council and the Premier League.

Elementary school student Li Ziyu, 11, exchanged a "high five" with William as he told him about his enthusiasm for the Beautiful Game.

"I have played since I was small," he said afterwards.

China's national team has historically underperformed and last week Beijing unveiled a government initiative to improve its poor showings, in part by fostering young talent.

While the domestic football league offers foreign players and coaches lucrative contracts, the national side remains in a lowly 82nd place, tied with Guatemala, in FIFA's latest global rankings.

"The game is evolving here," said Paul Hughes, head coach for the global programme Premier Skills, which ran the school event.

"Sometimes it's about enhancing the game from the bottom. With that, more children are going to get the opportunity to participate," he told AFP.

Meanwhile, a business event linked to William's visit, aimed at showcasing innovation in arts and industry, will help bring 150 million pounds ($230 million) to the British economy over the next five years, according to a statement released Tuesday.

The business deals include an agreement which will allow co-produced film projects to access domestic benefits, including financing.

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