Prince William meets Xi, visits sites on China visit

BEIJING - Britain's Prince William met China's Communist President Xi Jinping on Monday before strolling through the Forbidden City, the former home of the country's deposed imperial dynasties.

Xi warmly welcomed the second-in-line to the British throne, making the highest-profile visit to China by a member of the royal family since Queen Elizabeth II and her husband Prince Philip in 1986.

William was met by the Chinese leader on the first full day of a trip which comes as London and Beijing have traded diplomatic barbs over pro-democracy demonstrations in Hong Kong, a former British colony.

But the differences appeared to be put aside as Xi congratulated the 32-year-old prince on the expected birth of his second child.

"The British royal family has great influence not just in Britain but across the world," Xi said.

William said he was looking forward to the remainder of his trip, which will see him visit the commercial hub of Shanghai before heading to an elephant sanctuary in the south-western province of Yunnan.

"It's been a long interest of mine for many years to come and visit China," he told Xi at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing.

William's visit has been seen as an attempt by Britain to improve top-level diplomatic relations with Beijing.

London is anxious to improve its trade ties with the economic powerhouse.

William's father, Charles, has never visited mainland China, though he attended the handover of Hong Kong.

In a leaked diary, he described China's leaders at the 1997 ceremony as "appalling old waxworks", and he has been accused of deliberately side-stepping formal banquets during Chinese leaders' visits to Britain.

During the 1986 royal visit to China, Prince Philip was overheard by a reporter making one of his most notorious remarks.

"If you stay here much longer, you will all be slitty-eyed," he was quoted as telling a group of British students.

Buckingham Palace has been on a charm offensive towards China, with William issuing a Lunar New Year message in Mandarin ahead of his visit.

He was asked how his Chinese skills were developing as he walked through Beijing's ancient Forbidden City, the palace of China's Ming and Qing dynasties.

"Ni hao - that's as far as I got," he told reporters with a smile, standing in front of the Hall of Supreme Harmony, where coronations were carried out before the Chinese imperial regime was overthrown.