London’s ‘beautiful communist bicycles’ attract Chinese students, says Boris Johnson

Mayor Boris Johnson touts London’s 42 universities and says that Chinese students come to the UK to ‘meet the world’

    Monday, 14 October, 2013, 6:02pm

Jeremy Blum

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Mayor of London Boris Johnson delivers a speech during a visit to Peking University in Beijing. Photo: Reuters

In a high-profile six-day Beijing visit designed to boost trade relations, outspoken London mayor Boris Johnson took the opportunity to hype his city, pointing out that Chinese visitors were attracted to London because of multiculturalism, fine universities and “beautiful communist bicycles”.

“Why is it that we are so lucky, so blessed in London, to have so many Chinese students?” Johnson asked at a Sunday press event in Beijing’s 798 Art Zone, home to one of the Chinese capital’s largest artistic communities. “Is it because of the weather? You’re laughing. Is it because we have so many wonderful French restaurants in London? Is it because we have so many beautiful communist bicycles on the streets of London?

“I’ll tell you what I think it is. It’s because we have more universities in London than any other city on earth – 42 universities in London.”

Johnson’s “beautiful communist bicycles” joke refers to the Barclays Cycle Hire, a public bicycle sharing scheme that Johnson instituted in July 2010 to promote cycling throughout London.

A keen cyclist himself, Johnson may also have meant the joke as a subtle reference to the vast number of bicycles that have always dotted the streets of Beijing. Bicycles have long been a Chinese mainstay, especially for families who cannot afford automobiles, and in the years following the Cultural Revolution, the Chinese government widely encouraged bicycles over cars and buses as an efficient and inexpensive means of transportation.

Boris Johnson (far right) and British Chancellor George Osborne (second right) tour Peking University. Photo: AFP

Johnson, who is also a passionate supporter of Chinese investment in the UK, added that Chinese students were flocking to London because of the city’s international image.

“When [Chinese students] look at London, they see the most incredibly diverse, cosmopolitan, multicultural, polychromatic, polymorphous city anywhere in the world,” Johnson said. “As the daughter of a great Chinese businessman explained to me … when you go to America you meet Americans, when you come to London you meet the world.”

Well-known in China for his signature haircut and offbeat way of speaking, Johnson’s visit to Beijing coincides with another trade mission by British Chancellor George Osborne. Both Osborne and Johnson have been named as potential successors to current British Prime Minister and Conservative Party leader David Cameron, who was harshly criticised by Beijing last year for meeting with the Dalai Lama.

When questioned on Sunday by Sky News interviewer Dermot Murnaghan, Johnson said that his trip to Beijing did not have anything to do with quelling the tension that had resulted from Cameron’s meeting with the Dalai Lama.

“My job as mayor is not to have a foreign policy but to get on and promote the interests of the greatest city on earth, which is what we’re doing,” Johnson said. “There are many interesting foreign policy problems around the world I could get involved in; whether or not that would improve global hopes for a resolution, I have my reservations.”

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