There are few things more British than a traditional countryside pub. So when Chinese President Xi Jinping visited then-Prime Minister David Cameron at the official country house retreat, Chequers, in October 2015, the pair decided to take a short stroll to the local inn, where they each enjoyed a pint of ale and some fish and chips.
The highly choreographed meal was widely portrayed as a sign of the warmth between the two world leaders. “By treating Xi at his country residence and the pub, Cameron displayed a private, family-style hospitality toward the Chinese leader,” China's state run news agency Xinhua noted.
But not much more than a year later, the traditional British pub they visited is changing hands — and a Chinese investment firm will be the new owners.
The Christie & Co. real estate firm announced on Tuesday that it had brokered the sale of the Plough pub in Cadsden to the Chinese firm SinoFortune. The Times of London reports that around 2 million pounds ($2.5 million) was paid in the deal. The pub, which says its history dates back to the 16th century, will still be managed by the previous owner Steve Hollings.
For SinoFortune, the logic behind buying the pub was simple. While the pub had long been a favorite for British prime ministers due to its proximity to Chequers, Xi's visit brought with it a new popularity with Chinese tourists, eager to see where the Chinese leader ate and drank. On the Plough's website it prominently features a photograph of the visit, along with the beer Xi drank: A Green King “president's” IPA.
“Going to the pub is a British tradition,” Hollings told China Daily shortly after Xi's visit, adding that it was a place for friends to relax and chat. The Chinese state newspaper reported that on the day their reporters visited, a Sunday in October, almost 30 Chinese customers had visited the pub in the hour after it opened.
“We all know that fish and chips is called the British national food that you can find everywhere. However, with Xi's visit, we are curious to know what is special about this pub,” one student told China Daily.
Chinese tourists are increasingly big business in Britain: There were almost 270,000 Chinese visitors to Britain in 2015, according to VisitBritain figures, more than double the number in 2006. There are widespread hopes that more visitors may be enticed by the lower pound in coming years. There are also indications that they are becoming less interested in regular tourist sights and more interested in places that show how British people really live.
Perhaps more importantly, SinoFortune indicated they may plan to use the pub as a model for business in China. “The English pub concept is growing very fast in China, and it's the best way, culturally, to link people from different countries and build friendships,” SinoFortune Investment's managing director, Peter Zhang, was quoted as saying by China Daily after the deal was announced.
At the same time, Britian's pub industry has struggled badly over recent years due to a complicated set of economic circumstances. Earlier this year, one organization reported that on average 27 pubs across Britain closed each week, with the number of pubs at the end of 2015 down to 52,750 from 54,194 in 2014.
Pub landlords aren't the only ones who have lost their jobs over the past year, of course. Xi's drinking partner, Cameron, stepped down from the prime minister's office in July 2016 after losing Britain's Brexit referendum. Ahead of his meeting with the Chinese leader, Cameron had been criticizing for leading an aggressive courtship of the authoritarian China.
More on WorldViews