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The Bulletin

What's David Cameron doing in this picture?

Posting in Government
 
Cameron JLR China.jpg
Cameron: "It's British. Honest it is." Others: "Yes prime minister." (Imaginary exchange)
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Remember the 1980s mockumentary movie Zelig, in which the curious, chameleon-like Woody Allen character Leonard Zelig tries to fit in with powerful figures by taking on their looks in side-by-side public appearances?

That's what U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron reminds me of in the picture above. Not that he's attempting any physical impressions. He just seems oddly out of place.
 
Cameron is speaking at the opening of a Jaguar Land Rover training facility in Beijing earlier this week, during his whirlwind trade mission through China. As part of the ceremony, Jaguar Land Rover (JLR) also agreed to ship more of its vehicles to China.

The thing is, JLR is now an Indian company; it's a subsidiary of Mumbai-based car maker Tata Motors.

Although "Jaguar" sports and luxury cars and "Land Rover" four-wheel-drive vehicles have a proud British heritage, they haven't been British-owned for over a decade or two. Tata purchased them in 2008 from Ford, which had owned Land Rover since 2000 and Jaguar since 1990. Underscoring its move away from British roots, the company is run these days by a German CEO, Ralf Speth.

Okay, okay, okay. JLR still makes cars in Cameron's homeland. Three of its four plants are in England where JLR plans another; the other is in India. The company is also building a factory in China and one in Brazil.

So we could get into a discussion of what constitutes a business's national identity (or a nation's for that matter, but I'll hold off on that). Or if it even matters. If Jaguar Land Rover is still British, it's the foreign owned variety.

Who can blame the U.K.'s prime minister for showing his face in the country that is now the world's largest auto market, on behalf of a company that makes cars in the U.K. (read, domestic jobs) and exports them? Like Zelig, his appearance will certainly leave an impression, even if it doesn't drive any deals.

And let's not forget that Cameron's trade mission was if nothing else intended to foster good will with a country that has so much to offer the U.K.  For example, Cameron wants a high speed railway back home, where he'd also love some new nuclear reactors to go along with one that France just agreed to build (not only does Britain need new power stations, but the rail system is already the country's largest user of electricity). China knows how to build both of those things, and has money to fund them.

The sequel of this film should be interesting.

Pigs and cars and trains and nuclear - It must be China and Britain:

Photo: Sgt Jez Doak - Royal Air Force

— By on December 6, 2013, 6:14 AM PST

Mark Halper

Contributing Editor

Mark Halper has written for TIME, Fortune, Financial Times, the UK's Independent on Sunday, Forbes, New York Times, Wired, Variety and The Guardian. He is based in Bristol, U.K. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure