Arthur Edwards/Getty
Sarah O'Meara
March 02, 2015 11:45 AM

Prince William wasted no time inviting President Xi Jinping to visit Britain, extending the offer on the first morning of his four-day visit to China.

During a sit-down with the Chinese leader on Monday, the royal handed Xi an official invitation from his grandmother Queen Elizabeth.

Prince William’s meeting with the president at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing marks the first high-profile visit to the Chinese mainland by a senior British royal in almost three decades – and the beginning of the Year of Cultural Exchange between the U.K. and China.

In the past, the British royal family has faced harsh scrutiny over diplomatic relations with China following a string of public snafus.

But all went well Monday morning, with Xi congratulating William on the arrival of his son last year. The two men stuck to two subjects that wouldn’t be out of place in any British pub, namely the royal family and soccer.

Xi commented that over the years, the British royal family “has shown great interest in, and support for, Chinese-U.K. relations.”

A keen soccer fan since childhood, Xi expressed his desire for Chinese players to learn from their British counterparts. In response, William said he hoped that a Chinese player would soon make it into the Premier League.

A Social Media Sensation

While the president was eager to talk sports, the people of China were buzzing about a different British export: Sherlock.

According to microblogging site Sina Weibo, William’s visit to China started trending early, with over 25.87 million users buzzing about his arrival – and with many commenters name-checking Sherlock.

One user, Cumberkids, reportedly wrote, “For the friendship between China and Britain, please help us hurry the Sherlock crew up!”

The updated Victorian detective series, starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman, became available on Chinese video-sharing site Youku and has been a colossal hit in China since it first aired.

Pop culture notwithstanding, royal watchers are no doubt looking to William’s trip as another way to bolster a connection between the U.K. and China.

For his part, William said that he has been strongly interested in Chinese culture since he was just a little boy, and that the trip is an educational opportunity for him.

Advocating for Animal Rights

During their meeting, William told Xi that he hoped China would become a world leader in the fight for animal preservation.

Ahead of William’s visit, China announced new policies to curb sales of ivory: Its official news agency, Xinhua, reported on a one-year ban on the import of ivory carvings to help safeguard Africa’s elephant population.

(Like his father, Prince Charles, William is a keen conservationist.)

Following his trip to Beijing, William headed to Shanghai to open the GREAT festival, a celebration British talent in the region, and attend the Chinese film premiere of the movie Paddington.

“I am sure it goes without saying that the businesses and entrepreneurs represented at this festival are a source of significant pride for the United Kingdom,” William told the crowd at the event. “Your work is responsible for millions of jobs and some of our biggest international success stories.”

He added: “This is my first time in China. But less than 24 hours into my first visit, I have a strong sense of the opportunity that exists for collaboration and partnership between our two countries.”

Following his trip to Shanghai, William will move south to visit an elephant rehabilitation center in Yunnan province.

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