President’s visit prompts human rights concerns
This week saw the visit to this country of President Xi Jinping with a huge amount of ceremony and including a meeting with the Queen. His visit was surrounded with considerable controversy concerning the human rights record in China.
Our government stood accused of suppressing concerns about human rights because they want us to do more business with China and because the Chinese do not like questions being asked about their activities. They view this as interfering with the internal affairs of their country.
Human rights in China are truly dire and may even have got worse since President Xi came to power. The essential deal in China is that the communists stay in power and in return, they deliver growth and prosperity to their people who have little say over how the country is run. To maintain this system, there is little in the way of free speech, the internet is closely controlled, minorities – including religious minorities – are hounded and arrested, torture is common and more Chinese are executed than the rest of the world put together.
Chen Guangcheng – who was a prisoner of conscience with Amnesty and on whose behalf, the local group campaigned – fled China following his house arrest and now lives in America. He is personally well acquainted with the human rights situation in that country. In an article in the Independent he says:
There is no doubt human rights have worsened in his home country in the decade since President Hu Jintao’s state visit and believes that the UK must publicly criticise the regime if it wants to improve human rights in China.
I don’t think all this trade and business should be carried out as the UK sacrifices human rights in exchange for these deals.
Amnesty has noted that during a nationwide crackdown, 248 lawyers and activists were detained in the summer of whom 29 are still in custody. Then there is the continuing story of Tibet where freedom for Tibetans is a long-lost dream.
Our media is constantly predicting the time when the Chinese economy will overtake the USA to become the largest in the world. Projections are frequent but have recently taken a knock with the acute fall in the Chinese stock markets and devaluation of their currency. But the essential question is: can the Chinese Communist Party’s trick of providing continuous growth whilst maintaining a monopoly on power be maintained for ever? This question is important because it points to the fact that the Chinese needs the West as much as we need them. We provide them with a market for their goods. They need our technologies and our expertise. They will increasingly need our consumer goods. They want to be able to trade the remnimbi in London. They want greater access to the European market.
This is why the craven approach by our government to the Chinese is so misguided. The Chinese Ambassador has claimed that mentioning human rights would be ‘offensive’ to China. But all the people who suffer in China from house arrests; deprivation of liberties; forced sterilisations; executions of loved ones after brief trials; loss of religious freedom and no freedom to look at the internet, might also feel ‘offended’ that the man at the top of the country responsible for all this repression and cruelty, is being fawned over and given the red carpet treatment in London without any of our leaders uttering a word about these goings on. The only thing that seems to matter is the business and investment.
It seems clear that the Chinese were seriously worried about the protests which might have marred his visit here. A large and apparently orchestrated series of demonstrations organised by the embassy largely drowned out the few protests which manage to break through.
And what of our local MP Mr John Glen? In the Salisbury Journal (October 22) we read:
[…] The UK takes its human rights obligations very seriously. I do not believe for one moment that having a mutually beneficial commercial relationship prevents us from speaking frankly about issues of concern.
In fact, close relationships around economic, political and security interests have a track record of enhancing our ability to positively influence governments helping to promote democratic reform and raise human rights standards
As we noted in an earlier blog in connection with Saudi Arabia, we have enjoyed ‘close relationships’ with them for some decades but there is no let up in the tidal wave of torture, beheadings, floggings and amputations being carried on there. It is simply wishful thinking to claim close economic relationships enhances our ability to help promote democratic reform.
The whole point of the controversy around President’s Xi visit is that human rights concerns are not being mentioned. To say also that commercial relationships should ‘not prevent us from speaking frankly about issues of concern’ – one can only reply quite so! They fact that there was no frank speaking seems to have escaped Mr Glen’s notice.
And is Mr Glen suggesting that signing these various contracts will ‘promote democratic reform and raise human rights standards [in China]?’ In which case he must be almost the only person to believe this. The communist party has no intention of relinquishing power and signing a few deals in London will not alter that fact one iota. Indeed, looking at the The Global Times, the communist party newspaper in China, reveals no mention of human rights or freedoms in their report of President Xi’s visit. Anyone who saw the BBC’s Panorama programme on 19 October would be left in no doubt that the prospects for freedom and democracy in China under this president are exceedingly remote.
Trade and investment are of course important but not at the expense of all else. There is something unsettling about our willingness to grovel to the Chinese for the sake of money. Perhaps at long last we are learning the true meaning of ‘to kowtow’.
The Independent; Salisbury Journal; The Global Times; The Guardian; Human Rights Watch