Archive for the ‘China’ Category

Theresa May’s visit to China and human rights

The human rights situation in China is dire.  The list is long and includes excessive use of the death penalty.  The numbers are unknown because they are a state secret but are believed to be in the thousands.  China leads the world and may even execute more than the rest of the world put together.  Torture is common.  There is precious little freedom of speech and journalists reporting in China quickly find police arriving and stopping any interviews.  Under its current premier, repression has increased significantly.

The Great Firewall of China prevents contact with the outside world.  Lawyers and activists are monitored, harassed, arrested and detained.  Religions have a difficult time practising there.  Finally there is Tibet and the poor treatment of Tibetans.  China is a leading exporter of torture equipment including devices that one might have thought to be confined to the middle ages.  Altogether, China infringes nearly all international norms of good behaviour and it matters especially because they are one of the permanent members of the UN Security Council.

But they are a massive and growing economy and countries want to do business there.  None more so than the UK which hopes to increase trade following our departure from the European Union.  Hence the prime minister’s visit there this week.  As ever with these visits the question of human rights is brought up.  There is a kind of dance performed where the prime minister or her spokespeople claim the matter is brought up and the Chinese say nothing was said.  The Chinese are very sensitive on the subject and historical memories of the Opium wars and the resultant national humiliation are still keenly felt.

But China wants to be considered a modern country yet its dreadful reputation in the way it treats its citizens and minorities holds it back.

It’s not often we get an insight into what was actually said but after this visit, an editorial in the Global Times waxed lyrical over the visit and praised Mrs May for not mentioning human rights.  The prose is odd but the relevant passages are:


May will definitely not make any comment contrary to the goals of her China trip either.  For the prime minister, the losses outweigh the gains if she appeases the British media at the cost of the visit’s friendly atmosphere.

China’s robust development has instilled impetus for Europe to overcome its prejudices against Beijing.  David Cameron’s government gained Britain strategic initiative by joining the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank.

Some European media pressed May and Macron on human rights, but the two leaders sidestepped the topic on their China trips.  This shows that the Sino-European relationship has, to a large degree, extricated itself from the impact of radical public opinion.  Leader 2 February 2018

The central problem is that China is a one-party state where dissent is not permitted.  Hence the crackdowns, arrests and suppression of free speech.  As time goes by however, more and more Chinese will travel the world and despite the great wall, gain access to the internet (we note some hits from China on this little site!).  As the country develops, more and more Chinese will look for freedom and to criticize the politicians.  So the Chinese authorities will find it harder and harder – and more expensive – to maintain the status quo.  The denial of human rights therefore is not some kind of esoteric luxury or the west seeking to impose its moral order on them.  It is a crucial part of their development and ramping up repression and arrests is taking the country in quite the wrong direction.

Failure – if failure it was – by Mrs May to bring up the issue of human rights would not have been just another lecture from a western liberal (if that term can be applied to Mrs May) but a crucial issue for the Chinese themselves as they develop into the world’s largest nation.







Seasons greetings

Posted: December 23, 2017 in China, Group news, Uncategorized

Seasons greetings to all our followers.

Nobel Peace Prize laureate hastily buried at sea

Liu Xiaobo. Picture:

On Thursday, the Chinese dissident, Liu Xiaobo died of liver cancer.  He had been in prison since 2008 mainly because he argued for greater democracy in China and was convicted of ‘inciting subversion’.  He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2010 which infuriated the Chinese government and he was not permitted to go to Norway to receive it.  He was only the second laureate to have been in prison at the time of the award.  Once the cancer was diagnosed he was released to a hospital where he was still under heavy guard.  According to Human Rights Watch, even as his illness worsened the Chinese government continued to isolate him and denied him freely choosing his medical treatment.

On Saturday he was hastily cremated and his ashes scattered at sea almost certainly to prevent a grave on land becoming a centre for protest.  Activists were reported by the South China Morning Post to be ‘outraged at the humiliating arrangements’.  His second wife, Liu Xia, is under house arrest.

Liu was a supporter of Charter 08 which argued for a fundamental change in the one party state, a whole series of reforms that would result in a separation of powers, a new constitution and legislative democracy.  It was suppressed by the Chinese government.

A spokesman for Amnesty International said:

This is a sad day for human rights, but Liu Xiaobo leaves behind a powerful legacy to inspire others to continue the struggle for human rights in China and around the world

Boris Johnson, the Foreign Secretary, made the following lukewarm statement:

I am deeply saddened to hear that Liu Xiaobo has passed away. He was a Nobel Peace Prize Laureate and a lifelong campaigner for democracy, human rights and peace. His death is a huge loss and our hearts go out to his wife Liu Xia, his family, and his many friends and supporters.
Liu Xiaobo should have been allowed to choose his own medical treatment overseas, which the Chinese authorities repeatedly denied him. This was wrong and I now urge them to lift all restrictions on his widow, Liu Xia.  13 July 2017

This from a man not afraid to be outspoken at any given moment.  Focusing on the restricted nature of his medical treatment is the least of the crimes the Chinese government has committed.  ‘Has passed away’ gives the impression of a natural death not one hastened by harsh prison conditions, poor medical treatment and confining him right to the last.  This is but the latest example of our government failing to stand up to breaches of human rights internationally.  This is only set to get worse as the need to augment reduced European markets in the post Brexit world.

Under China’s president, Xi Jinping, there has been a major crackdown on any form of dissent.  Restrictions on press freedom are well known and access to the internet is tightly restricted.  Booksellers in Hong Kong stocking books detailing the corruption of the Politburo elite have been abducted.  Details of this corruption among what are called the ‘Princelings’ has been revealed in the Panama Papers*.  President Xi’s brother in law is implicated, along with other senior party people, in squirreling away billions in tax havens using the services of the Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca.

Any discussion of democracy is taboo in China as it is contrary to one of the Four Cardinal Principles one of which is to ‘uphold the people’s democratic dictatorship.’  One can see straight away that ideas of freedom of the press and ideas of running the country on more democratic lines are not going to get far with the government.

The future

China has pursued a policy of economic growth which so far has been successful and has led to the country being second only to the USA.  It is expanding militarily most notably in creating false islands in the South China Sea.  It is present all around the world where natural resources are to be found.  The trick has been to maintain economic growth in return for maintaining its hold on political power.  How long this growth can be maintained is open to question.

On the other hand, China wants to be more of key player in the world and is to be seen at G7 and G20 meetings as well as having a seat on the UN Security Council.  As it grows in economic and military power, it seeks political recognition as well.  This is difficult to achieve if at home it denies basic freedoms and human rights to its citizens; executes more than all the other countries in the world put together; locks up its dissidents; denies access to the internet and treats the people of Tibet appallingly.  Using its power it is able to suppress criticism – cancelling contracts with Norway for example after Liu was awarded the Nobel prize – and tells other countries not to interfere in its internal affairs.

Fundamentally Chinese social policy is not progressing indeed, under Xi Jinping, it has regressed.  So long as they can maintain their tight grip on power and the levers of power, the CPC will continue.  But the lesson of history is that when a crack appears, as with a sheet of ice, it spreads rapidly and unpredictably.

*The Panama Papers, 2017, Bastian Obermayer and Frederik Obermaier, Oneworld, London (3rd edition).  Details tax evasion by criminals, dictators and politicians – not just the Chinese – as revealed by a release of papers from Mossack Fonseca

Sources: Human Rights Watch; New York times; The Guardian; Amnesty International; South China Morning Post





Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo has liver cancer

Liu Xiaobo who has liver cancer and was serving 11 years for ‘inciting subversion of state power’ which means any activity which seeks to undermine communist power.  Liu was seeking reforms in China and improved democracy.  He is now out of prison but essentially under arrest.  Since his diagnosis, the Chinese did not want a Nobel Lauriat dying in prison, so released him to a hospital where he is expected to die.  It is alleged the poor state of medical attention in prisons in China meant he did not get treatment earlier enough and this may have hastened his end.

China is accused of many failings to do with human rights.  Activists and lawyers are targeted and frequently arrested.  There has been a crackdown on lawyers.  People with religious convictions are persecuted.  The internet is heavily restricted and press freedom is also extremely limited.  The country is a heavy user of the death penalty and executes more of its citizens than all the rest of the world put together.  The precise number not known since it is a state secret.

The country is extremely sensitive to outside criticism and were furious when Liu was awarded the Peace Prize.  Trade with Norway was curtailed which probably did not concern them too much since they are a wealthy country.  The Beijing government summoned the Norwegian ambassador in protest.  It called Mr Liu a “criminal”, saying the award violated Nobel principles and could damage relations with Norway.  The Norwegian Nobel committee said Mr Liu was “the foremost symbol” of the struggle for human rights in China.  It took six years before relations were normalised between the two countries according to the New York Times.

In some respects China is a powder keg.  As long as prosperity increases then many people are happy to go about their lives and not bother too much about issues of freedom and human rights.  They will not have access to sites or information which discuss or promote such issues (such as Amnesty International) and so the ruling communists need not worry too much about a restive population.  Step by step they are securing hegemony over Hong Kong.  Some ‘below the line’ comments in the press stories suggest that the Confucian tradition also plays a part and that, unlike Western nations, this tradition of loyalty to the state is more a feature of political life.

Another factor is that it is said by some observers that the Chinese rather resent being subjected to Western moral codes, in which they had no part in formulating, being applied to them.  This does have some force except that they were a member of the Security Council when the Universal Declaration was signed in 1948.  It does overlook the fact that the Declaration caused the Western nations some discomfort as well: the British and French with their treatment of the colonial peoples and the USA with its treatment of black people.

If China wishes to become a leading world nation then it is going to have to accept the norms the rest of the world tries to live by.  The treatment of Liu Xiaobo (and many, many others) has been disgraceful.

And what of our Foreign and Colonial Office?  It says:

Minister for Asia and the Pacific Mark Field said:

I am pleased that the 24th Round of the UK-China Human Rights Dialogue has taken place. Senior officials discussed the full range of our human rights concerns, including freedom of expression, freedom of religion or belief, access to justice and ethnic minorities’ rights. They also discussed areas where the UK and China could collaborate more closely, including modern slavery and women’s rights.

The UK strongly believes that respect for human rights is vital for growth and stability, and that these regular talks are an important part of our relationship with China. The dialogue has, once again, been held in a constructive and open manner. I am grateful for the valuable contribution made by civil society organisations before and during this exchange. [accessed 29 June]

Post Brexit the emphasis is going to be on trade and the UK government is unlikely to raise difficult issues with the Chines government or risk being treated like Norway.

Sources: Amnesty International, New York Times, BBC, Guardian.

Follow us on Twitter and Facebook, salisburyai.  If you live in the Salisbury area and are interested in promoting human rights please get in touch.  The best thing is to come along to one of our events and make yourself known.

Harassment and trials of over 230 human rights lawyers and activists are underway in China.  This is part of a crackdown started by the Chinese government in July of 2015.  The trials are extremely dubious with suspects turning up and uttering robotic statements in court reminiscent of the Soviet trials decades ago.  People are arrested, denied access to lawyers and detained in unknown locations.  This by a country which is on the Security Council of the UN.

The charges include nebulous statements such as ‘harmed national security and social stability’.  The courts are sealed off and foreign journalists are not allowed entry being blocked by large numbers of police.

The US embassy in Beijing has said:

[the] US remains concerned by the Chinese governments continuing efforts to harass, intimidate and prosecute defense lawyers and human rights activists for their work.

The prevailing narrative concerning China is that of a country growing stronger.  True the relentless predictions of when it would overtake the USA have disappeared of late but nevertheless, stories about its military buildup and foreign investments still fill the pages.  But this activity of cracking down on dissenters, the strange abductions of Hong Kong booksellers, a strictly controlled press and the Chinese internet wall do not speak of strength but of a leadership which is fearful.  The one party system has delivered so far but with more and more Chinese travelling the world and finding ways to circumvent the internet wall, there must come a time when sufficient people realise the fictions told to them are just that.

Last year the Chinese premier was given a shameless welcome in the UK as part of the government’s policy of cosying up to China in the hope of receiving their investment.  It is interesting that Theresa May has paused the Hinkley Point power station investment – with substantial Chinese money – and one of the concerns is security.  With Stuxnet in mind (where software was introduced into Iranian centrifuges to get them to burn out) the worry must be that the Chinese government will introduce a deliberate flaw in the design to activate if need be.

The Chinese government has managed to achieve world wide condemnation for these trials and they are to be deplored.  Let us hope that a more robust attitude is adopted to the Chinese government in future and the craven approach by George Osborne and David Cameron is no more.

Sources: Amnesty UK; Los Angeles Times; Washington Post; The Guardian

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Prominent lawyer released from house arrest

Zhang Kai

We are pleased to announce that a lawyer who has been active in defending the attacks on churches, has been released although the reasons for his release are unknown.  It is good news however.  Many lawyers have been harassed or detained in China under the current crackdown.

Full details from the Amnesty factsheet:

Lawyer release



No end in sight

This is the title of a report produced by Amnesty International concerning the use of torture in China.  It was only last month that China’s president received a red carpet treatment on his visit to Britain with smiles all round.  The subject of human rights was taboo and was not to be mentioned during the course of his visit.  The aim was to boost trade and to secure deals such as the nuclear power plant investment.

Human rights infringements are a major issue for China and there is always the hope that there will be a steady improvement over time.  Indeed, it is a favourite argument by politicians that engagement – whether through trade, culture, sport or otherwise – is the best way to effect improvements in countries still practising torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading punishments.

Only it doesn’t seem to be working in places like Saudi Arabia or China despite the huge effort put into engagement with their leaders.  Amnesty has just published No End in Sight which shows that if anything, it is getting worse.  Despite having signed up to UN Charter against torture, it is still widely practised in all its medieval brutality.

Tiger bench

Tiger bench

The rot seems to start in police stations and the system of securing confessions acts as an incentive to extract one, by force if necessary.  The methods are extremely unpleasant and the least graphic (though no lest brutal) is the ‘tiger bench’ illustrated left.

The report explains the weak nature of the justice system which means no meaningful enquiries are made and that lawyers are themselves coerced or threatened if they try too hard to stop it.

It is alarming that this major nation, which is a member of the Security Council and is thus in a position to influence a lot of what happens in the world, should be steadily getting worse not better as far as human rights are concerned.  It is disappointing that the opportunity to express our concerns was apparently not taken during President Xi’s visit.


The Independent;

The Guardian;

Amnesty report

President’s visit prompts human rights concerns

This week saw the visit to this country of President Xi Jinping with a president ji xinpinghuge 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

No to the death penaltyThe monthly death penalty report is available here thanks to Lesley for compiling it.  A great deal of interest in the subject in the past month especially the executions in Indonesia.  The use of hair evidence by the FBI in America – which has led to a number of people being executed or dying on death row – has now been discredited.  Another interesting development is the criticism by the French President Francois Hollande of the use of the death penalty in Saudi Arabia.  Like the UK, France has big arms sales contracts with the kingdom but unlike the UK, feels free to criticise them for their barbaric public beheadings.  The Willie Manning case is also featured.

May death penalty report

The media has devoted considerable space to the #executions of five people in #Indonesia.  It has been on No to the death penaltythe main news and in all of the main papers in the UK to a greater or lesser extent.  There is a general sense of outrage that the execution and the manner of its doing – that is by firing squad – are barbaric.  One would be forgiven for thinking that Indonesia is the only place where people are being executed.

It isn’t.   We must not forget that China continues to execute more than the rest of the world put together although the precise number is not known because it is a state secret.  Executions continue at a faster rate than previously in Iran.  Public beheadings still continue in Saudi Arabia.  And in the southern states of USA, many are executed after spending years and years on death row.  Pakistan has been busy too.  The list is a long one.

Amnesty is opposed to the death penalty in all cases.  We should be outraged wherever it happens not just in one country such as Indonesia.  If you feel outraged at the use of this penalty, why don’t you join us and write letters or send emails?  Follow this site or the Amnesty site for urgent actions.

Latest death penalty report