Wednesday, 12 January 2011

British government must stop pandering to China

Tibet Society expressed its concerns that human rights have again taken a backseat to economic considerations during the four-day visit of Chinese Vice-Premier Li Keqiang. The visit has been accorded a high-level response; there has been a fanfare of announcements including trade agreements worth £2.6 billion between the UK and China and even a ten-year loan of two giant pandas to Edinburgh Zoo. However, despite the widespread coverage and publicity, there is to be no joint press conference during Li Keqiang’s time in the UK.

Philippa Carrick, Chief Executive Officer of Tibet Society, said, “Apparently any topic is up for discussion during this visit, except, of course, the elephant in the room – human rights. This visit should have been positively used to put human rights on the centre stage, to show China that trade and greater links between the UK and China come with responsibilities. The British government could have grasped the opportunity to protect and progress the rights and freedoms of the citizens of the countries it does business with. Instead it chose to continue to pander to the Chinese government, a government that wilfully persists in oppressing its own citizens including Tibetans and Uighurs and many Chinese. We, the British public, have a duty to speak out and call on the government to uphold the principles by which we are governed. Human rights must not be allowed to sidelined and forgotten.”

The Chinese Vice-Premier’s four-day visit has brought a frenzy of trade agreements, memorandums of understandings, understandings on co-operation and strategic partnership deals. However, there has been no mention of human rights, civil rights, rule of law or corporate social responsibility. It seems that yet again these issues have been sidelined and ring-fenced to only be raised within the ineffectual bi-lateral Human Rights Dialogue, which is due to start only after all the economic agreements have been signed and the Vice-Premier has departed. The lack of importance that China gives to the Human Rights Dialogue, is emphasised by the fact that they have only seen fit to send the Deputy Director of its Foreign Affairs department to “engage” with the Foreign Office team.

When presenting the 12th Human Rights report in March 2010 then Foreign Secretary, David Miliband, affirmed he was proud that human rights had moved from the margins to the mainstream and also that there had to be greater global democratic accountability. The Coalition government has reiterated these sentiments with William Hague repeatedly assuring us that human rights is central to all UK foreign policy. All very fine and good sentiments, but currently that is all they seem to be; when will the government act instead of assuaging its conscience through words?

Tibet Society strongly believes that human rights should not and must not be allowed to slip back to the margins where a convenient nod is given to them by holding bilateral talks that have no substantive accountability, benchmarks, formal scrutiny or measurable outcomes. Instead of turning a blind eye to human rights the government should grasp the opportunity that engagement and trade brings. It can be through trade that real progress could be made both for human rights and civil society.

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