Trade and Human Rights should be treated as separate issues..
It’s plastered across the British press, mentioned on every newspaper front page, broadsheets and tabloids alike. Each TV news channel you flick through is dedicated to David Cameron’s first visit to China as Prime Minister. Whenever there is an important and hugely significant summit between nations and world leaders, criticism and outcry predictably accompanies the meeting, stirred up of course by the media.
The British media are particularly notorious for stirring up trouble and whipping the public into frenzy, and the British PM’s visit to Beijing is certainly no exception. Will David Cameron address human rights? Cry human rights activists. The ‘UK puts trade before human rights in China’ quips one political UK website. Whilst a British Sky News reporter’s incessant remarks to Cameron questioning whether he will challenge China on its human rights record, despite the PM reiterating that he intends to cover “dialogue at all levels, including human rights”, must have irritated viewers other than myself, as well as Mr. Cameron himself.
It is important to note that David Cameron is not making this significant visit to China alone and is with about 50 top business leaders on a trip Cameron has described as a “vitally important trade mission”. Despite the outward and undisguised goals that the British Prime Minister’s two-day trip to Beijing is primarily a ‘trade visit’, David Cameron is under intense pressure to raise issues and even challenge China with matters concerning human rights. So whilst the fears that human rights concerns will be overshadowed by trade negotiations are seemingly widespread, it is arguable that human rights concerns are overshadowing important trade negotiations.
Whilst raising ‘prickly’ and ‘delicate’ concerns about China’s stance on human rights is an issue many want to see tackled, Britain boosting business in China is irrefutably important for both nations and is the fundamental purpose of the trip.
Although the timing of David Cameron’s visit could not have been made at a time when human rights issues involving China could not be higher on global media agendas. Whilst the elections in Burma are currently earning international condemnation and turning the spotlight on Burma’s main international ally, at midnight on Monday 8 November, Ali Weiwei, the influential artist responsible for the sunflower exhibit at the Tate Modern, was released from house arrest. Arguing that the British Prime Minister has a duty to raise humanitarian issues on his China visit, the Guardian newspaper published a stern message from Weiwei to David Cameron:
“Cameron should say that the civilized world cannot see China as a civilized country if it doesn’t change its own behaviour” said Ai Weiwei to The Guardian.
Further concerns over human rights simultaneously hit the British headlines, after Chinese security forces barred the lawyer of Liu Xiaobo from leaving the country. The headline has cast an even greater shadow over Cameron’s Beijing visit, placing even more pressure on the PM to act as an activist for those suffering at the hands of so-called Chinese human rights abuses.
Given this huge amount of interest and outcry presently dedicated to the subject of human rights in China, perhaps a separate summit entirely should be scheduled to tackle the difficult issues regarding human rights in China.
According to the British Prime Minister the key to foreign policy in the UK is to have “closer engagement” with China and “banging the drum for trade”.
“Our message is simple: Britain is now open for business, has a very business-friendly government, and wants to have a much stronger relationship with China,” said Mr. Cameron.
Establishing a stronger relationship between the UK and China will have a profoundly positive affect on the global economy, which, still struggling to keep afloat after the economic downturn of 2008 and 2009, needs all the help it can get. Not only will establishing greater links with China represent a huge opportunity for growth in the UK that will be reciprocated by China and likely to ripple throughout Europe and beyond, but it will surely be constructive in aiding the campaign to tackle human rights issues in China.
Governments, like people in general, who have established mutual respect for one another, will be more inclined to listen and act in shared interests. In this sense, human rights activists, party opposition and the media, should leave Cameron, and the other top business delegates currently in China, alone so they are able to focus on the primary goal of the mission – trade.
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