Xi Jinping Visits U.K. (Updating)

Chinese President Xi Jinping makes his first state visit to the United Kingdom this week, with appearances scheduled at Buckingham Palace, Parliament, and the Manchester City soccer ground. He will be greeted by a Conservative government which, having angered Beijing by hosting the Dalai Lama in 2012, has begun to pursue a lucrative “golden relationship” with China. Critics claim that prioritizing economic relations over human rights and other political disagreements has offered an “embarrassing” and “painful lesson in how not to deal with China,” raising the question “is British policy for sale?” Both British reticence on rights and the lavish plans for Xi’s reception have been enthusiastically welcomed by Chinese state media, however.

This post will be updated regularly, with the latest entries at the top.

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12:34 PDT, October 20, 2015

The image of Xi’s red carpet has attracted British cartoonists as well as exiled Uyghur leaders:

Guardian cartoonist @martinrowson on Xi Jinping's golden visit http://t.co/2N9XgD9wjF pic.twitter.com/bKX4kL4nje

— Tom Phillips (@tomphillipsin) October 19, 2015

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12:16 PDT, October 20, 2015

Britain’s economic courtship of China has prompted concern that it has abandoned human rights advocacy. From Human Rights Watch’s David Mepham, for example:

When George Osborne visited China last month, he spoke gushingly about the huge opportunities for British businesses there. “Part of my job here,” he said, “is to help explain to the British people what’s going in China and how exciting it is.”

If he had been prepared to meet them, activists from China could have told Osborne a thing or two about what’s really happening in China today.

[…] David Cameron has previously raised human rights issues with the Chinese leadership and during Xi’s state visit he should rediscover the moral courage to do so again. Public comments are sometimes dismissed as megaphone diplomacy, but they are nothing of the kind. Clear public statements of concern show solidarity with the victims of Chinese government repression, and often provide them with some degree of protection from the very worst abuses. That is what China’s human rights activists consistently tell us.

But standing up for human rights in China and urging far-reaching reform is also in our interests. Repression, pervasive corruption, impunity for abuses, a flawed judicial system – these are grave threats to China’s stability and its economy too. And that matters to all of us. [Source]

Exiled Uyghur leader Rebiya Kadeer told reporters in Tokyo that Xi’s red carpet is stained with “the blood of the Uighur people, Tibet and other Chinese dissidents.” (Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying called the claim “absurd and extreme,” adding that “all types of people in Xinjiang live and work in peace.”) At The Guardian, author Ma Jian compared Xi’s state carriage in London to the PLA tanks in Hong Kong in 1997:

The catalogue of human rights abuses committed by the CCP is endless, ranging from barbaric forced abortions and sterilisations to the muzzling of the internet. But its general secretary, Xi Jinping, is now Britain’s new best friend. Would the British government have dared roll out the red carpet for the president of Tunisia after the self-immolation of Mohamed Bouazizi in 2010? Would it have had the gall to invite President Botha on a state visit while the world was clamouring for Nelson Mandela’s release?

Engagement with the Chinese government is essential, but it is both shameful and unnecessary to shower it with honours, ignore its human rights abuses, and buckle feebly to its unreasonable demands.

[…] This tawdry friendship of convenience, these pageants, lies and unethical compromises, may benefit Cameron and Xi, but they are an insult to the citizens of Britain, who cherish their hard-fought freedoms, and to those in China, who are still struggling courageously to achieve them. [Source]

A group of 12 Nobel Peace Prize laureates has called on Cameron to raise the case of imprisoned prizewinner Liu Xiaobo and his wife, Liu Xia, who has spent the past five years under extra-legal house arrest. The laureates warned the prime minister “unless leaders like you take urgent action, both publicly and privately, that China will continue to believe it can act with impunity and without consequence for its behavior.” Organizations including Amnesty International UK issued a similar call in an open letter highlighting the “Black Friday” crackdown on lawyers, the earlier campaign against the New Citizens Movement, proposed NGO management and anti-terrorism laws, and restrictions on Tibetans, Uyghurs, and Christians. From The Independent:

As organisations that are working to improve human rights in China and around the world, we are writing to you regarding the state visit by President Xi Jinping on October 20-23, 2015. We are deeply concerned with the continuing deterioration of human rights since President Xi Jinping came into office in 2012. We urge you to speak out on human rights in a principled, forceful, and specific way – in both public and private.

[…] During President Xi Jinping’s time in office, the already limited space for civil society has been shrinking even further. Since 2012, at least 450 people have been the victims of four major coordinated campaigns against civil society: the arrests of the core members of the New Citizen’s Movement, a loose network of activists dedicated to the principles of Constitutionalism, government transparency and civic responsibility; the targeting and detention of activists commemorating the 25th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square crackdown in 2014; the detention of activists showing support for the pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong in 2014; and the crackdown on lawyers and activists in the summer of 2015.

[…] We appreciate that over the years your government has raised human rights with Chinese leaders and engaged in human rights dialogues with your Chinese counterparts. However, we are concerned that recent statements made by Sir Simon McDonald, Permanent Under-Secretary to the FCO state that human rights are not as high a priority as ‘prosperity’ . Our organisations find this deeply worrying and whilst we recognise the legitimate pursuit of economic ties, this must not come at the expense of human rights. [Source]

Hong Kong student leader Joshua Wong, now in the U.K. for a speaking tour, highlighted the rights situation in the former British colony, and warned Cameron not to trust Chinese assurances on either rights or trade. From Jamie Merrill at The Independent:

“After the Umbrella protests we knew the British government had failed to keep its promise on democracy and that it viewed trade with China as more important. Despite this we are still determined to continue our fight for universal suffrage and autonomy,” said Mr Wong, who is hoping to stand for election next year. “The UK government must put human rights on a higher status than trade with China.”

Maya Wang, a China researcher at international watchdog Human Rights Watch, said the NGO was “increasingly concerned” that the British government had “capitulated” over the deteriorating human rights situation in Hong King and on-going, more serious concerns in mainland China.

She said: “The government of Hong Kong is clearly going after the protest leaders and we call on David Cameron to use President Xi’s state visit as an opportunity to raise this concern. The UK has a moral obligation to pressure Beijing over Hong Kong.” [Source]

The British government has repeatedly claimed that “nothing is off the table” for discussion. During his recent trip to China, Chancellor Osborne argued that raising sensitive issues in private is more productive than conducting “megaphone diplomacy,” but rights advocates counter that public pressure is vital. (Apart from any effect on the Chinese side, it also ensures that British leaders do actually raise the issues they claim to.)

Guardian columnist Simon Jenkins argued on Tuesday that the U.K. is poorly positioned to preach to China on rights in any case:

British ministers are to “raise human right concerns” with their Chinese guests this week. What on earth for? It is impolite, pointless, hypocritical and probably counter-productive. We are cringing supplicants for Chinese capital – as we claim to be for Saudi “intelligence”. What has this to do with human rights?

The itch to pass judgment on other people’s affairs is the occupational disease of British rulers. Sometime it drives us wretchedly to war, as in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria and Libya.

Otherwise it is merely rude, a diplomatic tic, a state of mind. If I were a Chinese guest at dinner tonight and a British minister dared to mention human rights, I would reply in kind.

[…] The reality is that Osborne’s trade opening to China makes sense. It was about money. So why jeopardise it with talk of human rights, which the Chinese government will politely ignore, just so a few British lobbyists can feel good? If the government cared about China’s human rights, it would not do business there. So it cares just enough to be rude. [Source]

A recent report from the Dui Hua Foundation suggests that engagement on rights need not derail economic ties, though it might not bear spectacular fruit either: “Several foreign diplomats noted China’s greater willingness to engage in human rights discussions defined by patient and courteous exchange rather than heated rhetoric. They did not, however, observe discernible changes in China’s long-held positions.” The Chinese side has sought to fend off the topic, however. China’s ambassador to the U.K. Liu Xiaoming told a press conference that Xi is “here for cooperation, for partnership, he’s not here for a debate about human rights.” “We don’t shy away from talking about human rights,” he added. “What we are against is to use human rights to interfere with other countries’ internal affairs and to try to impose your own system on to others.”

In an op-ed at the state-run Global Times, Zhao Chen of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences noted that “the UK has apparently shifted its China policy to a pragmatic direction, the extent of which is rarely seen in the Western hemisphere. […] Downplaying the role of trivial issues such as religion, human rights and democracy in bilateral ties is necessary for a win-win result.”

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12:15 PDT, October 20, 2015

In comments “prepared by Chinese officials but reviewed and approved by Xi,” the Chinese president expressed his hopes for the visit to Reuters on Saturday:

I visited London, Oxford, Glasgow and Edinburgh in 1994. I was deeply impressed by the visit, particularly Britain’s long history, unique culture, friendly people and its beautiful environment.

During my upcoming state visit to the UK at the invitation of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, I look forward to having discussions with British leaders and engaging the British public on our bilateral ties. I hope this will chart the course for the future growth of China-UK relations, inject new impetus in practical cooperation between our two countries in all fields and enable us to jointly usher in a “golden time” for China-UK comprehensive strategic partnership.

Public opinion surveys conducted in Britain show that views of China are largely favorable among the British people. Our two peoples appreciate each other’s time-honored and unique cultures. This is an important foundation and favorable condition for growing bilateral ties. It is true that some people have some misgivings about China-UK cooperation. What I want to stress is that in today’s world, no country can afford to pursue development with its door closed. One should open the door, warmly welcome friends and be hospitable to them. This is recognized international practice. The UK has stated that it will be the Western country that is most open to China. This is a visionary and strategic choice that fully meets Britain’s own long-term interest. China looks forward to engaging with the UK in a wider range, at a higher level and in greater depth. [Source]

Xi went on to comment on U.K. and E.U. trade and investment; London’s role in internationalizing the Renminbi; plans for Chinese involvement in nuclear and high-speed rail projects in Britain; the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, of which the U.K. has been a key supporter; China’s role in global affairs, carbon emission reduction efforts, and the world economy; and its hopes for future glory on the soccer field.

State broadcaster China Central Television, meanwhile, talked to British Prime Minister David Cameron. From Reuters:

“It’s going to be a very important moment for British-Chinese relations, which are in a very good state, something of a golden era in our relationship,” Cameron told China Central Television.

“The change we will see is obviously the investment into our infrastructure, Chinese companies employing people and creating jobs. But I think it’s also a big win for China as well, having access to a country that is a leading member of the EU and has so many other contacts and roles in the world.”

[…] “Obviously there are issues at the moment that are being addressed in China and I think the growth will continue,” he said. [Source]

CCTV also spoke to former Prime Minister Tony Blair. Read about current Chancellor and likely future PM George Osborne’s vision for Sino-U.K. relations via CDT.

© Samuel Wade for China Digital Times (CDT), 2015. |
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