China: Cook feels pinch over human rights

Click to follow
The Independent Online
Britain found yesterday that it had fallen uncomfortably between two stools, with its partly robust, partly cautious policy on China.

China attacked Britain in connection with a visit by leading dissident Wei Jingsheng, who met Foreign Office minister Derek Fatchett on Monday. Foreign ministry spokesman Shen Guofang said that China had already made diplomatic representations: "No foreign government should make use of Wei Jingsheng to interfere in China's internal affairs."

But Britain has gained few brownie points from human rights activists for arranging the meeting with Mr Fatchett, which was a form of consolation prize. Robin Cook, the Foreign Secretary, had said he was too busy to meet Mr Wei until after his return from Peking, in an apparent attempt not to offend China. Mr Wei expressed his unhappiness that "because of business, they want to keep a distance from me. I think it's a pity." A Foreign Office spokesman yesterday expressed "disappointment" at the Chinese complaint, but said that it was "nothing out of the ordinary".

Perhaps more than anywhere else except Saudi Arabia, China is where Mr Cook's ethical foreign policy finds itself between a rock and a hard place. China's disregard for human rights is well known. But it is also one of Britain's most important trade partners. Britain is the leading European investor in China. Margaret Beckett, the President of the Board of Trade, has just started a 10-day tour of China which includes a sales pitch to Chinese investors for Britain as the "gateway to Europe".

Mr Cook flies to Peking for meetings on Monday and Tuesday with the Chinese President, Jiang Zemin, and with foreign minister Qien Qichen. From Peking, he flies to Hong Kong.

- Steve Crawshaw