Tony Blair was challenged at Commons question time by the Tory leader William Hague shortly after a meeting in London between Foreign Secretary Robin Cook and the leading Chinese human rights activist, Wei Jingsheng.
Democracy dissident Mr Wei spent almost 18 years behind bars in China before being released last year. He lives in America and cannot return to China. He is now on a seven-week, 10-country tour in an effort to highlight human rights abuses in China.
Last night there were reports that Mr Jingsheng accused Mr Cook of being two-faced and said the Foreign Office had tried to stop him meeting the press. "This was a deliberate attempt to minimise exposure to embarrassing questions," he was reported as saying.
Britain has decided, along with its European Union partners, not to support any resolution on China at the annual meeting of the United Nations Human Rights Commission in Geneva next month, which Mr Wei plans to attend. However, officials yesterday said there was "no question of a cosy attitude towards the Chinese regime".
In the Commons, Mr Hague said that it was the first time in nine years that Britain had not supported such a resolution, and he accused the Government of reneging on its commitment to put human rights at the centre of its "ethical" foreign policy.
But Mr Blair insisted: "Not merely have we raised human rights issues in respect of China continually, we have also, as president of the EU, been getting support from other European countries in order to make the very issues that are at the heart of Mr Wei's case clear to the Chinese Government. But we did not feel that this UN resolution was the right way to proceed."
In past years the EU has been split over a resolution and last month it decided that it would be better to present a united front through dialogue with China on human rights issues, rather than by tabling a resolution which would almost certainly not get passed anyway.
Last month, China praised the EU for its "wise decision" not to criticise Peking for human rights abuses in a United Nations resolution, saying that it welcomed non-confrontational dialogue on the issue.Reuse content