Pressure was growing on the Prime Minister to take a strong line on human rights in a meeting with his Chinese counterpart, Zhu Rongji. The Parliamentary Human Rights Group wrote to Mr Blair yesterday, highlighting the use of torture and other abuses, and has said it expects him to raise the issues.
Amnesty International says it has evidence that technology exported from Britain has allowed the spread of electro-shock batons to detention centres across China and Tibet.
A two-second shock from one of the batons can leave a victim unable to stand, while a blast of three to five seconds can cause convulsions, vomiting and loss of muscular control lasting up to 15 minutes.
The shocks are often applied to sensitive areas such as the genitals, the inside of a prisoner's mouth or the soles of the feet.
Heart patients have died after being tortured with them, and Amnesty has documented a case of a pregnant woman in Tibet who miscarried after being forced to stand for 12 hours and being beaten with the batons.
More than 200,000 people are held without trial in China and Tibet under "re-education through labour" laws. Many of them are political dissidents, members of unapproved religious groups and ethnic minority groups such as Tibetans who want autonomy from China.
Amnesty believes the technology to manufacture the batons was exported from firms in Britain and the United States. In 1995 a Channel 4 Dispatches documentary crew posing as Libyan businessmen filmed the managing director of a Glasgow firm, ICL Technical Plastics, offering to sell them electro- shock batons and electric stun shields. On the film the businessman also admitted having sold the batons to China in 1990 for copy manufacture.
Frank Stott was prosecuted last year on the basis of evidence gathered by the documentary crew and was fined pounds 5,000. Under the Firearms Act 1968, owners of the weapons must have a licence but the Government has said no more licences will be issued.
Amnesty International, however, says the trial came too late. The technology Stott was selling was already in use across China, thanks to the efforts of his firm and other British and American companies.
Mr Blair will raise human rights issues during his trip, but in an article for the People's Daily yesterday he warned against political "grandstanding. I, like many in Europe, believe that human rights are universal and this is bound to be discussed. But I also believe, as I have said before, that persuasion and dialogue achieve more than confrontation and empty rhetoric," he said. The trip is mainly designed to strengthen trade and economic links with the Chinese government.
Mr Blair's official spokesman spoke warmly in a pre-trip briefing of the Prime Minister's relationship with Zhu Rongji. "I think it is fair to say that when he met him last April he saw him as a fellow moderniser. It was an honour to Britain that his first overseas visit as Prime Minister was to the UK," the spokesman said.
Mark Lattimer, UK director of communications for Amnesty International, said the Chinese government was susceptible to international pressure.
"What Britain says and its influence is very important. Our government should use that influence to raise human rights concerns with the Chinese," he said.
Ann Clwyd, chair of the Parliamentary Human Rights Group, said she was concerned that dissidents had been arrested in advance of Mr Blair's visit and people had been warned not to approach the British delegation.
"I don't think he should come away without raising human rights quite forcefully, and I would expect him to," she said.Reuse content