David Cameron accused of ceding ground on human rights to boost trade with China

 

Whitehall Editor

David Cameron is preparing to water down Britain’s “ethical” foreign policy towards China as a necessary price to pay for increasing trade with the world’s second-largest economy.

The Prime Minister is due to fly to Beijing next week with the one of the largest business delegations ever assembled for a three-day trip to boost economic co-operation.

But despite scheduled meetings with both President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang, Mr Cameron is not expected to raise directly the issues of Tibet and human right abuses.

Instead he will seek to rebuild bridges with Beijing and assuage the Chinese anger that followed his decision last year to meet the Dalai Lama when he was in London.

“We have turned a page on the Dalai Lama issue,” said a Downing Street source yesterday. “This visit is forward-looking. It is about the future and how we want to shift UK-China relations up a gear.”

Mr Cameron’s stance towards China is in stark contrast to the position he took with Sri Lanka during the recent Commonwealth summit – at which he said his visit would “shine a global spotlight” on human rights abuses – and is an open recognition that there is an economic and political price to be paid for angering the autocratic Chinese leadership.

After Mr Cameron’s meeting with the Dalai Lama in May last year, Beijing cancelled a planned visit by the Prime Minister and summoned the British ambassador to protest that the meeting had “seriously interfered with China’s internal affairs”.

Since then the Government has strenuously sought to rebuild ties – and banned two ministers from having a private lunch with the Tibetan leader in the summer. But the British position has been condemned by human rights groups, who said the Chinese government was masterminding an escalating crackdown on activists and critics of Mr Xi’s administration.

The Foreign Office’s most recent annual report on human rights and democracy listed China as a “country of concern”.

It stated: “The use of unlawful and arbitrary measures to target human rights defenders included enforced disappearance; house arrest; restrictions on freedom of movement, communication and association; extrajudicial detention and harassment of family members.”

Some former diplomats have also questioned the new British approach. Rod Wye, former head of the Asia Research Group at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, said that it was important to “maintain and protect” our values when dealing with China. “It should not all be about the good bits, but the bad bits as well. It is important that we speak about our differences,” he said.

Kerry Brown, an associate fellow at Chatham House and former British diplomat, told the Financial Times: “The whole situation has been poorly handled – 18 months ago Mr Cameron was the great defender of human rights speaking truth to China and saying the UK will act on principle. Now it seems to be about business and nothing else.”

Brad Adams, of Human Rights Watch, said Mr Cameron had to show he was willing to raise difficult issues with the Chinese.

And Eleanor Byrne-Rosengren, director of the campaign group Free Tibet, said: “China thinks that a combination of money and threats can ensure the silence of UK politicians. George Osborne’s excruciating visit last month was a real humiliation for Britain. Mr Cameron needs to restore our pride.

“China is not a rock: it does change and it will change its policy on Tibet if world leaders have the courage to hold it to account. Mr Cameron stands up for human rights in Sri Lanka and the right of self-determination in the Falklands. This is his chance to show China and the world that Britain stands up for justice everywhere.”

A poll commissioned by Free Tibet found that nearly 70 per cent of people believe that protecting human rights in Tibet is more important or as important as maintaining good trade relations with China.

Mr Cameron’s stance towards China’s human rights record is likely to be similar to that of George Osborne. Asked in October, he said: “We have to respect the fact that it is a deep and ancient civilisation that is tackling its own problems and going about it in the way it thinks is appropriate. We can point out where we would do things differently, but I think we do need to show some respect for that.”

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SThree: Associate Recruitment Consultant - Global Leader - FTSE 250

£18000 - £23000 per annum + competitive: SThree: As an Associate Recruitment C...

Recruitment Genius: Field Sales Representative

£22000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This family run school photogra...

Recruitment Genius: Area Sales Manager - OTE £42,000

£28000 - £42000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: You will be joining a leading s...

SThree: Associate Recruitment Consultant -Engineering -Renewable Energy

£18000 - £23000 per annum + competitive: SThree: As an Associate Recruitment C...

Day In a Page

Seifeddine Rezgui: What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?

Making of a killer

What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?
UK Heatwave: Temperatures on the tube are going to exceed the legal limit for transporting cattle

Just when you thought your commute couldn't get any worse...

Heatwave will see temperatures on the Tube exceed legal limit for transporting cattle
Exclusive - The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Swapping Bucharest for London

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Meet the man who swapped Romania for the UK in a bid to provide for his family, only to discover that the home he left behind wasn't quite what it seemed
Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Solar power will help bring down electricity prices over the next five years, according to a new report. But it’s cheap imports of ‘dirty power’ that will lower them the most
Katy Perry prevented from buying California convent for $14.5m after nuns sell to local businesswoman instead

No grace of God for Katy Perry as sisters act to stop her buying convent

Archdiocese sues nuns who turned down star’s $14.5m because they don’t approve of her
Ajmer: The ancient Indian metropolis chosen to be a 'smart city' where residents would just be happy to have power and running water

Residents just want water and power in a city chosen to be a ‘smart’ metropolis

The Indian Government has launched an ambitious plan to transform 100 of its crumbling cities
Michael Fassbender in 'Macbeth': The Scottish play on film, from Welles to Cheggers

Something wicked?

Films of Macbeth don’t always end well - just ask Orson Welles... and Keith Chegwin
10 best sun creams for body

10 best sun creams for body

Make sure you’re protected from head to toe in the heatwave
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - Milos Raonic has ability to get to the top but he must learn to handle pressure in big games

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon files

Milos Raonic has ability to get to the top but he must learn to handle pressure in big games
Women's World Cup 2015: How England's semi-final success could do wonders for both sexes

There is more than a shiny trophy to be won by England’s World Cup women

The success of the decidedly non-famous females wearing the Three Lions could do wonders for a ‘man’s game’ riddled with cynicism and greed
How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth: Would people co-operate to face down a global peril?

How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth

Would people cooperate to face a global peril?
Just one day to find €1.6bn: Greece edges nearer euro exit

One day to find €1.6bn

Greece is edging inexorably towards an exit from the euro
New 'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could help surgeons and firefighters, say scientists

'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could become reality

Holographic projections would provide extra information on objects in a person's visual field in real time
Sugary drinks 'are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year'

Sugary drinks are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year

The drinks that should be eliminated from people's diets
Pride of Place: Historians map out untold LGBT histories of locations throughout UK

Historians map out untold LGBT histories

Public are being asked to help improve the map