Jiang raises topic of human rights in Blair meeting

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The Independent Online

Chinese President Jiang Zemin surprised Downing Street officials during talks with Tony Blair yesterday by raising the issue of human rights, which has dogged his visit to Britain.

Chinese President Jiang Zemin surprised Downing Street officials during talks with Tony Blair yesterday by raising the issue of human rights, which has dogged his visit to Britain.

Speaking mainly in English, he told the Prime Minister it was important to have a dialogue about human rights, including those in Tibet.

Just 100 yards away in Whitehall, several hundred demonstrators blew whistles and chanted: "Tony Blair - shame on you."

During their 45 minute talk inside Number Ten, the two leaders spent only 10 minutes or so discussing human rights, but Mr Jiang's decision to raise the issue before Mr Blair did was seen as a recognition of the problem.

It was also seen as a clever public relations move, though it may not impress the protesters, including Wei Jingsheng, the democracy campaigner. He was refused admission to Downing Street with Amnesty International to deliver a protest letter.

Norman Baker, a Liberal Democrat MP, was also foiled in an attempt to unfurl a Tibetan flag in front of the Chinese President in a personal protest against the treatment of Tibet.

Rolling out the red carpet for Mr Jiang, the Government allowed his motorcade to avoid most of the protesters by entering Downing Street through a side road, leaving the main gates firmly shut.

Mr Blair said independence for Tibet was important, but did not give the President a list of dissidents. That list was routinely presented to the Chinese through the Foreign Office to avoid ruffles during the meeting.

Mr Jiang told Mr Blair that the two countries had opened a new chapter in relations, within which they could have a dialogue about human rights issues, but they should keep firmly in mind the overall relationship, said the Prime Minister's official spokesman. "It was quite interesting that he should raise it in that way."

Mr Jiang stood smiling and apparently oblivious to the noise of the protesters as he posed for photographers with Mr Blair before going inside for talks and lunch.

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