Leading article: Human rights and a maturing relationship

Related Topics

The Dalai Lama is fond of describing himself as "a simple Buddhist monk". He is, of course, no such thing. As well as being the spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhism, he is also the leader of the Tibetan government-in-exile. Gordon Brown hopes to make a distinction between the two by meeting him on Friday at the London residence of the Archbishop of Canterbury rather than inviting him to Downing Street.

Something similar happened in Germany last week when the Dalai Lama arrived there at the start of his five-country Western tour (Australia, the United States and France are next), a trip which will keep him in the headlines in the run-up to the Olympic Games in Beijing in August. His three-month itinerary will conclude only days before the Olympics end, and his intention is clearly to keep China's suppression of Tibet, where troops killed 200 people in March, in the mind of the international public.

The Chinese government has, predictably, reacted with intense irritation – which is why the Dalai Lama found such a cool reception in Berlin. When Chancellor Angela Merkel met him last September, she caused a nine-month freeze in relations with Beijing which is only just beginning to thaw. It also caused a split within the German coalition government. This time, Germany's Chancellor, President and Foreign Minister all declined to meet him. The Dalai Lama was received only by the lowly Development Minister, and in a hotel rather than her office. Even then the Chinese filed a formal complaint, insisting that, though the Dalai Lama says he does not want independence for Tibet, only autonomy, his actions indicate the opposite. As with Taiwan, he is a threat to Beijing's one-China policy.

On one level, the over-cautious attitude of Gordon Brown and other Western politicians is understandable. China's economy is expected to grow by 10 per cent this year. It is a huge potential market for British firms in areas such as financial, legal and professional services and, thanks to Mr Brown, premier Wen Jiabao has agreed to increase Britain's trade in goods and services with China from £20bn to £30bn in the next two years. The German Chancellor and the French President want the same.

Even so, Mr Brown ought to be able to voice concern over human rights. China's elections, like its courts, are controlled by the Communist Party. It restricts free movement and curbs trade unions. It censors the internet. It is the death penalty capital of the world. Yet what its response to the terrible Sichuan earthquake has shown, in sharp contrast to Burma, is a government which is increasingly sensitive to the needs of its ordinary people. Opening the economy to market forces has shifted the relationship between government and the workforce who are driving economic growth forward.

Gordon Brown has a fine line to tread here, which he has tried to signal with semiotics like declining to attend the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games but going to the closing ceremony. But in refusing to invite the Dalai Lama to Downing Street, he is being pusillanimous. There are signs of slow political change in Beijing. It is making more encouraging noises on climate change. It helped with nuclear negotiations with North Korea. It has pressed the Burmese generals to accept international aid. China is slowly coming in from the cold.

Offering constructive criticism on Tibet – expressing concern about human rights without supporting separatism or secession – ought to be possible within that maturing relationship. Speaking out against repression and representing Britain's economic interests must both be possible at the same time.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

VB.Net Developer - £40k - Surrey - WANTED ASAP

£35000 - £40000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: .Mid Level V...

Digitakl Business Analyst, Slough

£40000 - £45000 per annum + Competitive Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: Dig...

Mechanical Estimator: Nuclear Energy - Sellafield

£40000 - £50000 per annum + Car, Medical, Fuel + More!: Progressive Recruitmen...

Dynamics NAV Techno-Functional Consultant

£50000 - £60000 per annum + benefits: Progressive Recruitment: An absolutely o...

Day In a Page

Read Next
'Our media are suffering a new experience: not fear of being called anti-Semitic'  

Dress the Gaza situation up all you like, but the truth hurts

Robert Fisk
David Cameron (pictured) can't steal back my party's vote that easily, says Nigel Farage  

Cameron’s benefits pledge is designed to lure back Ukip voters. He’ll have to try harder

Nigel Farage
Dress the Gaza situation up all you like, but the truth hurts

Robert Fisk on Gaza conflict

Dress the situation up all you like, but the truth hurts
Save the tiger: Tiger, tiger burning less brightly as numbers plummet

Tiger, tiger burning less brightly

When William Blake wrote his famous poem there were probably more than 100,000 tigers in the wild. These days they probably number around 3,200
5 News's Andy Bell retraces his grandfather's steps on the First World War battlefields

In my grandfather's footsteps

5 News's political editor Andy Bell only knows his grandfather from the compelling diary he kept during WWI. But when he returned to the killing fields where Edwin Vaughan suffered so much, his ancestor came to life
Lifestyle guru Martha Stewart reveals she has flying robot ... to take photos of her farm

Martha Stewart has flying robot

The lifestyle guru used the drone to get a bird's eye view her 153-acre farm in Bedford, New York
Former Labour minister Meg Hillier has demanded 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists

Do women cyclists need 'pootling lanes'?

Simon Usborne (who's more of a hurtler) explains why winning the space race is key to happy riding
A tale of two presidents: George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story

A tale of two presidents

George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story
Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

We will remember them

Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

Acting in video games gets a makeover

David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices
Could our smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases via Health Kit and Google Fit?

Could smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases?

Health Kit and Google Fit have been described as "the beginning of a health revolution"
Ryanair has turned on the 'charm offensive' but can we learn to love the cut-price carrier again?

Can we learn to love Ryanair again?

Four recent travellers give their verdicts on the carrier's improved customer service
Billionaire founder of Spanx launches range of jeans that offers

Spanx launches range of jeans

The jeans come in two styles, multiple cuts and three washes and will go on sale in the UK in October
10 best over-ear headphones

Aural pleasure: 10 best over-ear headphones

Listen to your favourite tracks with this selection, offering everything from lambskin earmuffs to stainless steel