|Financial Times[Friday, January 14, 2011 19:26]|
By James Blitz, Defence and Diplomatic Editor
Campaigners for an independent Tibet have accused David Cameron’s government of engaging in a “cosmetic box-ticking exercise” when it comes to addressing the abuse of human rights in China, arguing that the coalition is defying British public opinion by ignoring the issue.
At the end of a week in which the coalition welcomed Li Keqiang, a rising star in the Chinese leadership, officials held talks on Thursday with their Beijing counterparts on China’s treatment of dissidents.
Activists said the annual UK-China Human Rights Dialogue, held in London, allowed the government to give the impression it was raising the issue of human rights without achieving any tangible results.
British officials said the dialogue provided a forum to “raise the UK’s most serious areas of concern about the treatment of Chinese dissidents, while also presenting opportunities for more detailed, technical-level exchanges”. A Foreign and Commonwealth Office official added: “Its main advantage is that it enables us to engage directly with policymakers in a constructive way.”
Stephanie Brigden, director of the Free Tibet movement, criticised the way British ministers treat the issue of Chinese human rights abuses.
“While the trade negotiations involving Mr Li have been conducted by senior politicians on both sides with much fanfare, human rights have been sidelined to a low-profile, fundamentally flawed process,” she said. “This betrays both the British public and the people who are repressed by the Chinese regime.”
She said the dialogue, which is this week being held for the 19th time, should be scrapped.
“The existence of the dialogue, however ineffectual, allows both governments to say they address human rights concerns,” said Ms Brigden.
“But the process fails the acid test: it achieves no concrete improvements in human rights for people in Tibet and China.”
Downing Street officials said this week that China’s treatment of dissidents was raised by Mr Cameron and other ministers in meetings with Mr Li. But Downing Street refused to tell journalists which dissidents were discussed or what British ministers said.
According to Free Tibet, an opinion poll by ICM research last November found that 74 per cent of Britons thought that human rights in China were “as important as” or “more important than” the question of boosting trade between the UK and China.