This week’s headlines depict UK-China relations reaching a “new height”. Chinese President Xi Jinping’s 5-day visit has been documented by a series of ingeniously choreographed photographs of handshakes with various politicians. By the looks of the slick smiles plastered on the faces of all involved, the trip’s purpose to stay firmly in politically correct territory must have been sufficiently accomplished.

Prior to his visit, Xi Jinping issued a statement warning that he would take offence if issues of human rights were raised during his stay. He asserted his concerns that UK politicians may use the justification of human rights to interfere with China’s political affairs. Such an overtly controlling statement confirms that, when it comes to China, we truly are dealing with an authoritarian state, even when it comes to receiving them on our own soil.

This somewhat formidable warning held great weight in the eyes of Cameron and Osborne, who have been working an uphill battle to reconnect with China since 2012. After Cameron hosted a visit by the Dalai Lama, an exiled Tibetan spiritual leader who China considers a threat, China responded by ‘freezing’ all ministerial contact with Britain for over a year. Despite previous amenity between the two nations, talks of the visit this week, as stated by George Parker, Political Editor for ft.com, ‘herald a golden era for relationship’. The UK collectively holds its breath this week, waiting for someone to slip up in this gratification scheme.

“His bid appears to represent the only sane voice amidst a sea of appeasing, cowardly politicians in fear of being frozen out of the Chinese sphere of influence”

Chancellor George Osborne visited China last month on a trade mission and was praised by a Chinese newspaper The Global Times for his “pragmatism” in focusing on business matters and avoiding discussions of civil liberty matters. It would appear that there are rewards for placating the Chinese.

In direct contrast, newly elected Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has unabashedly proclaimed his intention to raise the issue of human rights at a banquet with Jinping. His bid appears to represent the only sane voice amidst a sea of appeasing, cowardly politicians in fear of being frozen out of the Chinese sphere of influence.

Whilst the UK are concerned with mollifying the Chinese president, hundreds of human rights activists are being illegally held or are now classified as ‘missing’. Not only is the state depriving citizens of their basic rights, anyone who speaks out against the highly censored system is ‘removed’ from the political forum.

“The presidents statements targeting British interference are merely a smokescreen to hide the illegitimacy of China’s human right breeches”

The atrocities committed by the Chinese government were directly and globally publicized with the case of Cao, a severely ill human rights activist who was denied access to medical care and subsequently died in 2014.

Xi Jinping argues that the UK has no right to lecture China on human rights. And, perhaps he has a point. Clearly, with ongoing reports of migrant abuse and over work by advantageous employers, we cannot claim to be perfect on the civil liberties front. Indeed, China has been playing catchup with the UK in terms of development for decades. It is conceivable that China’s outdated stance on human rights is just another issue with which the nation hasn’t quite caught up with us on. Admittedly, our human rights record wasn’t as commendable 100 years ago.

However, in reality, the president’s statements targeting British interference are merely a smokescreen to hide the illegitimacy of China’s human rights breaches. He may claim vulnerability to the imposition of western values, but one must see past this age-old line. Human rights are, by their very definition, universally applicable.

“It would seem that China holds all the cards in this political minefield”

The whole affair screams of appeasement and ignorance. Perhaps controversially, the current political shuffle could be paralleled with Britain’s policy towards Hitler during the 1940s. Does what go on behind closed doors cease to concern us, as long as we hit record figures in terms of industrial trade? Does our system depend entirely on the political points scored in highly manipulated, scripted visits?

It is undeniably inhumane, and outright immoral, for our nation to ignore the brutalities committed in a country we have such great involvement with. Our current government’s priority remains unquestionably to secure our place in the political ‘goodbooks’ of Jinping and gain the title of largest European investor in China.

It would seem that China holds all the cards in this political minefield.

Beth Webb-Strong

Image by Number 10 on Flickr

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