David Cameron raises human rights in China talks
- 9 November 2010
- From the section Business
David Cameron has raised the issue of human rights during talks with the Chinese Prime Minister, Wen Jiabao, on a trade mission to Beijing.
The UK prime minister did not refer directly to jailed dissident and winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, Liu Xiaobo.
But BBC political editor Nick Robinson said Mr Cameron was expected to talk specifically about this later in the visit, which aims to promote trade.
Premier Wen said that the UK's visit had been "fruitful".
Mr Cameron, who is joined by four cabinet ministers and 43 business leaders, called the trip a "vitally important trade mission".
Engine maker Rolls-Royce has won a $1.2bn (£750m) contract - the biggest of the visit so far.
Pressure had been mounting on Mr Cameron to raise the issue of China's human rights record.
The two men met at a formal reception in the Great Hall of the People, as Mr Cameron arrived on his first trip as prime minister to the country.
Mr Cameron said it was correct that human rights would be discussed.
"We have a really high-level dialogue with China on all sorts of issues, ranging from the economic and trade and business, and yes, of course, human rights, too," he told the BBC.
"Of course we shouldn't be lecturing or hectoring, but it's right we have a dialogue about these things, and that's what our relationship does."
But the Chinese artist Ai Weiwei, who says he was recently put under house arrest by the Chinese authorities, said Mr Cameron must make a public statement about China's human rights record.
He suggested that by avoiding the matter, the Prime Minister he was putting trade ahead of human rights.
"For anyone doing big business with China not to mention those universal values is putting money and short term profit before very important values. It's shameful."
The artist, whose work is currently being displayed in London's Tate Modern museum, added: "You have to do it publicly, not just privately. This is not going to work. Because privately we all know this is wrong and we don't even have to mention it."
A spokesman for the Chinese foreign ministry said the situation in his country had improved, telling reporters that Chinese people were "enjoying more extensive rights and freedoms".
Mr Cameron promised "closer engagement" with China, and said "banging the drum for trade" was key to UK foreign policy.
He said British goods currently accounted for only 2% of China's imports and this had to change.
"Our message is simple: Britain is now open for business, has a very business-friendly government, and wants to have a much, much stronger relationship with China," he said.
The Chinese Commerce Minister, Chen Deming, said China was itself very keen to buy more goods from the West, including Britain, but was being held back by certain export restrictions.
He told the BBC that China wanted to buy a lot more hi-tech equipment, but was prevented by prohibitions on the sale to China of items that could have a military purpose.
He said China wanted the hardware and software for peaceful purposes.
Among the most important deals signed so far is Rolls-Royce's $1.2bn contract, which is to supply a Chinese airline with Trent 700 engines for 16 Airbus A330 aircraft, along with long-term servicing.
Business Secretary Vince Cable, who arrived in Beijing ahead of the prime minister, had previously signed an agreement that will allow the export of British breeding pigs to China, home to half of the world's pig population.
That deal - and future business stemming from the agreement - is valued at about £45m to the British pig industry over the next five years.
The Chinese and British authorities also reached a deal to ensure only whisky produced in Scotland would be marketed in China as Scotch, a move some estimate will increase sales by tens of millions of pounds.
Mr Cameron's first stop after landing at Beijing airport was a Tesco supermarket, where he met staff and shoppers.
China has 99 outlets of the British store, which first opened in the country in 2004 and is planning a £2bn investment over the next five years.
Tesco's executive director Lucy Neville-Rolfe, who is part of the business delegation, said: "China obviously represents a huge opportunity for growth, with large numbers of consumers and a government which thinks that expanding internal consumption is important."
Chancellor George Osborne has said that this is not a new chapter in British relations with China, but that the country had reached a stage in its development where it was "more likely to want the things which Britain is good at".
These included financial services, insurance and luxury goods, he added.
Currently, exports to China, although growing fast, are relatively small compared with other markets. For example, the UK exports twice as much to the Irish Republic as to China.
BBC News website readers have been reacting to this story. Here is a selection of their comments:
It is wrong. I am a Chinese university student. What have the western countries done for Iraq and Afghanistan? You have had human rights scandals and you guys have no qualification to teach the Chinese people any lessons. We welcome business and friendship but not the UK trying to teach and trouble us. Wang, Jiaozuo, China
As a British student in Beijing who was present at the speech, I can safely say that Cameron did a good job of walking the tight rope between saying too much and too little. The few Chinese students I spoke to after the speech certainly seemed to think that he did well to raise the issue without preaching. Their criticisms were that he did not say enough on the matter. Victoria, Beijing
I am a Brit who has been living in China for more than twenty years. In that time the lives of the ordinary Chinese people have improved beyond imagination and they have choices in areas that they never had before. Given the Chinese experience over 3,000 years of cycles of chaos and stability, the Chinese government places a much higher priority on maintaining stability than we do, and views that as its main task. If you approach the issue of human rights from that perspective, the Chinese are perfectly happy to engage in lively discussion, but if approached without an appreciation of the enormous progress made so far they won't listen. Tim Clissold, Beijing
As British people expect Cameron to talk about human rights, then the points he has raised are absolutely right. What Cameron will say is decided by what British people hope. That is the might of democracy. Zhaoxueyin, China
I am currently living and teaching English in a Chinese university and have discussed the issue of human rights with my pupils. I believe that David Cameron was right to raise the issue of human rights as it is a problem that needs addressing. However, I have found that most of my pupils want western countries to understand that changing from a communist state, with thousands of years of history, to a democracy cannot be done overnight. Ian Garner, Nanjing, China
I think it's very important for the two countries to enlarge the business trade, and Chinese human rights situations have indeed changed a lot through the years and we're now enjoying more freedom and feel a sense of satisfaction. Jacquou Shentu, Hangzhou, China