PM signs China deals but urges respect for human rights


Mr Cameron said the aim of the deal was to reach $100bn in bilateral trade by 2015

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David Cameron has said China provides a "huge opportunity" for British business as he announced £1.4bn of trade agreements between the two countries.

After meeting Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao for talks, Mr Cameron hailed what he said was a "deeper dialogue".

But he said political and economic progress must go hand in hand as respect for human rights was "the best guarantor" of prosperity and stability.

Mr Wen urged co-operation and dialogue over the issue, not "finger-pointing".

Market access

During talks in Downing Street, the two leaders signed bilateral trade agreements worth £1.4bn and restated their desire to double the value of two-way trade between the countries by 2015.

UK companies are to get greater access to Chinese markets in architecture, civil engineering and research and development.

A ban on British poultry exports to China in place since a case of avian flu in 2007 is being lifted while more British pigs and pig meat are to be sold to China. Agreements on services and taxation have also been reached.


Britain genuinely believes that the best way for China to ensure a stable and prosperous future is through respect for human rights and the rule of law.

The problem for Mr Cameron is that since his visit to Beijing last November China has moved in the opposite direction.

Its Communist Party leaders have launched their toughest internal crackdown since the Tiananmen massacre over 20 years ago.

Spooked by the revolutions in north Africa, and preparing for a stage-managed handover to a new generation of Communist leaders next year, the authorities have targeted well over a hundred artists, writers, human rights lawyers and internet bloggers.

Around two dozen people have been seized and held at secret police detention centres. Some have been sent to labour camps, some have disappeared entirely. Those who have reappeared have been intimidated or threatened into staying silent.

The artist Ai Weiwei, held by police in secret for 80 days, has been confined to Beijing, banned from giving interviews or posting messages on the internet.

Mr Cameron's well-meaning advice has been ignored.

Western governments fret that voices advocating more tolerance are losing the argument in China.

For China's leaders it is simple. They insist stability is what matters and only with stability can they ensure progress for China's people.

The two men also discussed improving cultural and educational relationships between China and the UK - building upon the large number of Chinese students at British universities - and global issues such as international security and climate change.

British exports have increased by 20% since Mr Cameron led a major business delegation to Beijing last November and No 10 hopes a new "signposting" agreement will enable British business to branch out beyond Beijing and Shanghai into fast-growing regional cities.

The UK and China must fulfil "mutual commitments on market access", Mr Cameron stressed, but he rejected any talk within Europe of resorting to increased barriers to slow the pace of Chinese imports as a way of narrowing its trade gap with China.

"Trade with China is a huge opportunity for the UK but we have a lot to offer China as well," he said. "Building on this trade and investment will mean jobs, growth and prosperity for all of us."

Mr Cameron rejected suggestions there was a "trade-off" between the UK's commercial interests in China and its willingness to speak out about human rights, saying no subject had been "off limits" in their talks.

While stressing that China and the UK were "different countries with different histories", Mr Cameron said the development of civil society and freedom of expression and respect for human rights "underpins stability and prosperity for us all".

"We applaud the economic transformation that has taken place in China... But, as I said in Beijing last November, we do believe the best guarantor of prosperity and stability is for economic and political progress to go in step together."

Wen Jiabao faced a small protest about China's human rights record during a visit to the MG car plant in Longbridge on Sunday.

Asked about the issue, he told a news conference in London: "On human rights, China and the UK should respect each other, respect the facts, treat each other as equals, engage in more co-operation than finger-pointing and resolve our differences through dialogue."

'Not much change'

The UK government was said to have been encouraged by the recent release from custody of artist Ai Weiwei and other dissidents but wanted the Chinese authorities to do more to allow freedom of expression.

One expert on Chinese politics told the BBC Beijing was tightening rather than loosening its grip over political expression and association.

"Human rights is an issue that you should raise as a matter of principle but realistically we are not going to see much change in China," Professor Steve Tsang, from the University of Nottingham, said. "They have not been delivering much in terms of human rights for a long time."

On the issue of trade links, Prof Tsang said the deals were welcome but did not break any new ground, and it remained to be seen whether access to China's regional heartlands would actually transpire.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 177.

    Good news for businesses. Save millions offshoring manufacturing to China and ship the finished products back.

    Bad new for the workers who's jobs were moved to China.

    So the question is do you want cheap Chinese made goods or more expensive UK made goods which will generate jobs in the UK?

  • rate this

    Comment number 138.

    If China lectured us on say 'work ethic' would we listen to them? Most probably not. If Britain talks to China about HR, then isn't that like a fly buzzing in the ear of an elephant? Sorry, but Britains influence has been systematically reduced over the years. Also given that China holds much of our sovereign debt, since when does a lender have to listen to a borrower? New power dynamics i think.

  • rate this

    Comment number 85.

    Is everybody blind? This may be a good short term arrangement but to me it's a warning sign that China is starting to get a foot in the door. How long before it owns our businesses and industries, and therefore can hold us to ransome? My alarm bells are going off alarming...

  • rate this

    Comment number 24.

    Really sad that the developed world is already... developed, and now we have to turn to the developing world to help us stay developed. Hope the developing world learns the rules that paved the way for a nation to be developed, and that includes proper human rights to its people. Democracy is all about people power, not just big fat wallets held by a few.

  • rate this

    Comment number 19.

    Isn't it a bit foolish to decry the chinese regarding their human rights, etc. Their system, with it's faults, seems to be much more stable for its' citizen's than many of the Western world's and until recently their financial management of their economy was solid. Contrast with the unknown state of Western ""democratic" capitalism". Which will survive? The answer is pretty imminent, methinks.


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