UK Politics

China state visit: President 'won't shy' from human rights record

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Media captionAmbassador Liu Xiaoming: "The president... is not here for a debate on human rights"

China's ambassador to the UK says his country does not "shy away" from discussing human rights - but doubts Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn will raise the issue at next week's state banquet.

Liu Xiaoming said President Xi Jinping's state visit would focus on "partnership" and "co-operation" between the two countries.

The state visit, the first from China since 2005, begins on Tuesday.

Mr Corbyn's spokesman has said he will use the visit to discuss human rights.

He is due to have a private meeting with the Chinese president, and has not ruled out using a state banquet at Buckingham Palace to make his case.

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Media captionChina's ambassador says he is not a fan of Ai Weiwei's art

But Mr Liu told the BBC's Andrew Marr Show: "I don't think the Labour Party will raise this issue at a state banquet... I don't think so."

The president, he said, will be "here for co-operation, for partnership, he's not here for debate about human rights".

Mr Liu said it was "natural" there were differences between China and the UK, suggesting Chinese people care more about jobs and housing.

"We do not shy away from discussions about human rights," he said, adding that he had a "good meeting" with Mr Corbyn last week and that China was "not interested in microphone diplomacy".

"First of all, I think the state banquet is for Her Majesty, it is her show, either Jeremy Corbyn or others are her guest," he said.

President Xi is also expected to address Parliament and hold talks with Prime Minister David Cameron.

Image caption Human Rights Watch: There has been a "marked deterioration" in human rights in China

David Mepham, UK director of campaign group Human Rights Watch, accused the ambassador of "empty rhetoric".

He told the BBC News Channel: "What Human Rights Watch and others have documented over the last three years since Xi came to power as the president of China is a very rapid and marked deterioration in the human rights climate in China."

Mr Mepham said there had been a "ferocious assault on human rights activists" in China, with "scores" of people sent to prison over the last three years, some of whom had been ill-treated and tortured.

He said it was right for Mr Corbyn, along with Mr Cameron and other cabinet members, to address human rights issues.

Mr Mepham added that activists in China said the public spotlight was vital for their own protection and to put increasing pressure on the Chinese government.

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Image caption Jeremy Corbyn will attend a state banquet for the first time

Mr Liu also played down the significance of the absence of the Prince of Wales from the banquet in Buckingham Palace, saying the prince would be present on "separate occasions".

After reports the prince was "staying away" from the event, royal officials said he would have "significant involvement" in the state visit, including meeting President Xi and his wife and a formal welcome on Horse Guards Parade.

On Chinese artist Ai Weiwei, whose latest exhibition is at the Royal Academy of Arts in London, Mr Liu said "he is not my taste".

"There are so many talented Chinese artists but yet - there are many, much better than him - why is he so famous?

"Because he is critical of Chinese government," he told The Andrew Marr Show.

Mr Liu said the artist had "never been put behind bars" but had been under investigation for having been suspected of "destroying accounting documents".

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