China: Wen will China respect human rights?

Today's blog comes from a baltic bethnal green, where I am holed up in my flat watching the snow keep coming. It's relentless. GIven that I live pretty near the Amnesty office i was poised to set off on a snowy walk (no buses in London today at all) when I received word that the office has been closed – a bit like you used to get at school when the boiler broke down. Of course now I have (1) no sledge and (2) an Internet connection: somehow the magic has gone…

I suspect that some sections of the British media may have put the recent wildcat strikes, economic downturn, labour government and siberian weather together and come up with "Winter of Discontent II: The Sequel". The PM seems, however, to have pulled off a nifty bit of business with Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao, today announcing a joint trade deal that will see British exports to China doubling over the next 18 months to ten billion pounds worth. Brown has emphasised that protectionism is not the answer to our global economic woes and heralded this new deal as a shining example of how we're going to get out of the recession.

All very well and good, but protectionism isn't the only likely reaction to the recession: there's also a very strong possibility that world leaders like Brown are going to be a lot less enthusiastic about letting issues like human rights get in the way of trade deals, particularly with countries that have money to spend and a human rights record that makes pretty scary reading. Countries like, er… China.

I'm not saying "don't do business with China". But as I've said before in this blog, criticism of China's record on issues like free speech, the death penalty, fair trials and Tibet does tend to go a bit quiet as soon as trade issues are mentioned.

Fair play to Gordon Brown, he  did mention human rights and Tibet in his statement to the press today – but we'll need to keep a very close eye on whether the UK puts any real pressure on the Chinese authorities to make much-needed reforms.

Now let me get my gloves back on and get by that radiator…

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Our blogs are written by Amnesty International staff, volunteers and other interested individuals, to encourage debate around human rights issues. They do not necessarily represent the views of Amnesty International.
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