China: Picking quarrels and causing trouble (part II)

As President Xi Jinping’s plane hits the tarmac he must be excited about the royal welcome that he’ll be getting in the UK – the red carpet has been rolled out, the flags raised and the banquet prepared!

I’m sure he’ll be keen to enjoy the hospitality of his hosts, whilst he and the UK Government get down to business. However, it would appear there is going to be one big elephant locked out of the room – human rights.

There has been lots of talk about China’s economic progress. People talk enthusiastically about progress made for Chinese citizens, better standards of living, economic security, and a growing middle class.

This may well be true and is indeed welcome. But when it comes to human rights we’ve witnessed a marked deterioration since President Xi came to office in 2012.

China is in the middle of its most intense crackdown on human rights for years and the human rights of ordinary Chinese citizens – including that growing middle class – must not be ignored in order to secure trade deals.

David Cameron must remember that China executed more than the rest of the world put together in 2014, often after trials that didn’t meet international standards.

The Prime Minister must ask President Xi about the nationwide operation that, in July, targeted and detained at least 248 lawyers and activists, 29 of whom still remain in police custody.

And what about the seven lawyers and five activists under ‘residential surveillance in a designated place’ – a process in which police are allowed to hold criminal suspects for up to six months outside of the formal detention system? This often amounts to enforced disappearance, a violation of international law.

As Chinese citizens are finding their economic freedom, perhaps Mr Cameron will raise concerns about other freedoms?

In Tibetan areas, there continue to be tight restrictions on freedom of peaceful assembly, freedom of expression and freedom of religion. The Zhejiang provincial government is waging a campaign to demolish Christian churches and tear down crosses and crucifixes. All unauthorised forms of peaceful religious worship – including Buddhist, Muslim, and Christian house churches – can be subjected to suppression and criminal sanctions.

As President Xi will be staying with the Head of the Anglican Church, perhaps Mr Cameron would find it appropriate to raise these issues with the President?

The space for civil society in China is shrinking when it should be cherished and nurtured. Yet the Chinese authorities appear determined to clamp down on anyone that they deem a threat.

The catch all law of ‘picking quarrels and causing trouble’ allows the government to arrest, detain and silence those that question them.

Recent targets include the New Citizen Movement, a loose network of activists dedicated to the principles of constitutionalism, government transparency and civic responsibility – hardly firebrands?

Add to this that the authorities are considering introducing a ‘Foreign NGO Management Law’ that could put at risk forms of cooperation between UK and Chinese civil society. Mr Cameron must urge President Xi not to pass this law.

Of course, these are all issues that the Chinese will not want raising during the President’s visit.

The Chinese Ambassador has been quick to discourage any mentions of human rights. Any mention (of course) would be ‘embarrassing for the UK’ and offensive to China.

Well I’m sorry Mr Ambassador, but human rights activists actually find your comments offensive. I’m also sure that those brave Chinese activists who languish in your prisons, subject to harassment and restrictions would also be offended if these issues aren’t raised.

It is for these people that David Cameron should raise human rights issues with President Xi. He doesn’t have to ‘offend’ him, he’s a politician and perfectly capable of doing so with in a principled, forceful and specific way, both publicly and in private.

There may be thousands of miles between the UK and China, but the brave human rights lawyers, activists and defenders there are watching developments here.

This is Mr Cameron’s opportunity to show that the UK doesn’t put trade and prosperity above people – and that is why we stand together with the Chinese people in defence of human rights.

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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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