How to pick quarrels and influence people in China

In China “picking quarrels” is a serious criminal offence that can lead to spending lengthy amounts of time languishing in jail.

Last week Amnesty highlighted the plight of human rights lawyer Pu Zhiqiang who was formally arrested for “picking quarrels” and “illegally obtaining personal information”. He was originally detained by police on 6 May after he attended a seminar in Beijing that called for an investigation into the 1989 Tiananmen crackdown.

This week will see Chinese Premier Li Keqiang visit London for three days of meetings with the Prime Minister, and as has been much discussed an audience with the Queen. Mr Li is reportedly being joined on the visit by 200 Chinese business people, all looking for opportunities to invest in UK plc, investment which, according to The Guardian, could be worth a staggering £18 billion.

The visit comes just two weeks after the 25th Anniversary of the Tiananmen crackdown which saw hundreds killed as they demonstrated for more democracy and human rights. In China repression intensified around the anniversary and in London there was a stony silence from the UK government, who failed to issue a statement marking the date. At the time I was slightly perplexed by this silence. The UK usually issues such a statement - something seemed amiss?

However, when I saw the announcement of Mr Li’s visit I realised why the government may have remained silent – perhaps they did not want to be accused of “picking quarrels”. The UK government have after all been keen to improve relations with China following a difficult couple of years, notably since David Cameron met with the Dalia Lama and the break-down of the China/UK human rights dialogue earlier this year.

Whilst I understand the importance that the UK government put on ensuring the economy is healthy, it’s critical that human rights are not elbowed off the agenda at the cost of economic discussions in these post-banking-crisis times. It’s easy to see why the UK and other governments are keen to cosy up to the financial behemoths and secure economic ties, but it’s more important than ever that they take a long view and ensure human rights are raised.

We must challenge the conventional wisdoms that China will recoil at any mention of human rights. After all only last year they joined the UK in being elected to the UN Human Rights Council – if they are sincere about their role on the Council then they must demonstrate this by being open to dialogues on human rights.

Let’s face it - there is a lot of work to be done on improving human rights in China.

For example, China executes more people than the rest of the world put together. Mr Cameron should call for an end to this. He could also condemn the persecution of government critics like Liu Xiaobo, the Nobel laureate serving 11 years after he called for free elections and respect for human rights. Cameron could also mention Liu Xia, his wife, who has endured years of surveillance and isolation. Pu Zhiqiang’s arrest last week for “picking quarrels” and “illegally obtaining personal information” reminds us of the constant challenge activists face.

According to The Economist civil society in China is thriving with over 500,000 Non-Governmental Organisations already registered with the state. However, the Chinese authorities continue to draw the line with human rights organisations, which remain banned. This growth in civil society participation in China is an interesting one and the UK and other governments should take note of this, considering how this “people power” can bring about significant social change.

Perhaps David Cameron may wish to discuss with Mr Li how such engagement can be extended in order that human rights organisations can participate? Or perhaps not, seeing as today Michael Fallon has said human rights shouldn't 'get in the way' of commercial opportunities.

Cameron should challenge conventional wisdom and raise human rights – he may be accused of “picking quarrels”, but then some things are worth fighting for.

About Amnesty UK Blogs
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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1 comment

Hmmm! No mention of China's occupation of Tibet or the oppression imprisonment and torture of the Tibetan people. Nothing at today's protest either?

Maximillion 3 years ago