Wednesday, 29 June 2011



Wen Jiabao, China’s premier, has sharply rebuked the UK government of David Cameron over its criticisms of China’s lack of human rights, warning that the London should stop its “finger-pointing” at Beijing.

Amid growing signs of anger in the Chinese leadership at the emphasis Mr Cameron has been putting on the need for greater political freedoms in China, Mr Wen indicated that the UK should cease ”lecturing” Beijng over the issue.

On his official visit to Britain, Mr Wen joined the UK prime minister in overseeing the signing of some £1.4bn of trade deals, including a new agreement between BG Group, the energy company, and Bank of China that allows BG to expand in China.

However, the trade deals came as a senior Chinese official in London told the Financial Times that Britain was falling down the league table of China’s trade partners because of the high profile stance that Mr Cameron was taking on human rights.

The official told the FT that the UK “is losing its standing in Europe as far as China is concerned and that Britain is now viewed less favourably in Beijing than Germany, France, Italy and Spain.”

At a press conference at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Mr Wen said: “On human rights, China and the UK should respect each other, respect the facts, treat each other as equals, engage in more cooperation than finger-pointing and resolve our differences through dialogue.’’
He later went on to evoke how China had a 5,000 year history in which the country had been exposed to untold sufferings. “This has taught the Chinese never to talk to others in a lecturing way, but to respect nations on the basis of equality,” he said.

In the course of Monday’s press conference, Mr Cameron said he was confident Britain could talk frankly to China about its concerns on human rights while also maintaining strong business relations. However, senior Chinese officials told the FT that Britain’s stance was now badly undermining the bilateral relationship.

Another Chinese official accepted that other nations in Europe raised human rights issues with the Chinese. “But they also put an emphasis on maintaining people-to-people relationships and they place the issue of human rights in context. The UK government and media see China through too narrow a prism.”

Mr Wen himself is understood to have told a private meeting in London on Monday that the relationship with the UK is important, but added: “I hope it doesn’t go downhill.”
Kerry Brown, head of the Asia programme at Chatham House, a think tank, said Mr Wen’s comments also showed how angry the Chinese leadership had become with Mr Cameron for raising human rights issues very publicly on his first official visit to Beijing last year. “Other European leaders, like Angela Merkel, Nicolas Sarkozy and Silvio Berlusconi haven’t stuck their necks out like that. Cameron is now getting punished for that,” he said.

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