Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Will David Cameron press China on human rights?

November 8, 2010

As David Cameron flies to China today he is under pressure to raise human rights with Chinese leaders, notably the case of Liu Xiaobo, the Nobel laureate serving an 11 year prison sentence for advocating democracy. Officials have briefed the press that the prime minister—who is leading a large trade delegation to China in the hopes of drumming up billions of pounds in exports—will raise human rights in a "sensible and measured way".

What does that careful phrase mean, exactly? Here is my prediction: we will never know.

Let me explain. British politicians have faced loud calls to raise human rights when visiting China for many years, certainly since the suppression of the 1989 democracy protests in and around Tiananmen Square. Yet China's vast market has been making trade delegations salivate for even longer. The magical essence that allows this square to be circled? Cynicism. And my own experience as a sometime China correspondent is that when it comes to showing cynicism in this field, Chinese and western politicians are pretty evenly tied.