27 Jun 2011

China’s Wen snaps back at human rights ‘finger pointing’

Simultaneous translation through headphones appeared to seize up at Premier Wen’s joint press conference with David Cameron in the Foreign Office just now. It meant the PM had to stare with knowing but inscrutable glances at Premier Wen’s epic answers without the slightest idea what his guest was saying. Foreign Office officials looked puzzled as did the PM’s Chief of Staff Ed Llewellyn.

The answer, longer than the Great Wall, has now been translated by an aide and consisted of a ticking off to Adam Boulton of Sky who’d asked if China needs to make progress on human rights and democracy (and specifically asked David Cameron if he was in danger of “propping up” the Chinese regime in pursuit of good trade relations).

Premier Wen said he thought Sky’s political editor probably hadn’t travelled around China as much as he had and therefore wasn’t qualified to comment. China had, after all, he said, incorporated human rights into its constitution. Ah, that’s alright then. Last November I met Ai Weiwei in Beijing when I was part of the travelling press pack with Mr Cameron and I suspect, if he wasn’t gagged, he might think that constitutional amendment fairly insignificant.

Earlier Premier Wen repeated the regular line that the West shouldn’t indulge in “finger pointing” after hearing Mr Cameron repeat what he said in Beijing in November, that economic development needs democratic development.

“Finger pointing” isn’t usually a word used in front of a host dignitary though. And in another answer Premier Wen said how much he’s read of Shakespeare then suggested it would be a good idea if more Westerners read something of China’s literature and history. I’m no sinologist but this sounded to me a bit at the more snappish end of Chinese diplo-speak.

On Libya, Premier Wen, who didn’t use China’s veto at the UN to stop NATO-led military action against Col Gaddafi, said he supported the UN resolution and steered clear of any controversy. David Cameron mouthed a “thank you” to Premier Wen as the two men listened to the non-simultaneous translation being read out.

Read more: an expert’s guide to the best of Chinese literature

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