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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3 reader comments

  1. Philip says:

    Yes. It would be good if more Brits had more than the faintest idea about China & Chinese history. We were living in mud huts & caves and wearing furs when the Chinese invented writing, etc. Our idea of democracy is less than 100 years old (100 years ago women didn’t have the vote). We also indulged in fair amount of slavery, forced the Chinese to take our opium, invented concentration camps, etc – so perhaps a little humility is in order. When we actually have a democracy that means that the government is elected by a minority of the people and a society that doesn’t exclude significant numbers, perhaps we could tell others what to do.

  2. Ray Turner says:

    I’m seriously bored with this Human Rights issue cropping up every time there’s any sort of contact between Britain and China…

    It also seems to be a media agenda rather than the UK Governments top priority.

    Premier Wen gets some sympathy from me.

  3. M says:

    Gary, please think when you’re writing these brief articles, as some poor saps actually take these biased opinions you’re spouting as the reality out there. I’m in total agreement with the points raised by Philip and Ray – the only thing I hear nowadays about China (as reported by the British media) is 1. Their poor human rights record 2. Their economic might and 3. Some sort of derogatory, ignorant and rather embarassing comment as demonstrated in the article above. Chinese literature is unimabinably intricate and rich, and there is actually nothing wrong with Premiere Wen Jia Bao pointing out that perhaps the leader of the British people should indulge in a little self-education and expand his knowledge about different cultures (and it wouldn’t hurt if all of knew a bit more about the world either).
    The most important point I hope you see is that I hope the way you’re reporting about China will become gradually less acceptable. I’ve sat with some Chinese friends who express confusion when constantly quizzed about ‘why their government has such a poor human rights record’ – as if Britian hasn’t any sweatshops, poverty gaps, embarassing climate cover-ups etc itself.

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