Published on 4 Dec 2013

David Cameron in China: Chasing paper everywhere

We’ve flown west from the commercialism and flesh pots of smog-soaked Shanghai to Chengdu in Sechuan province for the final leg of David Cameron’s China trip, a 41-vehicle convoy from the airport. I think it might be a new record.

Chengdu is where the Chinese first came up with paper money, back in the 10th Century. Eleven centuries on and Mr Cameron’s chasing the stuff all over the country.

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He visited the thatched cottage at the old home of one of China’s most revered poets, the ninth century “poet sage” Du Fu. What strikes you glancing at his poetry is the richness of the ancient civilisation and that’s exactly what Mr Cameron wants to honour.

When the last Chinese premier, Premier Wen, came to London in 2011, he complained about how he knew all about Shakespeare – he took a trip to Stratford upon Avon in that visit – but no-one in the UK seemed to know anything about the centuries of Chinese civilisation. This leg of the trip is meant to be some kind of atonement for such lapses.

‘Finger pointing’

Back in June 2011, the then Premier Wen gave a notably crotchety press conference in the Foreign Office, standing side by side with Mr Cameron.

He said that he was fed up with “finger pointing” from the west on democracy and human rights. This was back in the days when the Chinese felt Mr Cameron was “lecturing” them on their political system.

Mr Cameron had a mantra that economic progress only comes with political progress. No such lectures on this trip.

Mr Cameron repeatedly points  to the revival, conceded on this trip by the Chinese, of the UK-China human rights dialogue. I’ve mentioned that beast in the last few blogs.

But here’s a quote from a former minister who once had responsibility for the human rights dialogue: “It is a service which allows us to raise human rights concerns and enables the Chinese to marginalise the process of hearing those concerns.”

The former minister said “quite a lot of time and people” are devoted to the meetings. “We run through the cases which are of particular concern and they undertake with varying degrees of enthusiasm and engagement to look into them.”

Face value

There was “no concrete evidence (it) had ever achieved anything,” the former minister said. Mr Cameron believes there have been achievements from the process but they can’t be trumpeted.

I should add this former minister actually supported the dialogue and thought the alternative of banging the table and confronting the Chinese leadership face-to-face with their greatest shortcomings was a hiding to nothing.

Mr Cameron is dismissive of yesterday’s Global Times article in which the paper questioned the sincerity of his born again passion for China and mocked Britain’s irrelevance. He did, aides argue, after all have a two-hour dinner with the president.

The Global Times newspaper is an off-shoot of The People’s Daily, the main Communist Party mouthpiece. It tends to be sharper, seen by some here as speaking the darker thoughts of the governing elite.

President Xi’s words to Mr Cameron in their meeting, as reported by the Chinese papers, consisted of quite a few demands to nail down commitments to openness for Chinese investment. He sounded like a man who was testing the assurances the prime minister has been giving, not taking them at face value.

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3 reader comments

  1. ramachandranRAMASAMY says:

    Mr.cameron’s visit to China in strengthning the bilateral relationship is somewhat remarkable one. As Cameron winning the hearts of Tamil during his visit to Srilanka, his foreign trip is viewed as explicit one.

  2. Dr David Hill says:

    In six years time China will become the No.1 economy in the world according to the IMF and Citigroup and around $23 trillion in nominal terms. In PPP terms it will attain this No.1 position in 2016. Some 33 years ago in 1980, China’s economy was a mere $202 billion using equivalent 2012 base prices or only 1/114 of what it will be in 2019. Who says communism does not pay? But why has the West gone the opposite way and where we have accumulated vast unrepayable debt over those years unlike China that has now amassed officially around $5 trillion in foreign reserves and going up by the year? Some economists say that it is double this figure. It appears therefore to me to be a situation of its own making where the West through the driving force of its investors and corporates to make profit, have shot themselves in the foot long-term. But where some say that profit is another word for sheer greed. For now these same western companies are being bought up throughout the EU and the USA if anyone undertakes a Google search of what is happening around the world. Indeed China is buying strategic western businesses at an accelerating rate of knots and where western government debt is also being mopped up by Chinese money. In this respect it is estimated but unofficial by some leading European institutions that China has now bought up 25% of all the Euros in the world. Adding to this Chinese investors have been buying up real estate for quite a few years now like it is going out of fashion in the USA, buying up the world’s coal and many other natural resources and basically buying everything that moves or stands still. All this at its base through western money and one does not have to be an Einstein to see where all this is leading. The words that come to mind are ‘master’ and ‘servant’ and where western governments and corporates appear to have sold the people in the West down the proverbial swanee river at the vast expense of their people for the last three and half decades. But things are going to get far worse unfortunately and where we should have been investing in jobs in our own countries and developing our great innovative talent. But again that now is even being bought up by the Chinese again and Cameron’s recent Chinese visit is just a swan song to what a disastrous socio-economic mess that our western political and corporate business leaders have got us all into in a relatively short period of time.

    Dr David Hill
    World Innovation Foundation

  3. Dr Allan Mcnaught says:

    The Uk government is currently of the mind to derogate from the European Convention on Human Rights because it dislikes when judgements conflict with UK government policy.
    We have many human rights issues in our own country: so under what legal or moral authority does the UK seek to hold China accountable for its human rights record. If Cameron et.al is not happy with the Chinese repsonse what will they do? send the gunboats? sanctions?

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