9 Nov 2010

Trade before human rights for David Cameron in China?

Just been speaking to Ai Weiwei, the co-designer of the Beijing Olympic Stadium, who’s been under house arrest for the last few days. He’s now out, but expecting to be confined again some time soon. We met at a restaurant in Beijing.

He said that David Cameron had to take a harder line with the Chinese leadership and scoffed at his claim that he was giving them anything resembling a firm message.

David Cameron’s plane was packed with¬† business folk and you get the powerful impression this is a trade delegation first and last.

David Cameron doesn’t look like a man who is going to bang the table over human rights and he follows a long tradition. You get a flavour of that tradition in this blog from The Economist – especially the anecdote in the last 2 paragraphs.

A former diplomat who attended meetings between the British and Chinese leaders in the not so distant past told me that on one occasion the UK delegation simply pointed at documents on the table that were minutes from the separate “dialogue” between Chinese and British officials¬† on human rights and said words to the effect “we know about that, of course.”

There will be plenty – some of them business leaders on this trip – urging David Cameron not to rock the boat on trade for the sake of pleasing a domestic UK audience on human rights. The trade deals out of this trip might not match the billions pulled in by President Sarkozy’s last meeting with the Chinese but the PM thinks trade could increase substantially over the next decade and beyond and he thinks if the Chinese think he’s lecturing them they will take their business elsewhere.

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