UK Conservatives Slam Blair Gov't over China Rights

By Patrick Goodenough | July 7, 2008 | 8:08 PM EDT

London ( - Britain's opposition Conservative Party and a senior US State Department official have criticized the Blair government's approach to China's human rights record.

The government is under fire for its reluctance to co-sponsor a resolution condemning China's record - a resolution put forward by the United States at the UN's annual Commission on Human Rights conference in Geneva.

In the past, Britain supported such steps, but it has moved in recent years towards the position of its European allies - that "constructive engagement" works better than censure - despite human rights groups' assertions that China's record has worsened.

The UK Foreign Office said it was trying to negotiate a common European Union position on the issue.

The U.S. resolution, tabled on Tuesday, denounces Beijing for violating human rights and calls on China to free political prisoners and allow all religious groups freedom of worship. The gathering will vote on the measure on April 18.

Reports from Geneva say China has been lobbying to win support for a motion of its own countering the U.S. resolution.

The Conservative spokesman on foreign affairs, Francis Maude, said in a statement Foreign Secretary Robin Cook had "for the third year running ... let Britain down by refusing to co-sponsor a United Nations resolution condemning China."

Maude cited the Labor government's undertaking upon taking office in 1997 that it would follow an "ethical" foreign policy.

"Surely the mark of a proper ethical foreign policy is not how you treat the weak, but how you stand up to the strong. Yet again, Mr. Cook has shown that he is all mouth and no delivery."

U.S. Assistant Secretary for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor Harold Koh told the BBC earlier that the British policy of dialogue with Beijing had been counter-productive.

Rep. Tom Lantos (D-CA) told the same program Britain and other countries had debased themselves by groveling before China.

Human rights advocates were critical of the British government's handling of an official visit late last year by President Jiang Zemin.

They accused police of following instructions to clamp down on demonstrators protesting against Jiang, although a subsequent internal police report found that the Foreign Office had not put undue pressure on officers.

The heir to the British throne, Prince Charles, declined an invitation to an official banquet hosted by Jiang in London.

Britain exports about $1.67 billion worth of goods to China each year.

See Earlier Stories:
British Police Thwart Anti-Jiang Protests (Oct. 21, 1999)
EU Urged Not to Put China Trade above Human Rights (Dec. 23, 1999)

Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow