The following post was written by Emma Lange, one of our new UNAC-Vancouver website writers.
Last month Chinese President Xi Jinping visited the United Kingdom for the first time, marking a significant event for the Sino-British relationship. The visit however, was predominantly focused on business transactions and largely disregarded China’s glaring human rights violations, leaving many Chinese and UK citizens feeling disappointed and uneasy about the new association.
The purpose of the visit was to secure 30 billion GBP (60.89 billion CAD) worth of economic deals with the United Kingdom. Most important among these was the partnership for the proposed Hinkley Point C Nuclear Plant in Somerset, of which state owned CNG (China General Nuclear Power Corporation) has agreed to fund one third of the estimated 18 billion GBP project. The plant is set to start producing in 2025 and will generate enough electricity to power 5.8 million homes, encouraging a positive way forward in terms of cleaner low carbon energy.
China’s growing economic importance for the UK was revealed by the ceremony in which Xi Jinping and his wife were received. The three-day visit commenced by a 103 gun welcome salute with the royal family in attendance, and included exclusive tours of iconic spots in London and Manchester. The leader was also warmly greeted by groups of cheering Chinese nationals who lined the Mall, one of London’s most notable avenues, as well as Downing Street where meetings between the two leaders took place.
Interspersed among these supporters however, were protest groups including exiled Tibetans, free speech protestors, and followers of Falun Gong, a religion that has been deemed a cult and banned from China since 1990. Although these groups retained their right to peaceful protest, they were corralled behind barriers, while the Chinese “cheerleaders” were in the front position to watch Xi Jinping arrive at Buckingham Palace.
According to Human Rights Watch, abuses in China are increasing, and the country now leads the world in the number of executions issued by a government per year. Since coming to power in 2012, Xi Jinping’s administration has introduced more conservative policies, opposing freedom of press, constitutional rule and restricting dissent by making it easier to press criminal charges against activists. The government continues to justify censoring of the press, the Internet, and academic research as necessary to preserve “social stability.” It also imposes involuntary population relocation on a massive scale, and enforces policies that supress the political, social and religious rights of ethnic minorities in Tibet, Xinjiang, and Inner Mongolia. Activists against these injustices and human rights defenders endure police monitoring, detention, arrest, and torture.
British MPs saw the visit as an opportunity for David Cameron to raise the issue of human rights violations, but were disappointed by the lack of attention he gave the matter. Downing Street confirmed the Prime Minister discussed the issue with the Chinese leader, but refused to elaborate on the depth of the discussion or whether he raised the plight of specific groups. Xi Jinping addressed concerns during the last day of his visit commenting, “there is always room for improvement in the world. China is ready to increase co-operation with UK and other countries over human rights.” Kate Allen, UK director of Amnesty International commented that with their current level of oppression, “the Chinese president should be promising wholesale human rights reform, not saying the country looks to improve it”.
Cameron pressed Xi Jinping to confirm that former UK colony Hong Kong would remain semi-autonomous and have its political freedoms protected. He did not, however, push human rights issues, claiming the visit was focused on business and financial aspects.
UK citizens have been highly critical of Cameron courting Xi Jinping for investments without addressing the decline in civil liberties that Chinese citizens have experienced since he came to power in 2012. Chinese artist and activist Ai Weiwei, who was detained by the Chinese government in 2011, believes the UK Prime Minister is tarnishing his country’s reputation by brushing aside the glaring suppression of human rights.
Former policy adviser to David Cameron, Steve Hilton, also voiced disapproval, claiming “the UK should be imposing sanctions on China over issues such as its “vicious political oppression” and its “relentless cyber attacks”, instead of “rolling out the red carpet”.
It would be impractical to suggest that the UK should cut off a growing economic superpower with sanctions, and North Korea further proves that this method does not necessarily result in change. However, if Western countries intend to develop their relationships with China, significant improvements in human rights should be at the forefront of their agendas to send a clear message that the current violations and abuses will not be tolerated.
 Michael Holden and Elizabeth Piper, “Welcomed with Pageantry and Protests, China’s Xi Hails ‘bright’ Ties with Britain,” Reuters, October 20, 2015, Accessed November 2, 2015. http://www.reuters.com/article/2015/10/20/us-china-britain-idUSKCN0SD1OR20151020.
 “Hinkley Point Nuclear Agreement Reached.”; Emily Gosden, “Hinkley Nuclear Deal: China Could Start Building Its Own Reactor in UK in 2022,” The Telegraph, October 21, 2015. Accessed October 26, 2015, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/earth/energy/nuclearpower/11946620/Hinkley-nuclear-deal-China-could-start-building-its-own-reactor-in-Essex-in-2022.html.
 Jamie Merrill, “China state visit: Campaigners angered ahead of visit that ‘heralds golden era’ of UK-Chinese relations,” The Independent, October 27, 2015, Accessed November 2, 2015, http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/china-state-visit-campaigners-angered-ahead-of-visit-that-heralds-golden-era-of-uk-chinese-relations-a6697201.html.
 Peter Walker, “Xi Jinping in the UK: Who Will Press the President on China’s Human Rights?” The Guardian, October 16, 2015, Accessed October 26, 2015. http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/oct/16/xi-jinping-in-uk-human-rights-china.
 Patrick Wintour, “Don’t Interfere on Human Rights, Says Chinese Envoy before Xi’s UK Visit,” The Guardian, October 15, 2015, Accessed November 2, 2015. http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2015/oct/15/human-rights-chinese-ambassador-xi-jinping-uk-state-visit.
 Merrill, “China state visit.”
 “World Report 2014: China,” Human Rights Watch, January 21, 2014, Accessed November 7, 2015, https://www.hrw.org/world-report/2014/country-chapters/china-and-tibet.
 “World Report 2014: China.”
 Wintour, “Don’t Interfere on Human Rights.” ; “World Report 2014: China.”
 Rowena Mason, “Xi Jinping State Visit: UK and China Sign Cybersecurity Pact,” The Guardian, October 21, 2015, Accessed October 26, 2015, http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2015/oct/21/uk-china-cybersecurity-pact-xi-jinping-david-cameron.
 Mason, “Xi Jinping State Visit.”
 Patrick Wintour, “Xi Jinping State Visit: Cameron Seeks Assurances over Hong Kong Freedom,” The Guardian, October 22, 2015, Accessed November 2 2015, http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2015/oct/22/xi-jinping-state-visit-hong-kong-freedom.
 Aisha Gani, “Xi Jinping Signs Nuclear Deal as UK and China Clinch £40bn of Contracts,” The Guardian, October 21, 2015, Accessed October 26, 2015, http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/oct/21/xi-jinping-poised-to-sign-nuclear-deal-as-uk-seeks-to-clinch-30bn-of-contracts.
 Gani, “Xi Jinping Signs Nuclear Deal.”
 Mason, “Xi Jinping State Visit.”
 “Hinkley Point Nuclear Agreement Reached.”