Wen Jiabao’s visit to Britain

Patronising lectures on human rights rebuffed by Chinese premier.

Proletarian writers

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Proletarian writers

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China’s premier Wen Jiabao paid a brief visit to Britain in late June as part of a three-country European trip, which also featured more extensive visits to Hungary and Germany, reflecting the healthier Chinese relationship with those two countries.

Prime Minister David Cameron boasted that as a result of Wen’s visit, China and Britain had signed new deals worth £1.4bn. Leaving aside the fact that at least one of these deals was not actually new at all, being a recycled announcement of a projected deal unveiled during Cameron’s visit to China last November, this amount is paltry, especially when compared to the $15bn in new contracts that were signed between China and Germany when Wen moved on to Berlin.

There are two main reasons for this discrepancy. One is the comparative health and state of the German and British economies and the other is China’s growing dissatisfaction with Britain’s arrogant lectures on human rights.

Germany, the European Union’s largest economy, is also the only major European economy whose GDP has best recovered from the decline during the onset of the global financial crisis. Trade relations with China have played a major role in Germany’s economic recovery. China is Germany’s largest non-European export market – a position it took over from the United States at the end of last year. German economists predict that China could become their country’s biggest export market of all by 2015.

Being one of the world’s most important suppliers of high quality and high technology equipment means that German products are extensively used in Chinese factories, many of which in turn supply manufactured products to the German market. This is why German chancellor Angela Merkel refuses to join US president Obama in pressurising China to allow the value of its currency to appreciate.

As Steven Barrow, currency strategist at Standard Bank, put it: “The benefit of having a more rapid appreciation of the yuan might be outweighed for Germany by the effect of much slower Chinese growth.” (Quoted in ‘Germany’s future rising in east as exports to China eclipse US’, Bloomberg, 7 April 2011)

When it comes to human rights, British imperialism has absolutely no right to lecture any other country, least of all China, a country where British imperialism went to war for the ‘right’ to inflict opium on the Chinese people, seizing Hong Kong as a colony in the process, and grabbing for itself and its fellow western bandits extra-territorial privileges in China’s great cities, such that British overlords could erect signs in Shanghai parks reading ‘No dogs or Chinese allowed’; and a country where, since the communist party came to power, more people have been lifted out of poverty than at any other time, this constituting one of the greatest real contributions to human rights in history.

British imperialism, whose callous disdain for human rights has claimed the lives of countless millions throughout its blood-soaked history in Ireland, Africa, Asia and the Pacific, the Caribbean and elsewhere, up to and including its contemporary marauding in such countries as Libya, Iraq and Afghanistan, could not care less about the human rights of the vast mass of Chinese people. The sole purpose of such nauseating lectures and finger-pointing by Cameron and others is to incite and encourage domestic and external counter-revolutionary forces in their efforts to effect ‘regime change’ in China.

If the communist party were to lose power in China, if the dictatorship of the proletariat were to be replaced by rule by other classes, if the socialist foundations of the Chinese economy and state were to be dismantled, then, far from enhancing the rights of the mass of Chinese people, they would doubtless be plunged back into the abyss of misery that was their lot in old China, and their most basic rights, including the right to life, would be trampled underfoot. Anyone doubting this need look no further than Russia, China’s northern neighbour, where the liquidation of the Soviet Union has seen average male life expectancy drop to below 60.

Wen Jiabao was far too diplomatic and far too polite to his hosts to spell all this out, but at a Foreign Office press conference on 27 June, he left his audience in no doubt as to what he and his government make of the patronising and insulting lectures of Cameron and his cronies in government and the media.

At the press conference, Cameron pompously declared:

“China and Britain are different countries with different histories and we completely respect that, but we believe that the development of civil society – freedom of expression, the rule of law and respect for human rights – underpins stability and prosperity for us all. We applaud the economic transformation that’s taken place in China and we certainly do not claim that Britain has a monopoly of wisdom or is a perfect society, but as I said in Beijing last November, we do believe that the best guarantor of prosperity and stability is for economic and political progress to go in step together.”

Leaving aside the fact that a disinterested observer might reasonably conclude that these days Britain has more to learn from China about how to create stability and prosperity than the other way round, the prime minister ought really to bemoan that his expensive education at Eton evidently did not include post-1840 history and has therefore left him ill-equipped to deal with today’s realities. Quite simply, if you think that you can get the Chinese to bail out your economy whilst delivering them patronising lectures, you will end up sorely disappointed.

On the trade situation, Wen cut through Cameron’s feeble attempts at hyperbole and spin by noting, “our trade still accounts for a small proportion of our respective external trade volume and its ranking in China-EU trade is slipping down”.

He continued: “On human rights, China and the United Kingdom should respect each other; respect the facts; treat each other as equals; engage in more cooperation than finger-pointing and resolve properly our differences through dialogue.”

In response to questions, Wen further noted, in remarks that go to the heart of the fundamentally different meaning that human rights have in socialist countries compared to capitalist ones, that, “we are working hard to address the social ills, including unfairness and the widening gap between the rich and the poor, so that the Chinese people will enjoy equal rights in the economic, political and other fields”.

Hinting at the brutal treatment once meted out to the Chinese people by British and other imperialists, Wen stated:

“As far as history’s concerned, China has a 5,000-year history, and in history the Chinese nation was once exposed to untold sufferings. That has taught the Chinese never to talk to others in a lecturing way; rather we respect all other nations on the basis of equality.”

Noting his life-long love of the plays of William Shakespeare, and reflecting on his visit to the bard’s birthplace at Stratford-upon-Avon, the first and apparently most enjoyable part of his visit, Wen said that it had made him wonder, “whether foreign friends also cherish as keen an interest in China’s history and theatre as I do for Shakespeare. And if they do, I believe they will be able to fully appreciate the long history of China in the past 5,000 years, the twists and turns the country went through, and the extraordinary course the country travelled in the past 30 years in particular …

“We transformed the backward Chinese economy and lifted the Chinese economy to the second largest in the world today. We succeeded in providing adequate food and clothing for over 200 million Chinese people, who used to live in poverty, and raised the average life expectancy of the Chinese population by five years. Moreover, we have taken good care of some 80 million people with disabilities in this country.”

In response to a question on Libya, Wen gave this timely warning to Cameron and his fellow imperialist leaders: “Foreign troops may be able to win war in a place, but they can hardly win peace. Hard lessons have been learned from what has happened in the Middle East and Afghanistan.” (All quotations of Cameron and Wen from the transcript available at number10.gov.uk)

Despite the very restrained tone of Premier Wen’s remarks, it is a sign of China’s rising strength that it no longer needs to shout or employ invective to be noted. “Wen rebukes UK human rights focus” read the front-page headline on the Financial Times. Stating that Cameron had been “sharply rebuked” by Wen, Europe’s leading financial daily quoted an unnamed Chinese official as saying that the UK “is losing its standing in Europe as far as China is concerned and that Britain is now viewed less favourably in Beijing than Germany, France, Italy and Spain”. (28 June 2011)