Why the UK should embrace the new ‘special relationship’ with China

There was a great deal of criticism thrown in the direction of those entertaining and accommodating President Xi Jinping to the UK recently, while on his relationship building visit. But doesn’t this new special relationship open the door for the UK to put pressure on China regarding their human rights record?

The journeys around London in a golden carriage and the lavish banquets justifiably drew criticism from a multitude of voices. This kind of opulence and sycophancy that was bestowed on the Chinese guests was sickening and demeaning in equal measure, but this would be the case whoever the guest of honour and is not treatment reserved only for President Xi Jinping.

However, the heaviest condemnation seemed to come from those attacking the human rights record of the Chinese regime. Indeed, Prince Charles reportedly chose not to attend the banquet in protest and human rights activists greeted Xi as he took part in a precession along The Mall. But the visit of the Chinese President opens the door for the UK and the rest of the world to exert greater pressure on China to amend the treatment of its citizens.

There is no question that some of the actions of the Chinese regime are reprehensible. This year alone, hundreds of human rights lawyers and activists have been detained and interrogated, with some remaining in custody in secret locations and allegedly tortured. The country also has a dire record regarding gender equality, religious freedoms and also stands as the world’s most prolific state executer of prisoners.

While it’s massively important that we don’t turn a blind eye to China’s human rights record, it surely makes sense to influence China as an ally, rather than a sneering former superpower preaching to the new kid on the block.

It’s important to remember too, that this issue isn’t black and white, there are no indisputable good guys or bad guys. Britain and her closest friends don’t have a faultless human rights record either. The revelations from Edward Snowden demonstrate that the UK and US are both more than happy to snoop on their own citizens. It also wasn’t that long ago that David Miliband admitted that the UK was complicit in US rendition flights. Add to that, this country’s long and un-illustrious tradition of selling arms to oppressive regimes, to name but a few indiscretions of our own.

The point is, as a country we already have links with China and they will inevitably continue to grow. Every year, around 150,000 Chinese students attend UK universities and the recent visit appears to herald China using London as a base to internationalise its own economy.

While we shouldn’t ignore human right abuses in the name of profit or remaining in China’s favour. But to influence the actions of this emerging superpower will only come through a diplomatic process and that means welcoming China with open arms in to a family of nations.

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