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China seeks apology from UK; Clegg says UK must stand firm PDF Print E-mail
[8 May 2013] The Chinese government are reported to be seeking an apology from the UK over David Cameron's meeting with the Dalai Lama last year. However, Downing Street officials deny there is a rift with China, whilst the Deputy Prime Minister has stated that the UK must continue to express its views on human rights and freedoms "in a respectful but nonetheless firm way".

The Dalai Lama, David Cameron & Nick CleggAt the end of April, it was revealed that Prime Minister David Cameron had postponed an official trip to China after Beijing indicated that senior leaders were unlikely to meet him. The snub is beleived to be in retaliation for Mr Cameron's meeting with the Dalai Lama in London in May 2012 (pictured right with Nick Clegg on far right). At the time, the Chinese government said the meeting had seriously interfered with Chinas internal affairs and demanded the UK take practical actions to correct the error.

On 7 May, the Daily Telegraph quoted a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman saying Cameron's meeting with the Dalai Lama had "undermined" UK-China relations and that the British government must "work with us to bring the relationship back on to a healthy track at an early date". It is believed the Chinese government wants Cameron to apologise for meeting the Dalai Lama, before the resumption of high-level meetings.

Following these latest remarks, a spokesman from Downing Street, during a media briefing, denied the Prime Minister was under pressure to apologise. The spokesman added, "The Chinese government always lobbies hard against any meetings between foreign governments and the Dalai Lama. We have made clear in advance to the Chinese government that British ministers will decide who they meet and when they meet them."

Nick CleggDeputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg (pictured right), who also met with the Dalai Lama in May 2012, told Sky News that the UK would not back down from confronting China on human rights issues. Despite the UK's "very important" economic relationship with China, Mr Clegg said, "That doesn't mean we should somehow give up on what we believe in when it comes to human rights and freedoms which we will continue to express in a respectful but nonetheless firm way."

Richard Ottaway MP, Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, told the Evening Standard that Mr Cameron should resist any pressure from Beijing, adding, The Dalai Lama has always been welcome in Britain and I hope it remains that way. I think this will quickly blow over and investment will flow both ways.

The Chinese government often 'punishes' countries for meeting the Dalai Lama by temporarily freezing relations and threatening withdrawal of trade and investment. Denmark, France and Germany have all bowed to such pressure in recent years and issued statements acknowledging China's rule over Tibet. Even cities and universities face pressure from the Chinese government if they invite the Dalai Lama to visit, as witnessed in the UK last summer. Leeds, Edinburgh, Inverness and Dundee councils were all pressurised by Chinese government officials to cancel their events with the Dalai Lama.

The Prime Minister's office has been playing down the current stand-off with China. A spokesman said that Cameron still intends to visit China later this year, that relations with China remain "warm" and it is hoped a "stronger relationship" will be established.

The UK's economic relationship with China has grown significantly in recent years. In 2012, China invested 8 billion in the UK, which included investments in Londons Canary Wharf financial district (of which China now owns a third) and a 10% stake in Heathrow airport. Last year the UK exported 10.5 billion worth of goods to China.

UPDATE (17 May 2013) : Read letter sent to Cameron Take Action

Links to media reports (all 7 May 2013)
Telegraph: David Cameron's rift with China could cost UK billions
Telegraph: No apology from Downing Street over Dalai Lama meeting
Independent: David Cameron 'must apologise' for meeting Dalai Lama
BBC: David Cameron 'to visit China this year'
Sky: Can UK Plc Today Afford To Antagonise China?
Evening Standard: Relations with China are warm; Cameron aims to go there soon

(29 April 2013) Tibet Society: Cameron snubbed by China for meeting Dalai Lama
(29 June 2012) Tibet Society: China calls on UK cities to cancel Dalai Lama events

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