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Cameron silent on Tibet as Chinese Premier confronted by protests PDF Print E-mail
[20 June 2014] The UK government sidelined Tibet and human rights in favour of trade during Chinese Premier Li Keqiangs visit to London. However, despite the failure of the Prime Minister to express concern, Tibet Society, along with other NGOs and activists, kept Tibet on the medias agenda and ensured Premier Li was aware the issue had not been forgotten by the British public.

Page Index
Downing Street protest1. Cameron fails to mention Tibet
2. Deputy PM speaks out on human rights
3. NGOs and activists join forces
4. Tibet Society in the media
5. Premier Li witnesses Tibet protests
6. UK-China issue joint statement
7. Links & further reading


Cameron fails to mention Tibet
David Cameron and Li KeqiangOn 17-19 June, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang led a 250-strong delegation to the UK for a series of high-level meetings and trade negotiations. Of the 250 delegates, 200 were businessmen. During the visit over 14 billion worth of trade deals were signed between the UK and China, including in the energy, transport and financial sectors.

The visit was heralded as a new start to UK-China relations, however, it seems this relationship is based on trade rather than values which the Prime Minister was espousing just prior to Lis visit.

On 15 June, David Cameron said in an article in the Mail on Sunday, the UK should be far more muscular in promoting its values and institutions. According to Mr Cameron, these values include, A belief in freedom, tolerance of others, accepting personal and social responsibility, respecting and upholding the rule of law. Though referring primarily to education, the Prime Minister implied the values could be applied in foreign relations.

However, it seems the UK has no muscle when it comes to China. Despite having an opportunity at a joint press conference with Premier Li to express his concerns, the Prime Minister failed to mention Chinas oppressive rule in Tibet or Chinas appalling human rights record.


Deputy PM speaks out on human rights
Nick CleggOne dissenting government voice was that of the Deputy Prime Minister. On 16 June, the day before Premier Li met the Queen and David Cameron, Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg said China was guilty of large scale and systematic human rights abuses. He added the Chinese people are shackled to a one-party communist regime that is the antithesis of an open democratic society. 

Mr Clegg also said he had no regrets about meeting the Dalai Lama (in May 2012 along with David Cameron) and would be more than happy to meet him again.


NGOs and activists join forces
To ensure that Tibet and human rights were highlighted during the visit, Tibet Society joined forces with other Tibet groups based in the UK, including Free Tibet, Students for a Free Tibet UK and Tibetan Community in Britain. Tibet Society also worked with Uyghur and Chinese human rights defenders to show solidarity across China, Tibet and East Turkestan.

As well as attracting media coverage of the Tibet issue and human rights in China during the visit, the groups and activists helped ensure Premier Li was aware of the Tibet issue by having highly visible and audible protests at the major functions in London.


Tibet Society in the media
Tibet Society logoPrior to the visit there was controversy as the media reported the Chinese government had threatened to cancel the visit unless Premier Li was granted an audience with the Queen. Usually only Heads of State are afforded such status.

The Financial Times noted Downing Streets willingness to agree to such requests shows how much importance the UK gives to the relationship. The FT also noted the decision was controversial given Chinas human rights record and quoted a response from Tibet Society, It would seem the UK is kowtowing to Chinas demands in order to curry favour. Such acquiescence must not be at the price of speaking out on Tibet and human rights.

On 16 June, Tibet Society issued a press release as a member of Chinese Uyghur Tibetan Solidarity UK (CUTS UK) which urged David Cameron to not allow China to buy silence on human rights.

The press release was used by the Daily Mail, in their report on the first day of Premier Lis visit. The article quoted Philippa Carrick, CEO of Tibet Society, David Cameron must be clear that universal values of human and civil rights are integral to any engagement we have with China and Britains relationship with China cannot be just about trade and economics.

The Queen and Li KeqiangOn 17 June, the day Premier Li met the Queen and David Cameron, a letter to the Editor was published in the Guardian, signed by the heads of four UK-based Tibet groups, including Philippa Carrick of Tibet Society. The letter stated the timing of the meeting between the Queen and the Chinese Premier was indefensible given the increased repression inside [Chinas] borders. The groups then called on David Cameron to make a clear public statement... condemning the abuse of Tibetans human rights and expressing the UKs clear and long-overdue support for self-determination for the Tibetan people.

The protests on 17 and 18 June attracted many journalists and press photographers, with numerous interviews conducted with Tibetan, Uyghur and Chinese activists. Amongst media in attendance were BBC, Sky, NBC (USA), Press Association, Radio Free Asia and Russia Today.


Premier Li witnesses Tibet protests
Downing Street protestDespite less than a weeks notice of the visit and with no official information of Lis schedule, Tibet Society, together with other concerned groups and activists, still managed to hold effective protests at four of the major functions attended by Premier Li.

The Tibet groups agreed on messaging for the protests which included: Free Tibet before Free Trade, Cameron: Raise Tibet with Li Keqiang, Cameron: Dont trade away human rights and Li Keqiang: Economic development ≠ human rights.

On 17 June, over 150 people attended a demonstration opposite Downing Street as the Chinese Premier met David Cameron. As well as Tibetans and Tibet supporters, protestors included Uyghurs, Chinese, Vietnamese and Falun Gong activists. Kate Hoey MP also came along to offer her support, posing for photos with Tibetans (pictured below left) and later tweeting from @hoeykatemp: Supporting @tibetsociety @teamtibet demonstration at Downing Street. PM must raise Tibet with Chinese #Tibet #freedom.

Kate Hoey MP at Downing Street protestDowning Street protestDowning Street protest





Despite the presence of 100 Chinese government supporters (mostly made up of students bussed in especially to welcome the Premier), Li Keqiang was taken into Downing Street via a side entrance to avoid the ignominy of witnessing the protests. However, several Tibet activists were alert to this possibility and were in position to wave the Tibet flag in front of Lis motorcade as it avoided the main protest.

Protest at Natural history MuseumLater the same day, the protests continued outside the Natural History Museum, where a banquet for the Premier was hosted by the China-Britain Business Council. The banquet was attended by 650 people including politicians, government officials and leaders from the business sector. The event organisers erected a screen along railings in front of the museum to try and prevent the protest from being visible. However, a spot was found where the protest could be seen, as well as heard, from the museums main entrance. Plus, with tight security, many of those attending the banquet had to line up on the street and endure chants of Shame on China and Human rights for Tibet before being able to enter.

Mansion House protestThe following morning, Tibetans and Tibet supporters gathered at Mansion House, the official residence of the Lord Mayor of London, located opposite the Bank of England. Inside, the Chinese Premier delivered a speech to leaders from the UK financial sector. Outside, the Tibet contingent managed to make enough noise such that the speeches were disrupted and requests were made for the demonstrators to quieten down. Unsurprisingly, this led to even louder chanting of free Tibet and China out of Tibet!

Premier Li exiting Mansion HouseMuch to the annoyance of the Chinese security and officials, the Tibet protestors were allowed to demonstrate directly opposite the entrance to Mansion House. This meant that Premier Li not only had to pass in front of the protest on his way in, but Tibet flags and protestors were in his direct line of site as he walked out to his waiting limousine.

Protest outside ParlaimentThe final protest came outside the Houses of Parliament on the afternoon of 18 June, as Premier Li met with the Speaker of the House, John Bercow. The main protest was set on Parliament Square, which was soon decorated with Tibet flags for the passing tourists and traffic.

Though the Premier did not see the Parliament Square protest, as he was taken in one of Parliaments side entrances, he did not manage to escape the protests entirely.

Protest outide ParliamentThree activists waited for the delegation to leave, and as the Premiers car exited and turned onto the main road they pulled out Tibet flags and chanted slogans, before police and security bundled them off to the side. [Note: no arrests were made.] Undoubtedly, the Premiers last image as he left the Houses of Parliament was that of a Tibet flag!


Joint UK-China statement
UK-China flagsAt the end of their discussions and signing of trade deals, the UK and Chinese governments issued a joint statement. According to government sources, this statement came at the behest of the Chinese delegation, and is the first such joint statement between the UK and China in 10 years.

Disappointingly, the statement failed to make any significant statement on Tibet, only restating the UK governments policy recognising that Tibet is part of the Peoples Republic of China. No doubt this was a condition from the Chinese side, as this recognition is regularly included in joint statements between China and foreign governments.

The statement mentioned the importance of promoting and protecting human rights and the rule of law and strengthening the UK-China Human Rights Dialogue, but failed to provide anything of substance to signify real progress on the human rights issue. That it was relegated to near the end of the statement (point 23 of 30) showed the Human Rights Dialogues lack of importance, especially when compared to other dialogues, such as the Economic and Financial, People-to-People and Strategic Dialogues, which were all raised at the beginning of the statement (point 2).

Tibet Society's view: The side-lining of the Human Rights Dialogue coupled with the lack of a public statement from David Cameron during Premier Lis visit, indicate Tibet and human rights have become an insignificant part of the UK-China relationship. The lobbying of the UK government is now even more important, to ensure these issues are given the prominence they require and deserve and not completely disregarded.

Addendum: As this report was being written, the BBC have reported that on the day Premier Li left the UK, three Chinese activists, who called for an investigation into government corruption and for political reform, have received harsh jail sentences. A stark reminder of who the UK government are doing business with.


Further reading:
Financial Times: Chinese premier to meet Queen Elizabeth during UK visit (12 June)
Guardian: Letters: David Cameron must stand up to China (16 June)
Telegraph: Nick Clegg: China is guilty of large scale human rights abuses (16 June)
Daily Mail: Cameron rolls out red carpet for Chinas PM (17 June)
Gov.uk: Joint Statement from Chinese and UK governments (17 June)
BBC: Cameron hails China links at talks with Li Keqiang (17 June)
BBC: Harsh sentences dealt to activists as Li leaves UK (19 June)

Tibet Society:
Chinese Premier to visit UK 17-19 June 2014 (background and action)
Chinese Premier demands meeting with the Queen (13 June)
Cameron: Do not allow China to buy your silence on human rights (16 June)
Deputy PM says China is guilty of large scale human rights abuses (16 June)
Photos from protests during Chinese Premiers visit (via facebook)


Tibet Society, the worlds first Tibet support group, was founded in 1959. Funded by its members, it has been working for over 50 years to seek justice for Tibet through parliamentary lobbying, campaigns and actions. Help keep Tibet alive by joining Tibet Society today. (Annual membership 24; Family 36; Life 500)
 
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