Cameron demands political freedom in China

By Ian Dunt

David Cameron has made an unequivocal call for greater political freedom in China, in a speech delivered to students in Beijing.

The prime minister has come under enormous pressure to deliver a firm message on human rights to the Chinese, on what is predominantly a trade visit.

“The rise in economic freedom in China in recent years has been hugely beneficial to China and to the world,” Mr Cameron said.

“I hope that in time this will lead to a greater political opening because I am convinced that the best guarantor of prosperity and stability is for economic and political progress to go in step together.

“We don’t raise these issues to make to us look good, or to flaunt publicly that we have done so. We raise them because the British people expect us to, and because we have sincere and deeply held concerns.”

Even though the forthright message risks alienating his hosts, Mr Cameron was evidently keen to use the phrase ‘political opening’, rather than ‘political freedom’, in a bid to water down the impact of the speech.

The pressure was on Mr Cameron to make a definitive human rights statement following the arrest of Liu Xiaobo, who won the Nobel Peace prize last month.

The prime minister is understood to have raised the case with Chinese premier Wen Jiabao during dinner last night.

“Two different countries, past and future Olympic hosts, on far sides of the world, sowing the seeds of a flourishing relationship in the future, a relationship which has the potential to grow and to bloom,” Mr Cameron said in his speech this morning.

“Proof, perhaps, that Confucius was right when he said: ‘Within the four seas all men are brothers.'”

Mr Cameron also tried to cement a closer working relationship between the UK and China in a determined pitch to increase Chinese investment in the UK.

“[People] can see China’s rise as a threat, or they can see it as an opportunity,” he said.

“They can protect their markets from China, or open their markets to China. They can try and shut China out, or welcome China in, to a new place at the top table of global affairs.

“I choose engagement not disengagement. Dialogue not stand-off. Mutual benefit, not zero-sum game. Partnership not protectionism. Britain is the country that argues most passionately for globalisation and free trade. Free trade is in our DNA. And we want trade with China. As much of it as we can get.”