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Don’t let business blind you to China’s human-rights record, warn campaigners

20 October 2015


Dissent: Bob Fu (left) protesting on the Mall in London on Tuesday, with Chen Guangcheng, a blind self-trained “barefoot lawyer” who campaigned on behalf of poor people in cases of land disputes and forced sterilisation. Both endured prison and house arrest before taking refuge in the United States

Dissent: Bob Fu (left) protesting on the Mall in London on Tuesday, with Chen Guangcheng, a blind self-trained “barefoot lawyer” who campaigned on beh...

THE arbitrary detention of lawyers and the demolition of church crosses are evidence that violations of human rights in China are at their worst since the Cultural Revolution, a Chinese activist said this week.

Bob Fu, president of China Aid, co-ordinated his visit to the UK with that of the President of China, Xi Jinping. He was here, he said, to “encourage the public to continue to stand up for human rights, without compromising values in exchange for business deals”.

A student leader during the Tiananmen Square demonstration, Mr Fu became a Christian in 1989 and went on to run a house church and underground Bible school in Beijing. In 1996, he and his wife, Heidi, were imprisoned for two months for “illegal evangelism”, followed by house arrest. Heidi was pregnant with their first child, without a “pregnancy permission card”, and they escaped to Hong Kong before being granted asylum in the United States, after an intervention by the then President Bill Clinton. They left on the last day before the territory was handed back to the Chinese.      

Mr Fu now lives in Texas, where he heads up China Aid, the organisation he founded in 2002.   

“The current Cameron and Osborne administration has chosen to give up the kind of universal values that are the cornerstone for the founding of Great Britain,” he said on Monday, the day of President Xi’s arrival. “How can a democracy like the UK roll out the red carpet, and take in the Communist dictatorship like a real respected leader, for the sake of money?”              

This is the first visit to the UK by a Chinese leader since 2005, and is expected to result in £30 billion-worth of trade and investment deals. A Downing Street spokeswoman has said that “nothing is off the table” in political talks, and that issues including human rights, cyber attacks, and China’s cheap pricing of steel — blamed for a serious decline in the UK industry — are all expected to be discussed.

The Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, has said that he plans to use a state banquet on Tuesday evening to raise concerns about human rights.

Human-rights groups, including Amnesty International — which has warned of a “marked deterioration in human rights” in recent years — protested in St James’s Park on Tuesday, as President Xi took part in a parade along the Mall to Buckingham Palace. A rival pro-China protest also took place.

On Monday, Mr Fu said that “human rights, religious freedom, and the rule of law in China are at their worst since the Cultural Revolution.” A “barbaric, brutal crack-down” on churches has seen 1700 church crosses “forcefully demolished” in the past 16 months, he said. Other churches have been levelled the ground.

Further evidence was to be found in the “arbitrary detention and forced disappearance” of lawyers. Amnesty International estimates that at least 245 lawyers and activists have been targeted in what it calls an “unprecedented nationwide campaign” over the past 100 days; at least 30 are still registered as missing, or known to be in police custody.

Mr Fu believes that behind this “radical escalation of persecution” lies the fearfulness of a leader with an increasingly “authoritarian, dictatorship style of leadership”. The crackdown was a response to the “rapid growth” of Christianity. There are, it is said, more Christians than members of the Communist Party. “They want to have strangled the baby before it is born: that is their term unfortunately.”

The US Government’s 2014 International Religious Freedom Report asserts that the Chinese government “tortured, physically abused, detained, arrested, sentenced to prison, or harassed a number of religious adherents of both registered and unregistered groups for activities related to their religious beliefs and practices”. It notes the demolition of 230 “Christian objects” in Zhejiang Province, described by the authorities as “illegal structures”.

The Chinese Ambassador to the UK, Liu Xiaoming, has criticised attempts to compare human rights in the two countries.

“We all know that China, UK, differ very much because we have different history, different culture, different stage of development,” he told Andrew Marr on the BBC on Sunday. “It’s natural we have differences, even with regard to human rights.

“In China we care more about the rights for better life, for better job, for better housing. I think the Chinese people enjoy their happy life.”

Mr Fu was unimpressed by this argument. “Of course for economic development, and even for the evolution of respect of human rights and religious freedom, it takes time in history; but a human being is a human being,” he said. “So Chinese citizens are no less valued than the citizens of the rest of the world.”

The chief executive of Christian Solidarity Worldwide, Mervyn Thomas, said on Tuesday that the Prime Minister had an opportunity to “go on the record, in public, to affirm that human rights and trade are not mutually exclusive; rather, rule of law and the preservation of rights are essential for a society in which all citizens can flourish and business can thrive.”

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