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With the horse about to bolt

HONG KONG (UCAN): Sitting members of the Conservative government attacked their own party during question time in the British parliament on October 22, voicing fears that rights and religious freedoms were being forfeited during negotiations with the visiting president of China, Xi Jinping, in the name of closer business ties.

With the horse about to bolt for Beijing at the completion of the first state visit to the United Kingdom of the Chinese president, Conservative, Fiona Bruce, called on the government to explain if the visit of the Chinese president had been used to raise the cause of a Christian lawyer, Zhang Kai, who has been detained by Chinese authorities since August, and if no, why not.

“Zhang Kai imminently faces a severe prison sentence, or the death penalty, for defending civil liberties,” Bruce said.

Zhang faces charges of endangering state security after the Protestant lawyer offered free legal advice to Churches amid the Zhejiang cross-removal campaign, which has seen some 1,200 crosses sitting atop both Catholic and Protestant churches removed.

Hugo Swire, the minister of state for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, said that the prime minister, David Cameron, had raised rights issues, without confirming whether Xi was pressed on specific cases or not.

“The strong relationship we are building (with China) allows us to discuss all issues. No issues, including human rights, are off the table,” Swire told the parliament.

Other ruling party members asked about specific cases concerning religious freedom, including that of Bishop Shi Enxiang, who was reported to have died earlier this year after a combined 40 years of detention.

Joshua Wong Chi-fung, a student and rights advocate, who faces five years in prison for his role as a leader of the pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong in late 2014, also came up in question time.

Swire again did not confirm whether these cases were raised with Xi or not.

The Chinese president’s four-day visit to the United Kingdom (UK) has been dominated by a flurry of trade and investment deals, prompting criticism from British media, advocacy groups and exiled Chinese that Cameron’s government has brushed rights issues aside.

“We urge the prime minister to extend the UK’s support to Chinese citizens working to uphold the rule of law in their country and to raise these issues with President Xi Jinping during his visit, affirming that human rights and trade are not mutually exclusive,” Mervyn Thomas, the chief executive of Christian Solidarity Worldwide in London, commented.

Two Tibetan residents in the UK were reportedly arrested by British police on October 21 after they tried to wave Tibetan flags as Xi was due to arrive at the office of the mayor of London.

An eyewitness of the Tiananmen Square Massacre in 1989 and currently Amnesty International advocate, Shao Jiang, was also arrested at the same venue after holding up signs calling on China to admit wrongdoing for the bloodshed.

His wife was reported as saying that British police had raided Shao’s home and taken away computer equipment.

The British government has defended the royal welcome afforded to Xi, saying that a new golden era of relations with China would lead to a closer dialogue on rights.

In an October 22 meeting with Xi at the British prime minister’s retreat, Chequers, Cameron pushed the Chinese president to confirm whether Hong Kong residents would be given the right to choose the next leader in the former British colony or not.

Xi’s response was not made public. The Chinese government has so far insisted all candidates for the top post in Hong Kong be vetted in advance by Beijing, the cause of protests in Hong Kong.

“With a money-first attitude, Britain will not defend the human rights situation in Hong Kong,” Jackie Hung Ling-yu, the project officer for the Justice and Peace Commission in Hong Kong, said.

In a rare opportunity for journalists to question the Chinese president, Xi said on October 21, “There is always room for improvement (on rights).”

He added, “We combine the universal value of human rights with China’s reality and we have found a path of human rights development suited to China’s national conditions.”


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