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Published on June 30th, 2011 | by David Christie
Image © [caption id="" align="alignleft" width="240" caption="UK Foreign Office - David Cameron with Wen Jiabao at the Signing Ceremony"]UK Foreign Office - David Cameron with Wen Jiabao at the Signing Ceremony[/caption] Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao met David Cameron on Monday as part of his visit to Europe this week.  The two leaders signed trade deals worth £1.4 billion after talks in Downing Street.  China’s economy is surging ahead of many western countries, achieving a growth rate of 10.3% in 2010.  While the economies of the western world are still flagging, China is well on its way to becoming an economic and military superpower. Given this situation, what can the western democracies do to improve the human rights situation in China?  At the moment, it seems that they can do very little.  With many countries in the west eager to obtain economic assistance from China, to gain Chinese investment in their industries and to enable their businesses to break into Chinese markets, many western governments will decide not to press the issue.  A cynic might argue that western governments, concerned mainly with their economic and strategic interests, do not really care about Chinese human rights in any case.  The UK and the US, for example, have done deals with dictators on many occasions in the past, so dealing with China is unlikely to upset the moral scruples of the British and American governments. However, in the event of western governments taking a genuine stand on human rights, it is difficult to see how they could force the Chinese government to change its behaviour, given the current balance of economic power.  Therefore change in China will have to come from within.  Earlier this year, events in the Arab world inspired pro-democracy protests in China.  The authorities responded with a brutal crackdown, but it is unlikely that they will be able to keep a lid on dissent for long.  Growing worker unrest in China's expanding urban population, combined with the fact that no economic boom lasts forever, mean that the days of Chinese Communist rule could be numbered.

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How should the west engage with China?

UK Foreign Office - David Cameron with Wen Jiabao at the Signing Ceremony

UK Foreign Office – David Cameron with Wen Jiabao at the Signing Ceremony

Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao met David Cameron on Monday as part of his visit to Europe this week.  The two leaders signed trade deals worth £1.4 billion after talks in Downing Street.  China’s economy is surging ahead of many western countries, achieving a growth rate of 10.3% in 2010.  While the economies of the western world are still flagging, China is well on its way to becoming an economic and military superpower.

Given this situation, what can the western democracies do to improve the human rights situation in China?  At the moment, it seems that they can do very little.  With many countries in the west eager to obtain economic assistance from China, to gain Chinese investment in their industries and to enable their businesses to break into Chinese markets, many western governments will decide not to press the issue.  A cynic might argue that western governments, concerned mainly with their economic and strategic interests, do not really care about Chinese human rights in any case.  The UK and the US, for example, have done deals with dictators on many occasions in the past, so dealing with China is unlikely to upset the moral scruples of the British and American governments.

However, in the event of western governments taking a genuine stand on human rights, it is difficult to see how they could force the Chinese government to change its behaviour, given the current balance of economic power.  Therefore change in China will have to come from within.  Earlier this year, events in the Arab world inspired pro-democracy protests in China.  The authorities responded with a brutal crackdown, but it is unlikely that they will be able to keep a lid on dissent for long.  Growing worker unrest in China’s expanding urban population, combined with the fact that no economic boom lasts forever, mean that the days of Chinese Communist rule could be numbered.

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