Europe May Ease Human Rights Pressure on China in Exchange for Bailout

The Guardian’s Tania Branigan reports human rights organisations’ fears that Europe will soften criticism of China to avoid derailing a possible bailout.

“It is definitely a big worry. We have already seen a weakening on human rights issues over some time, and I think this will exacerbate it,” Corinna-Barbara Francis, a China expert at Amnesty International, said ….

Francis said there was a broader trend of muting criticism as economic ties grew, citing Cambodia’s repatriation of 20 Uighur refugees to China two days before the countries signed deals worth an estimated $850m. Beijing denied any link.

“Clearly the EU should have a bit more resilience but, given the dire situation of the economy, I think it’s going to have an impact,” she added.

Wang Songlian, of the Chinese Human Rights Defenders network, … urged western leaders to work together, saying: “European governments do still have quite a lot of influence on the Chinese government. If they lose this opportunity, it becomes harder and harder in future.”

The London Conference on Cyberspace, which closed on Wednesday with remarks from British Foreign Secretary William Hague, offered little reassurance. While it was agreed that “efforts to improve cyber security must not be at the expense of human rights”, and that “any government that tries to stem the free flow of information will fail”, China’s name went, for the most part, conspicuously unspoken. From The Wall Street Journal:

Cyber security experts are quite clear that a disproportionate amount of the world’s cybercrime appears to come from China and a few countries of the former Soviet Union. In the closing press conference, Mr. Hague was asked why the British government has been so coy in naming names, and in making protests? He looked awkward on stage as he tried to maintain some vestige of diplomatic veneer.

“We are holding a country that is not belligerent…” he said. “We are trying to draw countries together in a constructive way… We have not been having a judgmental conference… We are going about this in a diplomatic way…”

Then least anyone should think him a wimp, promised: “We will have vigorous private discussions.”

Whatever new leverage it might bring Beijing, Reuters reported that a rescue package could prove deeply unpopular with the Chinese public, quoting an anonymous source “with ties to China’s top leaders”:

“Better to save Wenzhou than Ouzhou (Europe)” the source said, referring to one of China’s wealthiest cities which has been hit by a credit crunch. Dozens of bosses of small and medium enterprises in Wenzhou have gone into hiding this year after borrowing heavily from loan sharks after the government tightened bank credit to fight inflation ….

“The average wage of Chinese workers is a few U.S. dollars. The average wage of European workers is thousands of euros. Do they need China to rescue them?” wrote a microblogger identifying himself as “philosopher’s journey.”

“This is the people’s blood and sweat money that is being used to bail out gluttonous and lazy Greeks,” read a microblog posting by Sean Wu.