BBC News: Corbyn presses for human rights meeting with Chinese officials

BBC News
14 October 2015

Jeremy Corbyn is seeking private meetings with Chinese officials to discuss human rights issues during next week’s state visit to the UK by President Xi Jinping.

The Labour leader’s spokesman said Mr Corbyn would be “using the opportunity” of Mr Xi’s four-day visit, his first as Chinese leader, to raise his concerns.

Mr Corbyn was “always concerned that the government doesn’t raise human rights issues”, the spokesman said.

Ministers say they engage on the issue.

During a week-long visit to China last month, Chancellor George Osborne said he addressed the issue of human rights privately “in the context of talking about issues like economic development” – a stance applauded by the Chinese state media.

Chinese President Xi Jinping is to make his first state visit to
the UK. AP

While on a visit to the restive Xinjiang province in the far west of the country, the first by a UK minister, Mr Osborne was urged by campaigners to be more vocal about the treatment of the area’s Muslim Uighur minority.

State banquet

Mr Osborne, who wants China to become the UK’s second-largest trading partner, has insisted that the two countries have different political systems and traditions but that is not inconsistent with efforts to build commercial and cultural ties and co-operate in other areas.

Relations have improved since a diplomatic row in 2012 following David Cameron’s meeting with the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama.

Mr Corbyn will attend a state banquet to be held at Buckingham Palace for President Xi, the first time the Labour leader has attended such an event.

His spokesman said discussions were being held to try to arrange private meetings with Chinese officials during the visit but did not categorically rule out Mr Corbyn using the royal function to do so if necessary.

“He will be raising issues about human rights next week,” he said. “If he gets private meetings he will be doing it in those meetings – that’s the right thing to do.”

As a backbench MP, the Labour leader campaigned on human rights cases for decades, urging the release of political prisoners and calling on the UK to stop selling arms to “repressive” regimes.

In his conference speech last month, he highlighted the case of Ali Mohammed Baqir al-Nimr, a Saudi man who faces beheading after being convicted of crimes including breaking allegiance to the country’s king,

‘Full part’

The government announced on Tuesday that it was withdrawing from talks about a £5.9m contract to provide services to Saudi jails amid criticism of the country’s criminal justice system, although ministers denied the decision was related to any individual case.

In relation to what Mr Corbyn would be wearing at the state banquet, his spokesman was unable to say whether he would wear white tie, as is customary at such an event, or if he owned such attire.

Asked if Mr Corbyn would be singing the national anthem, after being criticised for not doing so at a Battle of Britain memorial service last month, the spokesman said: “Jeremy will take full part.”

He confirmed that the invitation was a “plus one” but that he didn’t think Mr Corbyn would be taking his wife.

During the visit – the first Chinese state visit for a decade – President Xi is expected to address Parliament and hold talks with Mr Cameron.

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Rachel Ritchie, English Media Director
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