UK Fears on Rights in China
An influential report by Britain's Foreign Office yesterday voiced "serious concerns" about China's record on human rights.
It comes as the UK considers backing moves by some European Union states to lift an arms embargo against Beijing.
The annual report, the most comprehensive of its kind to be produced by any western government, catalogues a series of abuses in China and concludes there has been "progress in some areas but no improvement in others".
Its findings are significant because Britain wants to see improvements in China's human rights record before lifting a blanket ban on arms exports, a measure that was imposed by the EU after the Tianamen Square massacre and described yesterday by Jack Straw, UK foreign secretary, as "unusual these days".
EU foreign ministers last month postponed further discussion about lifting the embargo until after the US presidential elections and are unlikely to make a decision on it until next year.
The US is lobbying fiercely to maintain the embargo but most member states, led by France, want it removed.
Violations of human rights in China included extensive use of the death penalty, torture, harassment of political dissidents, and severe restrictions on the freedoms of speech, association and religion.
Reports were also cited of abuses in Xinjiang, a province where the Foreign Office highlighted claims that China was using the war on terror to abuse the rights of the Uyghur community; and a campaign of political education in monasteries in Tibet.
However, while it identified fresh setbacks in the last year, including the harassment and prosecution of journalists, the report also found "encouraging developments".
Mr Straw sidestepped questions on whether he wanted the embargo lifted, saying it was under EU discussion. Many member states see the ban as an outdated symbol of a pariah status Beijing no longer deserves.
The UK is among those calling for a tougher code of conduct on exports before the ban is lifted.
On human rights, it may take the view that what matters is whether there has been improvement since 1989.
Amnesty International said the government should "consider very strongly China's human rights record before making a decision ... we want to see a considerable improvement".
Saferworld, an arms control pressure group, questioned whether the UK government's foreign policy on human rights was being undermined by arms sales to countries with dubious human rights records.