China's best friend in Europe should start telling it some home truths

In his interview with John Lloyd (3 April), Peter Hain regretted the term "ethical dimension" in foreign policy. Lloyd suggests the phrase "is being consigned to the memory hole".

On the matter of China, the Foreign Office itself has never left the memory hole, despite Hain's description that the Chinese are "a particularly difficult case".

As it happens, for Britain they are a simple case: Tony Blair summed it up when he was in Beijing where he said he wished Britain to be "China's best friend in Europe". Hain boasts that twice a year, in meetings with the Chinese, "we raise [human rights] issues".

Two whole times! This from the minister who, together with Robin Cook, rails daily and publicly against Robert Mugabe's regime in Zimbabwe for opening diplomatic bags, crushing demonstrations and delaying elections.

I don't know if the Chinese open diplomatic bags. They certainly crush and sometimes kill demonstrators; imprison thousands of them; confine the leadership of the Democratic Party after absurd "trials"; execute more people illegally, according to Amnesty International, than the rest of the world combined; and threaten their truly democratic neighbour, Taiwan, with violence. China supplies countries such as Iraq, Iran, Syria and Libya with weapons of mass destruction. Everyone knows what goes on in Tibet, but Chinese behaviour in Muslim Xinjiang is far more brutal.

Hain says there is no alternative to the - wholly private - twice-yearly discussions. Here is one: reverse the Foreign Office decision not to condemn China at the UN Human Rights Commission meeting right now in Geneva. Washington, which also hates irritating Beijing, is taking the lead in this. Even as China's best European friend, Britain could support this motion. Hain might say such condemnation is useless: if so, why is Beijing lobbying so hard to head it off?

Jonathan Mirsky
London W11

This article first appeared in the 10 April 2000 issue of the New Statesman, The long war against democracy