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Last Updated: Monday, 18 February 2008, 09:52 GMT
Prescott warns critics off China
John Prescott
Former Deputy PM John Prescott is known for his plain-speaking
Former deputy prime minister John Prescott has rounded on China's critics, saying relations cannot be allowed to sour over the Darfur issue.

Mr Prescott told the BBC he was worried about a return to Cold War rhetoric in the West's dealings with Beijing.

On Wednesday, film director Steven Spielberg quit as adviser to the Beijing Olympics over Darfur.

"China on its own cannot solve Sudan," Mr Prescott said, "but she is playing a part in the UN."

No lecturing

He told Radio 4's The World This Weekend that engagement with China was crucial in finding a solution to thorny issues such as Darfur.

"Yes, let's be critical, let's keep pressuring [and asking] why aren't you doing more", he said. "I always discuss human rights with the Chinese."

Until he retired as Deputy Prime Minister, John Prescott led Britain's China Taskforce, promoting links between the two countries.

Asked how China reacted when challenged over such issues, he said: "We get a proper debate about it as long as we're not trying to lecture them all the time - as if the history of European countries had been absolutely pristine white on human rights.

It was the international community that said to China 'can you talk to North Korea because we can't and they won't listen to us.'
John Prescott
Former Deputy Prime Minister

"We have to watch the stage of development, we see how industrialisation is beginning to rapidly change China both in its outward development in the world as well as internally."

As evidence, he pointed to China's record in engaging with North Korea over its nuclear programme.

"It was the international community that said to China 'can you talk to North Korea because we can't and they won't listen to us.'"

That was when we were concerned about the nuclear weapons of North Korea. China's played her part in that and hopefully will bring to peace to that."

Conscientious objector

In a statement, Mr Spielberg accused China of not doing enough to pressure Sudan to end the "continuing human suffering" in the troubled western Darfur region.

At least 200,000 people have been killed and two million forced from their homes in the five-year conflict.

Mr Spielberg said his conscience would not allow him to continue in his role as artistic adviser to China for the Olympics.

Within hours, 80 Nobel laureates and artists signed an open letter to Beijing urging it to do more to help end the conflict in Darfur.

China has responded by saying it regretted Mr Spielberg's decision.

But it defended its actions in Sudan.

OLYMPICS ROW
Famous names involved in advising the Olympics include director Zhang Yimou and Kung Fu star Jackie Chan
Hollywood stars Mia Farrow and George Clooney have criticised China over Darfur

A foreign ministry spokesman said: "China is also concerned about the humanitarian situation in Darfur. [But] empty rhetoric will not help. We hope that relevant people will be more pragmatic."

For his part, Mr Prescott said: "I do worry that the language [towards China] seems to be wrapped more and more in the Cold War.

"I think that would be very unfortunate because China is coming out more and more into the world and I think we should encourage that."

Britain's relations with China were critical, Mr Prescott said.

"Gordon Brown started off with a flying start in terms of maintaining good relations with China as a friend, being critical - making the points, but showing working together is what we need to do in the world economy."

"As for selling arms and doing trade", Mr Prescott said, "I think we should look around among ourselves, and see there's quite a bit of criticism about trafficking that goes on with Western countries."

SEE ALSO
China 'regrets' Spielberg action
14 Feb 08 |  Asia-Pacific
Spielberg in Darfur snub to China
13 Feb 08 |  Asia-Pacific

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