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Asem 2 Saturday, 4 April, 1998, 15:13 GMT 16:13 UK
China human rights concerns raised with EU
China
The EU says teaching democracy in rural China is part of the process to improving human rights
Pressure groups attempted unsuccessfully to put human rights firmly on the agenda of the summit between the European Union and China held in London.

Leicht
Human Rights Watch's Lotte Leicht: EU contradicts its commitment
Human Rights Watch sent an open letter urging the EU to use the meeting to lay down specific benchmarks to measure China's progress on human rights.

Three other groups, Reporters without Borders, Human Rights in China and Article 19, issued a joint statement asking the EU to press China to release all imprisoned journalists and other people detained for expressing their views. They mentioned in particular the case of the journalist Gao Yu, who they said was sentenced in 1994 to six years in prison for having divulged state secrets.

Human Rights Watch wanted the British Prime Minister and current EU President, Tony Blair, to present China's Prime Minister, Zhu Rongji, with concrete measures that can be used to assess the country's progress in human rights. In its letter, it asked Mr Blair to ensure that any dialogue with China on rights is made public.

The BBC's Brussels Correspondent says the EU is increasingly keen to secure a slice of China's massive trade potential. It now emphasises dialogue rather than confrontation, and no longer issues hard-line support for UN resolutions condemning rights abuses, instead preferring quiet reminders through closed meetings.

Brittan and Zhu
EU Trade Commissioner, Leon Brittan (left), alreaady has a rapport with China's Prime Minister, Zhu Rongji
Trade Commissioner, Sir Leon Brittan, says: "A way of handling this, which is not regarded as profoundly offensive by the Chinese, but at the same time is absolutely pretty firm as far as we are concerned, has been found, and I think that is progress."

Human rights organisations in the West say the new approach has resulted in the EU remaining silent in the face of continuing Chinese rights violations. The Human Rights Watch letter said the EU settles for too little and fails to link progress with improved relations.

The EU claims the Chinese are being much more open and says detailed discussions are being held. It quotes China's recent invitation to the UN's Human Rights Commissioner as justification of its policy. It also points out the EU initiative to teach democracy in rural villages in China.

However, concerns remain that this may be little more than cover to enhance trade opportunities in China. Lotte Leicht of Human Rights Watch Europe, says: "What the EU is doing is to use these kind of projects and the whole pallet of excuses not to speak out publicly about human rights in China. That is unfortunate and contradicts the EU commitment to human rights."

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
BBC News
Human Rights Watch's Jean Paul Marthoz tells BBC World what he wants from the EU (1'42")
BBC News
David Eades visits China to see how the EU is trying to encourage democracy ('3 ''54).
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