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The BBC's Tim Franks reports
The UK says it has an ethical foreign policy
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Wednesday, 12 April, 2000, 14:35 GMT 15:35 UK
US attacks UK China policy

Tony Blair greets Chinese premier Jiang Zemin in 1999
The UK's approach to human rights in China has been criticised by a senior figure in the American State Department.

Harold Koh, the Assistant Secretary of State with responsibility for human rights, has told the BBC that the UK's policy of quiet dialogue with Beijing has been counter-productive.

The US is tabling a motion of censure on China's human rights record at the United Nations in Geneva but the UK has so far declined to back it.

The criticism also comes after the UK was criticised over its handling of an official visit by China's President Jiang Zemin last year.

Washington disappointed

Britain's position has provoked deep disappointment and anger in some quarters in Washington.


Free Tibet protester is arrested in London
Visit: Police arrest a Free Tibet protester last year
The US is frustrated that the UK has not changed its position despite a clear worsening of China's human rights record.

Up to now, the British government has followed a policy of "constructive engagement", despite ministers saying they are pursuing a foreign policy with an ethical dimension.

Mr Koh described that approach as an "empty dialogue" which achieves no real improvements.

A Democrat Congressman, Tom Lantos, went further, saying that Britain was one of a number of countries that had humiliated and debased themselves by grovelling before China.

The Foreign Office says that it is trying to negotiate a common European Union position on the issue.

Controversial visit

The US criticism comes months after the UK government was accused of sweeping China's human rights abuses under the carpet when President Jiang Zemin arrived in Britain for talks last autumn.

During that visit, protesters accused police of using heavy-handed tactics to prevent them from their legal right to demonstrate in London locations visited by the president.

An internal police report found that the Foreign Office had not put undue pressure on officers to arrest, remove protesters or prevent demonstrations.

Both China and the UK hailed the visit as a success.

But the Royal Family became embroiled in the controversial trip when Prince Charles, an admirer of the exiled Tibetan leader the Dalai Lama, was accused of snubbing President Jiang after turning down an invititation to an offical banquet.

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21 Oct 99 | UK Politics
Jiang defends human rights record
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