Chen Guangcheng

British award for Chen Guangcheng set to worsen UK-China relations

Lawmakers honour exiled blind activist as David Cameron’s government is accused of ‘caving in’ to Beijing’s pressure over economic interests

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 21 May, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 21 May, 2013, 5:47am

Britain's relationship with Beijing was set to chill further last night when the British Parliament gave a human rights award to blind activist Chen Guangcheng.

Chen - who escaped extra-legal house arrest in Shandong last year before seeking refuge at the US embassy in Beijing and finally making it to New York - was handed the Westminster Award for his contribution to "human rights, human life and human dignity".

Today, Chen plans to deliver to Downing Street a list of 44 senior Chinese officials he accuses of human rights abuses against him, his family and fellow activists, or who forced women to have abortions under the one-child policy.

"I will call on British Prime Minister David Cameron to slap these officials with a UK travel ban," he said in an interview with the South China Morning Post.

He added: "David Cameron has to remember the words of [US president Franklin Roosevelt] - that he has nothing to fear but fear itself. He should not be afraid of Beijing and any threats against trade."

Those he alleges are guilty of human rights abuse, and who are on the list he intends to hand to Cameron include former Politburo Standing Committee member Zhou Yongkang , who oversaw China's security forces and law enforcement authorities, Executive Vice-Premier Zhang Gaoli , and National People's Congress vice-chairman Li Jianguo , who was formerly the Communist Party chief in Shandong.

The award was presented by MPs and peers from the governing Conservative Party to the self-taught lawyer.

It comes amid diplomatic tensions between London and Beijing since Cameron met the Dalai Lama 12 months ago.

Cameron was forced to abandon a trip to Beijing last month because he was refused top-level meetings with senior officials.

Diplomatic snubs are regularly used by China to protest against countries whose leaders meet the Tibetan spiritual leader.

The British government is worried about the possible impact on Sino-British trade, which it is hoping to boost to help end the country's economic slump.

Cameron and his senior ministers - including foreign secretary William Hague - were last night accused of capitulating to China by refusing to meet Chen.

Chris Whitehouse of the Right To Life Charitable Trust said: "So far all the government ministers invited to meet with Mr Chen have said they are too busy. This points to them caving in and sends out an appalling message to the brutal regime of Chinese government."

Chen said Cameron should refuse to be cowed by a perceived economic threat and instead "represent the values and concerns of the people who voted for him. He should stop the fruitless human rights dialogue with Beijing and keep to the democratic and traditional British values which the world admires."

Chen is also due to meet members of Britain's opposition Labour Party.