Blind activist Chen Guangcheng has accused the British government of running scared from Beijing.
Chen is in the UK to receive an award for exposing the plight of hundreds of thousands of Chinese women forced to undergo abortions and sterilisations as part of China’s strict one-child policy. But his request to meet with the Prime Minister David Cameron and Foreign Secretary William Hague during his five-day visit has been snubbed because Downing Street fears “further punishment” from Beijing and that it will lose out on trade deals.
Mr Cameron was forced to cancel a trip to China last month because the Chinese government refused him high level meetings.
Beijing remains incensed over Cameron’s meeting with the exiled Tibetan leader the Dalai Lama 12 months ago, and has frozen all high level diplomatic contact since – minister Kenneth Clarke was also forced to abandon a trade trip late last month.
Beijing is demanding Downing Street publicly admit Cameron’s encounter with the Dalai Lama was a mistake. But Chen – who last year escaped from house arrest and claimed asylum at the US embassy – warned Cameron that his kowtowing to Beijing and placing trade above human rights was damaging Britain’s international reputation as a nation of democratic values and freedom.
“The British government will not meet with me because they are scared of upsetting the Chinese government. But I tell David Cameron and his ministers that I am not scared of Beijing,” said a defiant Chen on Monday after picking up the Westminster Award for his human rights work at the Houses of Parliament.
“The British government is letting down its people by refusing to see me. This country has for centuries, from the slave trade to Nazism, faced-up to dictators, fascism and oppression. This is not what the British people vote for,” Mr Chen told the Daily Mail.
The British people have long supported the hundreds of thousands of Chinese women who are forced to abort their babies or undergo sterilisation every day, he said.
“But now their government is turning his back on the issue because he thinks trade is more important,” Chen added. Visibly upset, Chen retold the plight of one woman forced into detention for breaching the one-child policy by becoming pregnant for a second time.
She was taken to prison and forced to leave her three year old daughter at home.
“The officials refused to let her organise proper child care or even make a call to relatives. The girl was found dead three weeks later,” he said.
Chen was given his award by Conservative MP Fiona Bruce, who was embarrassed to learn how her guest had been snubbed by her bosses.
“Cabinet ministers have very busy diaries. I know that some senior Foreign Office officials have agreed to meet with Mr Chen during his trip,” she said.
Lord Alton of Liverpool, who attended the award ceremony, also called on Britain and other Western governments to exert pressure on China about its human rights towards women.
“Make no mistake, this is war. China’s one policy caused more violence against women girls than any other policy on earth – than any official policy in the history of the world,” he said.
The Chinese Government claims 13 million abortions are carried out each year in China – that amounts to 1,458 every hour in what many describe as a state-sanctioned “gendercide”.
But activists like Chen claim the true number is much greater and many women are forced into abortions at eight months or later. Many of those who resist are forced into brutal “re-education through labour” camps.
“I call on the British people to lobby their government to take up this issue with Beijing and remain true to the values that make Britain a respected country throughout the world. Improving human rights in China will help global trade and economic recovery, not the opposite,” he said.
Chen evaded walls, security cameras and guards who kept him under house arrest for one and half years in his small rural village in eastern China a year ago. Helped by a network of supporters and following a car chase, he found refuge for six days in the United States Embassy in Beijing.
Faced with an embarrassing international stand-off, Chinese and US officials agreed to let him and his wife leave China to go into exile in the US.
His relatives who remain in China are regularly persecuted by officials, Chen said.
On Monday the Foreign Office denied Mr Chen had been snubbed by Downing Street. A spokeswoman added: “The UK’s relationship with China is broader and deeper than ever. Inevitably there are some issues on which we disagree.
“So long as both sides handle our differences in a balanced and reasonable way there is no reason why our bilateral relationship should not develop further and faster.”