On human rights, China and the UK should respect each other, respect the facts, treat each other as equals, engage in more cooperation than finger-pointing and resolve our differences through dialogue.Respect, and the idea of losing (or retaining, or gaining) face, are very important to the way Chinese people deal with each other. Premier Wen is being extremely true to his cultural background — as, of course, the Prime Minister is in wanting to mark up the importance of respecting individual liberty and human rights. Not that these latter are purely cultural, of course, but it is fair to say that our culture has been more influenced by those ideas than most East Asian cultures.And therein, I think, lies the point at which the government should press its case: laying emphasis on the respect, rather than, as at present, the liberty and human rights. Laying the emphasis, in fact, on respecting the Chinese people. This area is an important part of our relationship with China, and we mustn't get it wrong. So I would suggest tuning our message on human rights so that it resonates with the Chinese leadership in ways which mean it is hard for them to ignore it.That may mean moving away from the language of human rights and liberty, as abstract principles, and talking instead about respecting the people of China. Talk about how the Chinese government should respect their opinions, respecting their property, respecting their beliefs. Talk about how it is more important for rulers to respect the people than vice versa.Another important aspect of East Asian cultures, including the Chinese, is the respect for authority, especially established authority. This is part of the problem, of course: authority leads too easily to authoritarianism. But it can be a part of the solution, too. Government ministers could cite Chinese and British thinkers on the relationship between the rulers and the ruled in their speeches and public statements.In short, at present our message is infuriating the Chinese leadership but probably not connecting as well as it could. Perhaps we need to turn the volume up, by adapting the way we present the message to fit better with Chinese culture.
Tuesday, June 28, 2011
Respect and liberty
Today's FT (£) reports that the Chinese premier is openly expressing his anger at the way the British government has expressed its concerns about human rights. What is interesting is the very Chinese way in which Premier Wen set out his objection: