Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Asking the obvious questions

Over the past few weeks, as debate raged about the morality of signing a free trade agreement with China while it was shooting protestors and jailing dissidents, Prime Minister Helen Clark repeatedly promised to raise the issue of human rights with the Chinese regime. Which begs the obvious question: did she? Fortunately, we have an Official Information Act, which means I can ask the government:

  • What exactly did Helen Clark say about human rights to the Chinese government, and to whom?
  • Which human rights issues, if any, did she raise?
  • What was the Chinese response, if any?

Their response should be interesting. Of course, it could always be refused under s6 (a) (international relations) - but then that's really inviting the conclusion that they never raised it at all, and were just lying to us to distract us for long enough to get the deal through.

Update: Stuff this morning has an answer:

Miss Clark met with Premier Wen Jiabao before the agreement was signed and said the situation in Tibet was discussed.

New Zealand had concerns around the violence and called on China to urge restraint and enter into dialogue with the Tibetan independence movement, she said.

The Dalai Lama has called for an end to violence, the start of talks with China and for countries to attend the Olympics.

These three statements opened up the way for talks between the two sides, Miss Clark said.

Premier Wen had argued China's response had been appropriate in the circumstances.

"The issue has been to see that there is a proportionate response," Miss Clark said.

She did not believe that the Chinese would take New Zealand's signature on the trade deal as condoning its human rights record.

"I don't think there is any crossover between the two. The premier specifically stated that he wished to strengthen the human rights dialogue with New Zealand."

It's good that Clark raised Tibet. But there are other human rights issues in China, and she should have been raising them too.