David Cameron letting China off climate change hook, says LabourUnited Kingdom
David Cameron was accused last night of sending the wrong signals on climate change to China, the world's biggest polluter, as he prepared to lead the largest-ever official UK delegation to the country. He will be accompanied by George Osborne, the chancellor, business secretary Vince Cable, the climate and energy secretary, Chris Huhne, and Michael Gove, the education minister, as well as more than 50 business leaders on the two-day visit starting on Tuesday.
Efforts to boost bilateral trade, and concerns over human rights, are expected to head the agenda in talks with President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao. China is the UK's second-biggest trade partner after the EU.
But last night Labour claimed that carefully constructed efforts to bind the Chinese into international efforts to invest in low-carbon technology and improve energy security were being undermined by government cuts. Shadow foreign secretary Yvette Cooper said William Hague, the foreign secretary, was giving the wrong message by slashing a £14.4m fund set up in 2008 to provide expertise to China and other countries on low-carbon technology and to help them to move away from coal-based technology.
Funding was cut by £3m in the summer for the Low Carbon High Growth Fund and it is believed to be under further threat after the spending review. Hague has said he would examine other ways to finance the fund. Cooper said there was now a danger of international momentum being lost ahead of the UN climate change summit in Cancún starting later this month.
The biggest success of the FCO fund was the designation of Jilin City in the north-east of China as the first pilot for a "low carbon zone". "Putting less emphasis on climate change in foreign policy is a big strategic mistake. We won't ever solve climate change in one country; it has to be a global effort, " Cooper said.
The visit will see Cameron having to walk diplomatic tightropes on several issues. His judgment on foreign affairs was called into question before the general election when he appeared to lump China together with Iran in a television debate, saying Britain should retain its independent nuclear deterrent because "we don't know what is going to happen with Iran [and] we can't be certain of the future in China".
Chinese officials will not want Cameron to raise human rights; but they are realistic, and know he will do so. He is expected to discuss the case of Liu Xiaobo, the Nobel peace prize winner serving 11 years for co-authoring a call for democratic reforms.
A tough public condemnation of Liu's imprisonment, especially if delivered alongside a Chinese minister, would enrage Beijing. Since Liu was awarded the prize for his non-violent calls for political reform, the Chinese authorities have put scores of political dissidents and human rights activists in jail or under house arrest.
Artist Ai Weiwei, who helped to design the Bird's Nest stadium for the 2008 Olympics, has been placed under house arrest after planning a party at his Shanghai studio to draw attention to government efforts to demolish the building. The party became a focus of attention for dissidents across the country.
A Downing Street spokesman refused to say which cases the prime minister would want to discuss.
Sir George Young, the leader of the Commons, told MPs last week: "The prime minister will raise the serious issue about the human rights record of China. That issue will not go by default."
A survey by the British Chamber of Commerce in China to coincide with the visit shows businesses broadly confident of increasing trade with the country – 36% of respondents expect demand for their products and services to increase significantly while 44% expect a more modest increase. And 25% of respondents saw their performance in China as in line with that in other markets, while 30% saw it as above average and 21% as significantly above average.
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