The itch to pass judgment on other people’s affairs is the occupational disease of British rulers. Sometime it drives us wretchedly to war, as in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria and Libya.
Otherwise it is merely rude, a diplomatic tic, a state of mind. If I were a Chinese guest at dinner tonight and a British minister dared to mention human rights, I would reply in kind.
I would ask how come if you British are so clever your David Cameron and George Osborne come knocking endlessly at our door, bowing and scraping for cash? They have a stash of vanity projects we know no sane capitalist will touch: for trains in the wrong places, madcap power stations, crystal palaces, luxury flats, even Weetabix factories. They are so stupid they offer us profits and guarantees against risk, even when they know we will fill the projects with cyberspies.
Then the British perform this ritual. They puff up their chests and “raise human rights concerns”.
Their Lord Coe and Tessa Jowell did it when kowtowing over the Olympics. Theythink they are so good at politics they can run China better than we do.
Two can play at “issues raising”. If I were that Chinese person I would politely warn the Queen of “legitimate” Chinese concerns over her surveillance cameras in every street; her police listening to private phone calls; her slave workers in the fields and domestic service. I would ask what kind of justice denies legal aid and charges a fee to use a court. How can Britain export terrorists to the Middle East and kill Muslims by the thousand for not accepting “British values”? How can it fail to teach its children simple maths?
Should Her Majesty claim this is all terribly rude and none of China’s business, I would tell her in that case she knows where she can take her HS2s, Hinkley Points and human rights issues. If Britain cannot get capitalists to build them, why should China pour its savings into them?
The reality is that Osborne’s trade opening to China makes sense. It was about money. So why jeopardise it with talk of human rights, which the Chinese government will politely ignore, just so a few British lobbyists can feel good? If the government cared about China’s human rights, it would not do business there. So it cares just enough to be rude.