There is a big debate going on in the UK about whether we should engage with China with the intention of improving human rights in China or should we simply criticise and shun them and try and improve human rights in that country in that way. Some would argue that the rights of Chinese citizens is none of our business.
The first thing which annoys me is that the entire discussion is about the poor record of human rights in China. Nothing has been said about the rights of animals in that country and for me these rights are equally if not more important. Where there are poor human rights there will be even poorer animal rights and that certainly is the case in China where there are no animal welfare laws and the general culture is that if it moves it should be eaten. Although we need to respect the culture of other countries (and I do), when the culture results in extremely poor animal rights them I cannot respect that aspect of the culture.
In the UK, Prince William has used Chinese state television to try and save the tiger and improve the status of wildlife in China. Prince William believes quite rightly that if consumer demand is shut down for animal parts then the animals which provide the parts will be protected. That is the most effective form of wildlife conservation. The Chinese have a particular liking for ivory, rhino horn, tiger parts et cetera. This results in the destruction of these animals in the wild due to poaching. It is a first for a UK royal to lecture the Chinese on one of their state television channels on wildlife conservation. Prince William has a passion for conservation.
In addition, the UK government has decided to engage with China for the purpose of doing business with them. The government is signing up to £30 billions worth of contracts. The intention is to boost the UK economy and at the same time mutually enhance the Chinese economy which is beginning to flag (by their standards). It is a business decision; at the expense, some would say, of human rights. The argument that the UK government will make is that it is easier to improve human rights in China by working with them so that they can see human rights in action in the UK in the hope that some of it rubs off. I would like to see greater emphasis placed on animal rights as well. There is no reason why the government could not have bundled together both human and animal rights as they are, in my mind, one and the same thing.
In fact, if there was a greater focus on animal rights in China it would also assist in protecting endangered wild species because it would help to change the culture and general attitude towards animals. When animals are protected under the law it has an impact upon the mentality of the citizens of the country. The law can change the culture.
Governments take pragmatic decisions which is obviously a major reason why they decided to engage with China in the area of business in the hope that a pleasant spin-off would be an improvement in human rights. But let’s not kid ourselves: the ultimate aim is simply to improve the economy of both countries because money is more important than taking direct action to improve the rights of the Chinese citizen. However, governments argue that by focusing on and improving the economy better living conditions for the average citizen follows and with that comes, at the end of the day, an improvement in human rights. It takes money to have good human rights.
My opinion for what it is worth is that, in this instance, there is no alternative but to take a pragmatic decision and to engage with China because there is no chance of improving animal and human rights in China from the outside.
Associated: Cat Meat Name and Shame.