FIRST Minister Nicola Sturgeon will address human rights issues during a trade visit to China later this week.
During her trip the First Minister will address a conference of 100 senior women in government, academia and business. Women in China have faced particular difficulties recently. Chinese police arrested five young feminists on the eve of International Women’s Day in March.
The “feminist five” were detained on suspicion of “picking quarrels and creating a disturbance” after organising events to draw attention to sexual harassment on public transport. It took a month for them to be released, and even now they are under constant police surveillance.
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In the last week there has also been a crackdown on human rights lawyers in China. A network of more than 220 have been targeted and branded a “criminal gang” by the Chinese authorities.
Naomi McAuliffe, Amnesty International’s programme director in Scotland, said: “Three lawyers are currently being held on suspicion of ‘inciting subversion of state power’, which carries a prison sentence of up to 15 years. The use of state security charges is chilling, and underlines how grave these attacks on rights lawyers are.
“The authorities appear intent on destroying the growing network of human rights lawyers and activists, and on spreading fear among those willing to stand up for human rights, which is the only reason these lawyers are being punished.
“Presumption of innocence has been utterly ignored. The police must disclose the location of all those detained, and grant prompt and effective access to their lawyers and families.”
Since Xi Jinping became China’s president in 2012, reports suggest at least 500 human rights activists and dissidents have been arrested.
Under a policy of “stability maintenance”, human rights lawyers, academics, campaigners, journalists and writers have all found themselves at risk of persecution. According to campaigners, it is the most sustained and severe crackdown on free speech in years.
The Scottish Government has met with Amnesty International and the Scottish Human Rights Commission ahead of the trip.
The First Minister said: “I will be in China to promote Scottish innovation in all forms – from our emerging technology companies to our trailblazing Scottish designers to our oil and gas expertise.
“But Scotland’s innovation isn’t just about technology, we are also promoting a very distinctive approach to creating a more competitive economy – one that is based on a fair society.
“One of the guiding principles of our engagement with China is respect for human rights and the rule of law. I also believe that economic growth and equality are two sides of the same coin. That is why I will be speaking about women’s rights and the benefits equality can bring to the economy – both here in Scotland and for China.”
The visit, Sturgeon said, would be about China knowing that Scotland was “open for business”. Exports from Scotland to China are worth almost £580 million – an increase of 118 per cent since 2007. The value of salmon exports to China went from virtually zero in 2009 to nearly £64m in 2014.
As much as this was down to the quality of Scottish salmon it was also, in part, down to China stopping trade with Norway after dissident Liu Xiaobo was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.
The Scottish Government has a permanent Scottish Affairs Office based in Beijing. It is one of only two embassies where Scottish Government civil servants are based. The other is in Washington DC.
Figures released yesterday suggested that the amount brought into the Scottish economy by visitors from China had doubled to £112m in recent years.
Ahead of her trip the First Minister met with Dr Chen, CEO of Chinese company Omega Travel, which specialises in organised trips for Chinese tour groups and which now own four hotels across Scotland catering to Chinese tourists.
Liberal Democrat MSP Tavish Scott said the First Minister needed to do the “right thing” when it came to human rights.
He said: “SNP MPs have talked a great deal about protecting the Human Rights Act at home in recent weeks. But our commitment to protecting freedoms should not stop at the UK border.”
As part of the remit of her trip, the First Minister will also host an innovation showcase for Scottish companies to allow them to meet with potential Chinese investors, as well as undertaking a series of cultural and educational engagements.