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Chinese state media praise Osborne for Xinjiang trip

September 25, 2015

Chinese state-run media praised British finance minister George Osborne on Friday for visiting the violence-wracked region of Xinjiang, after rights groups condemned his actions.

Osborne’s visit to the area, the homeland of the mostly-Muslim Uighur minority, was highly unusual for a senior Western politician.

It sought to promote closer business and economic ties between Britain and China, but was condemned by campaign groups for putting business opportunities ahead of human rights.

But the Global Times, which is close to China’s ruling Communist party, said: “Osborne has behaved as a top official from a civilised country should, making us believe that his country respects etiquette.”

Foreign leaders should not “confront China by raising the human rights issue”, it added.

“As a foreign finance minister who comes to China to seek business opportunities, he should keep a modest manner.”

Osborne’s trip to the Xinjiang capital Urumqi came exactly one year after a court in the city imprisoned Uighur intellectual and government critic Ilham Tohti for life on charges of “inciting separatism”.

Amnesty International’s UK director Kate Allen criticised the minister’s failure to mention Tohti’s case for “sending the signal that the UK is willing to compromise its human rights values”.

Osborne has told the BBC he had raised the issue of human rights in the context of “economic development, how we help kids from poor areas of China”.

The Global Times frequently takes a nationalistic tone, but its editorial was in marked contrast to previous barbs it has thrown in London’s direction.

Last year, it crowed that China had overtaken Britain’s “old declining empire” as a world power after Premier Li Keqiang oversaw the signing of trade deals with Britain on high-speed trains and nuclear power.

“Britain’s national strength cannot be placed in the same rank as China now, a truth difficult to accept for some Britons who want to stress their nobility,” it said.

During a visit by Prime Minister David Cameron in 2013, the paper snapped that Britain should recognise it was not a big power but “just an old European country apt for travel and study”.

In contrast on Friday it said that Britain “aims to consolidate its big power status by leading Europe’s relations with China”.

Dispatches from AFP concerning freedom of information, censorship and news coverage in regions where independent media is under threat.