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China: Protests Planned For Chinese President In Britain

Chinese President Jiang Zemin is in the United Kingdom today at the start of a six-nation tour that will take him through Europe and the Middle East. RFE/RL's correspondent in London, Ben Partridge, reports that the president can expect to be greeted with demonstrations by human-rights activists.

London, 19 October 1999 (RFE/RL) -- Chinese President Jiang Zemin arrived in London last night for the first British visit by a Chinese head of state since Mao Zedong proclaimed the People's Republic in 1949. Britain is the first stop in a tour that will take Jiang to France, Portugal, Morocco, Algeria, and Saudi Arabia.

Security is tight in London for the president's four-day visit, as protests are planned by pro-Tibetan and human rights groups. The Falun Gong religious movement, which was outlawed by Beijing in July, has also planned protests.

A spokesman for the UK branch of Amnesty International, Neil Durkin, says the human rights group plans demonstrations throughout Jiang's visit to protest Chinese violations.

"Human rights violations are really perpetrated on a mass scale in China. They fall into a whole range of abuse categories, including extensive use of the death penalty, suppression of people when they attempt to form political groups, and torture in prisons."

British officials are anxious to avoid a rerun of Jiang's visit to Switzerland in March, when he broke off a speech under challenge from hecklers, fuming to Swiss leaders that "they had lost a good friend." British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook has said he hopes that the 73-year-old Jiang, who has a well-known dislike of demonstrations, will be received with courtesy. Still, Amnesty International feels it is right to go ahead with protests.

"It's being said that Jiang Zemin is very sensitive about public demonstrations. Well, that's a rich irony, is it not, because no one can freely demonstrate in Beijing, or the rest of China, just about (in) Hong Kong alone. So he may very well be sensitive to public protests and demonstrations on this tour. All the more reason, we feel, to expose those sensitivities, you know, to make Jiang Zemin, if possible, to give some sort of statement about the position vis-a-vis Xinjiang province, Tibet, and a wide portfolio of human rights abuses in China."

Reports say China has again been locking up dissidents. Dozens of extrajudicial executions have been reported from Xinjiang province, where the ethnic Uighurs have advocated a separate state.

Both Beijing and London say they hope the visit will mark a new era in relations, closing the door on the period of strain over Hong Kong, which Britain returned to China's sovereignty in 1997.

In a clear attempt to accommodate the Chinese leader, Hong Kong's last British governor, Chris Patten, has been left off the guest list for tonight's state banquet for Jiang at Buckingham Palace. Beijing branded Patten a "whore" and "a tango-dancing serpent" for his efforts to introduce democracy into Hong Kong in the run-up to the handover, after a century of British colonial rule.

Both sides stress that the former British territory -- now a Special Administrative Region of China -- is no longer an issue. A more immediate source of strain is NATO's bombing of China's embassy in Belgrade during the Kosovo conflict in May this year. NATO said the bombing was a mistake, but the event prompted three days of government-backed protests outside the U.S. and British embassies in Beijing.

Jiang will hold talks with Prime Minister Tony Blair on Thursday. A British spokesman said Blair would raise concerns about China's human rights record, but added he did not want the relationship with China to be "solely defined" by these issues.

The Jiang-Blair dialogue is expected to focus on Sino-British trade links and bilateral relations. Britain is the biggest European Union investor in China.

A main topic will be China's long-time efforts to gain entrance to the World Trade Organization (WTO), a move that would help China to step up its already-booming exports.

China broke off WTO talks with the EU and the U.S. after the NATO bombing of the Chinese embassy. Both sets of talks have now resumed ahead of the deadline for China's entry next month.

Chinese officials say Washington's refusal to ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty on nuclear testing will also be on the Jiang-Blair agenda. Analysts say Beijing is looking to form a united front with Europe to challenge the U.S. position. Jiang's next stop will be France -- like Britain, a nuclear power.