The Government is right to engage with China, and in doing so to make compromises along the way. But give the impression that your principles are a bit of a sham, and you will not get any credit for compromising on them
When I worked in Parliament, we used to receive dozens of petition e-mails each year expressing strong opposition to the Yulin Dog Meat Festival in China. Every year, at the Summer Solstice, thousands of dogs are slaughtered in Yulin in Guangxi province and served as hotpot. The petition demanded the British Government intervene in order to stop the ‘barbaric’ practice. Despite the expressed opposition of Simon Cowell and Ricky Gervais and hundreds of thousands of online petitioners, the practice continues.
The petitioners’ arguments – we do not regard dogs as animals to be eaten, therefore you must give up your ‘barbaric practice’ – are music to the ears of the Chinese authorities. They distract from elements of Chinese opposition to the festival (there is tension in China between proletarian dog-eaters and bourgeois dog-walkers), and help Beijing to argue that Westerners have always tried to impose their culture on China under the guise of universal human rights.
Chinese authorities can – and do – respond by arguing that Britain justified the Opium Wars with talk of ‘free trade’, and that support for ‘autonomy’ for Tibet and ‘rights’ for the Uighur in Xinjiang are designed to encourage seditious forces to weaken China; ‘democratic reform’ is designed to undermine the Chinese Communist Party, the one political system that managed to get China off its knees.