On his visit to London this week to sign a trade deal worth £1.4 billion to the UK, the Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao was blunt in his reply to a question about his country's human rights record. Treat China like an equal and stop "finger pointing" on human rights was his message. It must have been a difficult moment for David Cameron, who last year addressed an audience of students in China and spoke about freedom of expression, but who now needs its money to help Britain out of its economic mess.
China is now the world's economic powerhouse, in a position to dispense favours and finance across the globe, but, it would appear, at a price that includes no criticism of its disregard for human rights. It is the major player in the capitalist world, but desperate to hold on to its communist doctrines, for fear that too much freedom for its people could end up tearing this vast country apart. It is still learning to cope within the modern world and the Chinese Prime Minister did acknowledge that more was required to promote human rights.
China is gradually heading towards some form of mild democracy, at least in allowing its population some basic freedoms, but it still stifles even the slightest expressions of opposition, as witnessed by the jailing of the artist Ai Weiwei, who bravely criticises his country's record on human rights. Following worldwide protest he was recently released from custody having been imprisoned for three-months. In China there are thousands of dissidents in prison camps because they dare question their elite leaders, who live in the lap of luxury while many of their countrymen still survive in great hardship.
China is a country of mass contradictions, with a civilisation and culture over 5,000 years old, yet able to be cruelly hard and harsh with those who threaten it. Perhaps we should give it time to address human rights, but we should not turn a blind eye to its transgressions.