Klaus urged to raise the issue of human rights on historic trip to China

Vaclav Klaus embarks on an official visit to China on 15 April. It's the first ever visit by a Czech head of state to Beijing since the 1989 Velvet Revolution. The trip is seen by many as a means of consolidating trade between the two countries, which has been booming in recent years. However, Mr Klaus's visit is not without controversy, as a number of organisations have called on the president to bring up the issue of China's poor human-rights record.

Vaclav Klaus
As Vaclav Klaus begins his historic 11-day visit to China, which aims to foster closer economic and diplomatic ties between the Czechs and Chinese, a number of human rights groups, including Amnesty International and People in Need, have written a joint-letter to the president calling on him to speak up on behalf of five political prisoners who are being held there, and asking him to urge the Chinese leadership to ratify an international agreement on civic rights and political freedoms.

Petr Kutilek, executive secretary of Olympic Watch, one of the organisations that signed the letter, believes that President Klaus has an obligation to bring up the issue of human rights in China:

"We believe that Western statesmen who go to China have the obligation to speak up on behalf of the common people who are requesting reforms in China. We particularly believe that it's an obligation of a country such as ours, which has itself experienced communist authoritarianism, to help the people who want to bring about some change in China."

Although President Klaus acknowledges that China has a problematic human-rights record, he doesn't see why it should prevent the Czech Republic from enjoying standard relations with China like other European countries such as France or Germany. He believes that it is best to broach the issue of human rights within the framework of a strong bilateral relationship with the Chinese. He also thinks it is very much in the Czech Republic's interest to cultivate such a relationship.

Petr Kutilek agrees with the president up to a point, but doesn't think that the economic benefits of closer ties with China should be separated from the issue of human rights:

"We don't object to good relations with China. There are good relations between the two countries and trade is booming. But most of the businesspeople in China have typically close ties to the Communist Party of China. Therefore, if you don't link business relations in China to the issue of human rights and democracy, all you do is support the Communist Party in power."

Despite the president's insistence that the primary purpose of his trip is to strengthen the good relations that exist between the Czech Republic and China, he has also promised that he will bring up the issue of human-rights during his visit. So what would Petr Kutilek like the president to actually say?

"He can say that the Czech Republic rejects the use of the death penalty in all cases, which is the official position of our country, he can say that the Czech Republic would like to see peaceful relations between Beijing and Taiwan, he can say that the Czech Republic believes in freedom of speech and in freedom of religion, and he can say that it is wrong to imprison, torture and execute people, simply for just saying what they believe. I also think he can say that he believes in freedom..."