What John Major said in China – and what Theresa May did not

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Major travelled to Beijing as British PM in 1991 and held forth in public about human rights

When John Major travelled to Beijing in 1991, the then British prime minister faced criticism as the first major western leader to visit after the Tiananmen Square massacre two years earlier had made China an international pariah. His host was Li Peng, the notorious premier known as the “Butcher of Beijing”.

But during his three-day stay, Major made no bones about raising unwelcome political topics, publicly challenging Beijing over religious freedom, freedom of speech, an uprising in Tibet, the detention of student demonstrators and the massacre. “The world has not forgotten the events of June 1989,” Major told a press conference at which he took 17 questions – nine of them about human rights or the fight for democracy.

Related: China commends Theresa May for ‘sidestepping’ human rights

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