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RIBA set to deploy 'careful protest' in China

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riba council last week resembled the un when a long and spirited debate about whether or not to make a stand against human-rights violations in China ended in a vote to still send a delegation to the uia congress in Beijing but to 'make its concerns known' to the host country.

The move was inspired by a motion put forward by incoming president Marco Goldschmied, which was ultimately amended so that the delegation, including director-general Alex Reid, must 'take what steps it can to make riba concerns known, including specifically to raise the issue of the obligations under the un charter on human rights, in the context of the code'.

The delegation to jet out to Beijing for the congress, from 23-26 June, comprises Reid; Ian Pritchard, riba director of membership and international affairs; Paul Hyett, vice president of education; Geraint John, who will talk on sports buildings; Bill Reid from the Habitats Group; and John Tarn, who will speak on unesco education. Library vice-president Rod Hackney, who led a vocal plea to tread lightly to avoid endangering architectural professors working in China, will attend, as will John Wright, for the uia.

During a long discussion of the morals of the topic, Wright spoke 'as a pacifist with certain religious beliefs' of the need to exercise care, especially in the light of nato bombings of tv studios and the Chinese Embassy in Kosovo. 'I'm going to China not because it's China - I wasn't party to the decision to go but I would have voted against going. I don't think that there's anyone here who thinks that it's anything other than a military regime.' Wright added that he believed there was an exact parallel between Bloody Sunday and Tiananmen Square, where 'innocent people were gunned down by what some feel is a repressive regime'.

Hackney cited Professor Wu as a 'decent human being' who had fought for architectural studies to be continued locally in the face of frozen budgets, and who did not deserve to be 'put in jeopardy by the riba making a noise'. He suggested private protests as appropriate, rather than a 'cheap' symbolic laying of flowers in the square. He added that the fo, whose travel advice president Rock recommended following, 'does not lead on moral issues', but on 'how much business can be made for the country.'

Goldschmied talked of a 'chilling' 70-page Amnesty International report he received on ethnic cleansing. Some council members recommended a boycott, but others doubted it would make any impact given the censoring strength of China's 'media machine'. And Sam Webb cautioned that the riba risked 'sidelining or imprisoning innocent people' by being too outspoken.

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