Select Committee on Foreign Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 240 - 259)



  240. So the EU and Member States have no influence so to speak of?
  (Mr Cook) No, I did not say that at all. We have influenced, and I demonstrated earlier when I responded, some of the progress we have seen over the past two years. Some of that—the visits of Mary Robinson, the signing of the international covenants, the dialogue on death penalties—is very much on our initiatives. We do not run China or even pretend to run China.

Dr Godman

  241. Good afternoon, Foreign Secretary. You just touched upon very briefly there when you referred to the recent dialogue to Tibet. What I would like to ask is what new information has China provided concerning Gedhun Choekyi Nyima, the boy who, as you well know, was chosen by the Dalai Lama as the Panchen Lama.
  (Mr Cook) We regularly raise Tibet at each of the six monthly dialogues and, indeed, it was at the previous one earlier this year that we got agreement from China to admit the All-Party Group to Tibet. Every time we raise the question of Gedhun Choekyi Nyima and we have also raised it bilaterally both by myself and by Mr Battle with his contacts. We have received assurances from the Government of China that he is in good health and well cared for and that his parents do not wish international intervention. At the last meeting last week they produced two photographs of what we were informed was the Gedhun Choekyi Nyima showing him at home. We have not received what is the focus of our demands, which is access to verify this for ourselves.

  242. This young lad and his family disappeared in 1995, did they not? You mentioned photographs. I want about to ask you about them. Did you ask for, and obtain, copies of those photographs?
  (Mr Cook) I think we were given copies of the photographs. Mr Sprake, is that right?

  243. So those photographs are a matter of the official record now, are they?
  (Ms Marsden) The photographs were not handed over. We were shown them from their side of the table.

  244. Could the Committee gain access to those photographs, I think there were two?
  (Mr Cook) There were two. If what Ms Marsden says is correct, we do not have the photographs. We were shown them but did not take them.

  245. Why did you not ask them?
  (Mr Cook) I do not know. Ms Marsden, did we ask to receive them?
  (Ms Marsden) We did not, but the Chinese side made it clear that they were not prepared to hand them round.
  (Mr Cook) I was not present so I cannot say whether or not that was the way in which it was done. It is certainly a matter we can pursue with the Chinese authorities and say "thank you for showing the photographs, now could we please have copies?"

  246. That would be very, very helpful to those people here and elsewhere who are particularly concerned about this young lad and his family. The photographs were there in London, are you saying that—
  (Mr Cook) No, the meeting was in—

  247. This was the European Union?
  (Mr Cook) No, it was the UK one. I doubt if the European Union dialogue would have quite got to that point.

  248. The photographs were shown and then whipped away from the table, is that what you are saying?
  (Ms Marsden) Yes.

  249. But you have given us your word, Foreign Secretary, that you will seek to obtain copies of them?
  (Mr Cook) I will seek to obtain them. I am not going to fall into the Mr Chidgey position of being held responsible if I cannot get them.

  250. I will not hold you responsible, Foreign Secretary, but, as I say, it would be very, very helpful if you could obtain them. What other steps are you taking to pursue the serious concerns that many people have about this young lad and his family?
  (Mr Cook) As I said, we have raised it on every occasion of the dialogue. We have raised it in most of our bilateral contacts at Foreign Minister level. I have raised it in the past, Mr Battle has recently raised it, and we will continue to do so. I think the Government of China is under no illusion that this is an issue that is going to go away. If we were not shown photographs we would wish to have some independent or international body have direct access in order to satisfy ourselves both about the health of the child and, indeed, the extent to which he is of his own free will where he is.

  251. Do you think that these matters would be helped with the appointment of a European Union Special Co-ordinator for Tibet?
  (Mr Cook) I am sceptical, Norman. That is not a statement that in any way under-states the enormous importance of this issue or the extent of our anxieties. There is a risk when you appoint a special co-ordinator that you sub-contract concerns to that special co-ordinator. I do actually think that there is merit in all 15 Member States of the European Union, and collectively the European Union, pursuing it rather than referring everybody to a special co-ordinator.

Mr Rowlands

  252. Given the dialogue and the forums that have been created, why do you think that there has been such a deterioration in the human rights issues in China in the last two years?
  (Mr Cook) I do not know.

  253. You do not know?
  (Mr Cook) I do not know. I am not here on behalf of the China Government. Some of these questions are questions that they themselves would have to respond to. There is no doubt that the Government of China has felt uneasy at some of the political upset it has seen around the world. It is determined to pursue its policy of economic modernisation whilst maintaining political stability and, therefore, is determined that nothing should happen that would give rise to what it perceives as political instability. I think in the long run China is going to have to confront the contradiction of, on the one hand, an extremely fast pace of economic modernisation with access to new technologies and new sources of information and, on the other hand, the failure to modernise and change its political system.

  254. You said you did not know and then you went on to give a set of reasons why you thought there was a change. Surely you and your office are attempting to analyse why because if we do not know why then we do not know whether we can change it.
  (Mr Cook) We can speculate but I feel ultimately as to why they do it is a question that the Government of China would have to answer. I cannot answer with authority but I could speculate.

  255. Would you ask them?
  (Mr Cook) We have repeatedly asked them about the increase in detentions.

  256. What have you asked?
  (Mr Cook) We have not asked for the motivation as to why. I think you would run the risk if you were starting a dialogue and asking "what is your motivation", you would be getting into justifications for it and I do not think there is any justification for the rise in administrative detentions.

  257. You did indicate that one possibility is that they want economic liberalism and WTO and all that and they fear this brings with it possible political plurality. If that is one of the reasons, and commentators have given that as a reason, if that is the case as we help to promote economic liberalism we will not see an improvement but we will see possibly a further deterioration in human rights.
  (Mr Cook) I do not think I made that linkage, Ted, if you check the record afterwards. There are parallel processes, and I will come back to that in a second. What I did say was that they have witnessed political upheaval in other parts of the world and have a view that they are not going to permit that to happen within China. The parallel that they might make privately is with Russia where there was political liberalisation and, on their interpretation, as a result instability and economic decline within Russia. What I said is I think they are mistaken in imagining that you can proceed with a programme of economic modernisation on the quite dramatic scale that is happening in the coastal provinces and southern provinces without that setting off in train a process of political change and demand for political pluralisation. I think that will come. So I think quite the reverse conclusion to the one that you are proposing. I think that the more China does get engaged in that modern economic culture of individual enterprise, of access to information, of communication, of technology, of mobility, of contact with the outside world, the better the prospects of promoting change in the political culture and structure of China.

  258. One thing that struck me on our visit comparing China with Eastern Europe and an old regime where I found the old-fashioned stifling concepts and inability to have a proper discussion as opposed to dialogue very reminiscent of Prague in the 1980s when the Select Committee travelled. There are no Havels, there are no Solzhenitsyns, there are no intelligencia leading an alternative view on political pluralism and rights in China. Am I right or is it just that we have not met them or seen them?
  (Mr Cook) I think it would be impossible to say that they do not exist, Ted. After all, in fairness, one only hears of the Solzhenitsyns and the Havels in retrospect after they have arisen. It may well be ten years from now that you will be looking back at names which you can bracket in the same mould from Chinese society and culture. It is, of course, still a society with a much more collective culture than any of the European countries, whether Eastern European or not. I think that one has got to be careful not to necessarily equate some of the regimes of Eastern Europe that remained in power by force and by repression with the society in China which lacks pluralism, lacks democracy and lacks freedom. One should not under-state the fact that there is a degree of support for the regime.

  259. I am just wondering where the leadership for political change is going to come from? You have not got any idea where?
  (Mr Cook) I would not want to predict. Indeed, if I name certain individuals I could probably predict confidently that they would be arrested tomorrow, so this might not be wise. Within the governing party itself there are pluralist pressures, even if they are not of the kind that we ourselves would recognise. For instance, there is quite a substantial difference of perspective between those who represent the coastal provinces, which are developing well and rapidly and perhaps have more contact with the outside world, and in the next congress in two years' time there may well be some pressures for change there because some of them understand the need for change.

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