Examination of Witnesses (Questions 240
WEDNESDAY 25 OCTOBER 2000
MP, MS ROSALIND
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 thatthe visits
of Mary Robinson, the signing of the international covenants,
the dialogue on death penaltiesis very much on our initiatives.
We do not run China or even pretend to run China.
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
(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
(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
(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
(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.
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
(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
(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
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
(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.