Examination of Witnesses (Questions 60
TUESDAY 19 DECEMBER 2000
HAIN, MP, MR
60. We agreed to appoint him to a high-level
Commission in the Commonwealth.
(Mr Hain) That was a Commonwealth decision.
61. We supported it.
(Mr Hain) Commonwealth decisions are Commonwealth
decisions and you are part of them. There is usually a consensus
and you do not always like every little detail.
62. If we take the scale of human rights' offenders,
with Saddam Hussein as one of the worst and somebody who is not
as bad but nevertheless a human rights' offender like Mr Mugabe,
where do you think the current Chinese regime fits in?
(Mr Hain) I think President Mugabe is a serious human
rights' offenderthat is self-evidentand I do not
accept at all your point that there is somehow one law for right-wing
dictators and another law for left-wing tyrants, if I can put
it that way, to use your comparison. One of the reasons why I
personally and the Foreign Secretary have been as vociferous publicly
as we have been privately about not condoning events under President
Mugabe's leadership and his responsibility for those events in
Zimbabwe is precisely because we do not have any double standards.
On China the Chinese regime is responsible for a series of human
rights' abuses. There is no question about that. And we, as a
result, have established a process of critical dialogue with the
Chinese Government which is fairly unique, although I think the
Americans just recently have followed suit, where we have twice
a year in Peking and in London our two teams discuss our concerns,
our agendawhether it is the treatment of the Falun Gong,
for example, the crack-down on political activists, or the situation
in Tibetand we have had some positive and practical outcomes
from that which I am happy to report to you.
63. I understand the policy of critical dialogue
but I asked you where you thought China fitted in on this scale.
You said you thought there were pretty bad human rights' abuses.
In those circumstances why did the Foreign Secretary refuse to
meet Wei Jingsheng, probably the most famous Chinese dissident
in London, and only as a result of being called "two-faced"
by Wei Jingsheng did the Foreign Secretary agree to meet him the
(Mr Hain) I do not think there was any reason not
to meet him. In fact, I met himthe Foreign Secretary did
before of courseon the eve of the Chinese state visit,
a couple of days beforehand. I was pleased to do so. We had a
very good discussion and we agreed to remain in contact. I did
so, I might add, despite pressure from the Chinese ambassador
not to because I think it is very important that the voice of
leading dissidents like him are heard at ministerial level.
64. Nevertheless the Foreign Secretary did refuse
to meet him.
(Mr Hain) You may or may not be referring to a situation
some years ago. We certainly did not refuse to meet him
65. While this Government has been in power,
in the last three years.
(Mr Hain) On the most recent occasion that I can speak
for the Foreign Secretary asked me to do it not for any other
reason but that he was involved in other matters.
66. I am suggesting to you that the way we approach
China on human rights is very pragmatic. We have serious interests
with China, there is not an awful lot we can do about bad human
rights there, so we are very, very practical. You are sounding
very pragmatic. If I may say so, you are sounding like a Conservative
Foreign Minister in this evidence!
(Mr Hain) I do not accept that at all.
67. When it comes to other countries we have
a rather different policy. Let's come to the visit of the Chinese
President because that is where we have got to. Why was it necessary
for Foreign Office officials to hold eight meetings with the Metropolitan
Police to discuss the policing of that visit?
(Mr Hain) First of all, can I say for the record that
I reject the suggestion that I am sounding or acting in any way
like a Conservative Minister, as my Foreign Office officials would
Sir Peter Emery
68. You cannot help it!
(Mr Hain) I will not invite them to but I am sure
they would concur. In fact, this Government is regarded internationally
as one of the most progressive in all respects by people who follow
foreign policy matters and certainly by other states with whom
we have a bilateral relationship.
69. You think it is respected by those people
who sought to demonstrate on the streets of London against the
Chinese President's visit, who had their flags and banners ripped
away from them by the Metropolitan Police and Chinese secret policemen
standing beside them pointing out Chinese dissidents, which is
what happened to Wei Jingsheng whom you had met the day before?
(Mr Hain) I think that your observations on that were
taken very much to heart by the Government. There was a report,
as you know, by the Metropolitan Police investigating as to what
happened and I think some hard lessons have been learnt. Certainly
I would not like to see anything like a repeat of that unhappy
series of events, and that is true for the Government as a whole.
70. I am glad lessons have been learnt because
I was going to come on to ask what they were. Is not what happened
that those eight meetings were effectively a conspiracy between
Foreign Office officials and the Metropolitan Police? I use the
words of your colleague Mr Battle in answer to a Parliamentary
Question sent to me: "Foreign and Commonwealth officials
and the Metropolitan Police discussed the proposed programme for
the state visit and the concerns of the Chinese authorities about
the possible impact of demonstrations on the visit". Were
those meetings not designed to conspire to prevent, stop, minimise
demonstrations which Wei Jingsheng might otherwise seek to lead?
(Mr Hain) I was obviously not present at those meetings
and you are not suggesting I was. My colleague, John Battle, has
explained the situation both to Parliament and in public very,
very fully. There was certainly no conspiracy, absolutely no conspiracy.
Indeed, when I met Wei Jingsheng only a few days before he said
to me, "Will we be given the right to protest peacefully?"
and I said he would and contacted the Home Office as a result.
Obviously subsequent events proved that promise wrong and I regret
that, but I think one of the lessons that we learned from that
incident is that we make sure in any state visit by any country
in future that the right to peacefully protest is upheld, and
I am very pleased to see Conservative Members supporting it, which
is not always my experience in the past, I might add.
71. You said that there was no conspiracy. There
were 35 Chinese secret policemen who accompanied the President
here and in the case of Wei Jingsheng, he was forcibly grabbed
by policemen outside Buckingham Palace. He says he was grabbed
by three Metropolitan Police officers, two of whom pinned his
arms and one of whom grabbed his back and he was being pointed
out to them by one of these Chinese secret policemen. Is that
or is that not a conspiracy to stop him demonstrating?
(Mr Hain) What happened there is not acceptable to
me, and I dare say is probably not acceptable to the Committee,
which is why the lessons have been learnt. There was no conspiracy
between either my ministerial colleague, John Battle, or Foreign
Office officials with the Chinese secret police. Some mistakes
were made, some lessons have been learnt and that will not happen
72. I am very glad to hear it will not happen
again because what it seems to say to me is that there were efforts,
whether it is a conspiracy or not is another matterand
similar incidents happened in Cambridge and outside the Guildhall
in the City when the Chinese President went there to dinnerand
while it is clearly our job to protect his security, it is not
our job to remove from his sight offensive demonstrations by citizens
of his own country, and action was taken to minimise those demonstrations.
I suggest to you that the pragmatic approach that you are now
adopting to this is partly a result of that and that the "ethical"
foreign policy died during the course of the demonstrations on
the streets of London.
(Mr Hain) If I may say so, I think that is a flight
of rhetorical fancy. I have said what I have to say about those
demonstrations and it will not happen again and I think the lessons
have been learnt and the right to peacefully protest must be protected
at all times. If you look at what we have done on human rights
in China, it is a very difficult situation and again I would like
a better policy suggestion from you, if I may so ask, and it has
not been forthcoming. We have had a whole series of initiatives,
for example we have got the agreement of the Chinese to accept
three members of the Foreign Secretary's Death Penalty Panel to
visit China in September because we are very concerned about the
level of executions there. There is some interest from the Chinese
authorities in moving on that front. We have also facilitated
a comprehensive programme of human rights' projects on the rule
of law, human rights' awareness, children's and women's rights
and other issues, and we have got British Council and Department
for International Development projects there. We have raised a
whole series of matters of individual cases of concern about dissidents
and others, and again the Chinese have provided significantly
more information than ever before as a result of this critical
dialogue and they are beginning to co-operate in the international
sphere. Their signature on 20 November to a Memorandum of Understanding
on technical co-operation with the UN on human rights' matters
is a welcome development. We look forward to the ratification
on their part of two additional UN Covenants. China has got a
long way to go. There are still serious crack-downs on dissidents.
73. Those particular developments are in the
context of a consensus among non-governmental organisations that
there has been a deterioration in China in the situation on human
rights in the past two years.
(Mr Hain) Yes, and I do not deny that, I would agree
with that. In a sense when we have been assessing our policy of
critical engagement we have had to do some very hard thinking
about the advantages I have mentioned, including some major advantages,
partly, at least, as a result of our stance on legal advances
and administrative law and other legal practices which have given
some extra protection through the legal system that was not there
before. As against that, you have had the crack-down on the Falun
Gong and the crack-down on political dissidents, and the treatment
of Tibet, and so on.
74. And trade unionists last week.
(Mr Hain) Indeed. I would not attempt to defend that.
I think when we balance that we have to look at the end of the
day to the fact that we have made these advances but there is
still an awful long way to go and in some respects it has been
two steps forward and three steps back.
Chairman: Again on China, Dr Starkey?
75. To put Mr Maples' remarks in context, would
the Minister agree that there is a long-standing practice in this
country, which I suspect he has been at the receiving end of and
certainly I have, of photographing people taking part in entirely
peaceful political demonstrations and, indeed, for example in
respect of US bases, of the British police co-operating with the
US military in allowing them to take pictures of British subjects
and then giving them to the US military police outside the military
bases? In that context, and as reprehensible though the action
on the Chinese demonstration might have been, is it not a trifle
rich for persons in the previous Government who did this all the
time against other people suddenly getting all upset about it?
(Mr Hain) I think it is and although this is not a
matter for Party points to be made in this arena and you would
not want that, Chairman, I am sure it is the case that because
we have set ourselves higher standards towards an ethical dimension
foreign policy, putting human rights at the very top of the agenda,
in a sense we invite greater criticism. You have never had an
Annual Report published before on which this Committee can quiz
us and encourage us to do better and make suggestions on how we
can do better. Because we have elevated this whole agenda right
up to the top of foreign policy therefore we invite precisely
the kind of criticism, which I do not complain about. I would
say finally on this that I think compared with previous Conservative
Governments, whether it is policing of demonstrations or whether
it is human rights at the heart of foreign policy we have a record
of which to be proud.
Sir John Stanley
76. Finally on the Chinese Premier's state visit,
is it not factually incontrovertible that the degree of suppression
of the basic human right of peaceful protest in this country,
as in any free democracy, during the Chinese Premier's state visit
was absolutely unprecedented in relation to the conduct of the
policing of any previous state or indeed any senior ministerial
state visit in this country? When you say, Minister, there was
no conspiracy, it is factually incontrovertible that there were
only two Departments that were involved in detailed discussion
on the handling of the policing of this and the security dimension;
the Foreign Office and the Home Office. Would you not agree that
there are absolutely no grounds for thinking that the Home Office
would produce a total change of all previous policing arrangements
for such visits and therefore there must have been a clear steer
from the Foreign Office? It was widely reported in the press that
your Department had said there was going to be basically a zero
tolerance policy on demonstrations during this state visit.
(Mr Hain) No, that is simply not true. There was no
such statement made and there was no conspiracy. There were a
lot of mistakes made. The Metropolitan Police report has identified
those and the necessary action was put in place. I also have some
personal experience of peaceful picketing myself going back over
the decades and I can say that police treatment on occasion was
not exactly as one might have expected having a cup of tea in
your back garden on a Sunday afternoon. Things go wrong and you
learn lessons from them. I think this rather contrived attempt,
if I may say so Chairman, to elevate this into some crushing destruction
of our whole foreign policy because the policing of those peaceful
demonstrators went unhappily wrong is completely unacceptable.
Chairman: I would like to wrap up this part
on China by referring you to the response of the Chinese Embassy
to the recommendations in our own Foreign Affairs Committee report
on China in which they described our Report, which concentrated
very much on the situation on human rights, as "a document
harmful to Sino-UK relations." We look forward very much
to the Foreign Office response to our Report in that context.
77. Various matters peppered around the report,
if I may. On Kosovo, the European Union and United Kingdom Government
and others have welcomed the election of the new President in
Yugoslavia and we are looking forward to Parliamentary elections
in the next few days' time. Nevertheless I and other members of
the Committee were quite surprised to realise that there are still
in Yugoslav prisons substantial numbers of Kosovans who might
not have even have gone through a mode of trial. One was absolutely
flabbergasted because a pre-condition of a relaxation of a regime
of sanctions and so on was that these people were released. What
say you on that?
(Mr Hain) I think it is right that you raise this.
We obviously are very concerned about that. We continue to make
representations on it, but we took the view in the European Union
context that it was so important to strengthen Kostunica's position
in taking Serbia (and the whole of the region therefore) down
the road of normality, that that was the priority, and having
done that and having established diplomatic relations, as we have
now done, then to raise all these issues, as we continue to try
78. I hear what you say, but there has to be
a point where it either has to happen or you say, "You are
not fulfilling the qualities of a regime which should have sanctions
lifted and should have diplomatic representation." It seems
to me an extraordinary way to go about it and, if I might say
so, all you Western European governments have rather hid this
matter. Legislators around Europe and many members of the press
assumed that there was a general amnesty. You did not draw attention
to this serious deficiency in what is the current arrangement
in Yugoslavia. You are all guilty of it, not just the British
Government, the whole lot of you.
(Mr Hain) I think that the first thing had to be to
get the existing regime, which came into office in very difficult
circumstances, bedded down and so on, and then these issues can
be pursued. For example, the ICRC now has access to 792 Kosovar
(Mr Hain) Still detained in Serbia, but the
releases are continuing and we are continuing to put on pressure
for the releases. The Federal Republic of Yugoslavia authorities
have tabled an amnesty law and initiated discussions on those
detained or missing on both sides with UNMIK. The process is continuing.
It might be helpful if I just say on the advice I have that the
ICRC estimate there are still 3,368 people who remain unaccounted
for. This is a desperate situation but obviously the whole region
was in a desperate predicament. The idea that we were turning
a blind eye to these things is not true. We just thought the priority
was to get things moving forward, the country being able to turn
round and, and then continuously engage and press for these detainees
to be released.