Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Simon Hughes (North Southwark and Bermondsey) (LD): My hon. Friend knows that there is huge support around the country for his argument, and the Government know it, too. Will he join me in adding that we have a great opportunity in the next year? The Olympic games are going to China, and this year's G8 and EU discussions probably provide the best window of opportunity to influence the Chinese. If we do not take that opportunity, we may condemn Tibet to another generation of repression and the loss of human rights, in addition to individual tragedies such as those that my hon. Friend has discussed.

Norman Baker (Lewes) (LD): By which point it may be too late. I agree with my hon. Friend and am glad that he has mentioned the Olympics, a key issue on which we can pressure the Chinese. When the Olympics take place, the world will look at China, and we must forcefully use that opportunity to drive forwards the human rights agenda that all hon. Members share.

Harry Cohen (Leyton and Wanstead) (Lab): The hon. Gentleman is making some excellent points. Soon, this country will have the presidencies of the EU and the G8, which we should also use to press the Chinese authorities to open up negotiations with representatives of the Dalai Lama.

Norman Baker: The Chinese should certainly open up negotiations with the Dalai Lama. The Chinese want to be part of the trading world, to end their isolation and to deal with the west. We should welcome trade arrangements with China, but we should also make it plain that the price is adherence to the human rights standards of the G8. If China wants to be part of the club, it should stick to the rules.

The Minister may tell me that China has signed the international convention on civil and political rights, the international convention on the suppression and punishment of the crime of apartheid, the convention against torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading
28 Jun 2005 : Column 1275
treatment or punishment and the convention on the rights of the child. Indeed, the People's Daily has claimed that the People's Republic of China has signed up to 21 such agreements. In 1997, the PRC stated:

This Government and the previous Government have raised those issues with the Chinese authorities, who have responded by saying the right things and signing bits of paper. However, bits of paper are no longer enough—they do not save lives, they do not stop torture and they do not prevent the eradication of Tibet and its way of life. I look forward to hearing how the Minister will actively ensure that China respects Tibetans' rights, and how he will move the agenda forward, which is what all Members want.

11.4 pm

The Minister for Trade (Ian Pearson): I congratulate the hon. Member for Lewes (Norman Baker) on securing an Adjournment debate on this subject and acknowledge his longstanding interest in Tibet. I assure him that the Government are deeply concerned about the human rights of the Tibetan people and follow developments on Tibet closely. We raise our concerns with the Chinese at every appropriate opportunity.

Let me begin by discussing political prisoners in Tibet. We are particularly concerned about Tibetans who find themselves in prison for actions that are the peaceful expression of political, cultural and religious rights. The UK Government have lobbied over the years for the release of a number of political prisoners in Tibet. I had the pleasure of meeting one such former prisoner a few days ago. She explained to me the circumstances of her arrest and imprisonment, and I formed the view that she had clearly suffered greatly for exercising her legitimate right to express political opinions and to protest peacefully.

The hon. Gentleman mentioned Tenzin Deleg Rinpoche. He may be aware that earlier this year my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary visited China and directly raised our concerns about the death sentence on that individual. Tenzin Deleg has been found guilty of several crimes, including plotting explosions. Clearly such activity would be wrong if the accusation were true, but there are real doubts about the fairness of his trial and sentence. The UK supported the EU statement about his case that was published in February this year.

That brings me to a more general point about political prisoners. We have several reports that suggest that political prisoners are susceptible to mistreatment and torture when detained. We appreciate that torture can occur in any country in the world, but we are convinced that what distinguishes a well-governed country from a poorly governed one is the reaction of the authorities to allegations of abuse. We very much welcome China's recent efforts to tackle torture, but our view, based on our own experience, is that greater transparency can radically improve the situation. Transparent systems have real benefits not only for prisoners who are vulnerable but for officials who might be unjustly accused. We hope that the Chinese and Tibetan authorities will bear in mind the UK's experience on this issue.
28 Jun 2005 : Column 1276

I should add here that the Government have grave concerns about the fate of Gedhun Choekyi Nyima, the Dalai Lama's choice as the 11th Panchen Lama, who disappeared from public view in 1995. We have regularly requested that independent monitors be allowed to check on his welfare, and believe that the Chinese authorities are making a serious mistake in denying our requests. The secrecy surrounding this child's circumstances does not help China's image in the world.

Moving on from individual cases, I should like to make a wider point about religion in Tibet. Chinese Government officials have told our ambassador to Beijing that the authorities strictly limit the numbers of monks and nuns in Tibet and that the political education campaign in monasteries and convents continues. Needless to say, it is very much our view that Tibetan monks and nuns should be allowed to pursue their religious way of life without hindrance or interference from Government or party officials.

The hon. Gentleman mentioned the railways. The Government are also very concerned that the economic development of Tibet should benefit the native Tibetan population. While we recognise that the Chinese Government have invested a lot of money in infrastructure projects in Tibet, it is clear to anyone who has travelled there that the biggest beneficiaries of that investment are the large numbers of Han Chinese who have migrated to the region in recent years. They take most of the jobs associated with the infrastructure projects, and often compete with and exclude Tibetans from even lowly paid and less skilled jobs such as driving taxis and growing vegetables. That migration has also had a detrimental impact on traditional Tibetan culture.

China's policy on developing Tibet would be more successful if it took more account of the wishes and needs of the local Tibetan population and sought to provide more benefits directly to them. We believe that the authorities should prioritise as much as possible the use of Tibetan labour and businesses, devote more resources to training and education for Tibetans, and improve access to Tibetan language education at all levels, including in key subjects such as maths and sciences.

In our opinion, putting more emphasis on the benefits for the native population is more likely to produce a sustainable economy in Tibet and, in the longer term, that should impact positively on Tibet's poor rural communities. Of course greater transparency, consultation and dialogue with a broad range of Tibetans could and should play an important role in developing effective policies. I should also point out that such changes are in Beijing's interests, too. In the longer term, more Tibetans would experience the genuine benefits of Chinese investment in their region.

I should add a word here about Tibet's environment, which will come under more pressure as transport links between China and Tibet develop. Tibet has a unique natural environment that should be carefully protected. We hope that the authorities will apply the highest standards of environmental protection to any large-scale industrial activities, especially mining, in the region.

Let me speak briefly about the political situation in Tibet. The UK Government believe that a political agreement between the Chinese authorities and the Dalai Lama and his representatives is essential, not least as it should help to address some of the human rights
28 Jun 2005 : Column 1277
issues that the hon. Gentleman and I have mentioned. With that end in mind, UK Ministers and officials have regularly encouraged the Chinese Government to engage in meaningful direct dialogue without pre-conditions with the Dalai Lama and his representatives.

We appreciate that reaching a compromise is not easy and likely to require sacrifices and risks on both sides. However, the Dalai Lama has taken a big step in no longer calling for Tibetan independence. Instead, he seeks genuine autonomy for Tibet through his non-violent "middle way approach". We are encouraging the Chinese Government to respond constructively to the Dalai Lama's stance.

In our view, setting pre-conditions for dialogue to take place is not a helpful step. Experience elsewhere suggests that setting such conditions can delay talks indefinitely, stop trust developing and mean that fruitful exchanges, which could contribute to a lasting solution, never happen.

I want to stress that, in our view, it would be lamentable if the Chinese Government lost the opportunity to negotiate with the Dalai Lama, who has such authority over his people and is in a unique position to agree a lasting and legitimate solution to the benefit of Tibet and China. We sincerely hope that the Chinese Government have the courage to grasp the opportunity that His Holiness offers.

The hon. Gentleman asked several questions. First, he asked me to confirm that the UK position on Tibet has not changed. I confirm that successive British Governments have regarded Tibet as autonomous while acknowledging the special position of the Chinese authorities there. That remains the case.

The hon. Gentleman also asked about Tibetans in Nepal. The UK has lobbied the Nepalese Government about the closure of the Tibetan refugee welfare office. I understand that registration of the office is proceeding and we will continue to monitor the position.

The hon. Gentleman asked whether we could do more to express our concerns about human rights. We raise our anxieties regularly through the UK China human rights dialogue. It conducts a regular, high level of exchange. We held the previous round in June in London. As the hon. Gentleman said, the next dialogue on human rights with China takes place in the autumn, when we lead the EU China human rights dialogue. I agree with him and the hon. Member for North Southwark and Bermondsey (Simon Hughes) that that gives us an opportunity during our presidency to raise the issue again. We shall do that. Ministers regularly meet the Chinese authorities and our counterparts and discuss human rights issues, including at the highest level. As I said, when the Foreign Secretary was last in China, he raised human rights. I intend to be in China next week and I shall take the opportunity as part of my visit to raise human rights issues.

The hon. Gentleman asked about the embargo. As he will know, in December 2003 the European Union agreed to launch a review of the EU's arms embargo on China. The UK Government, and indeed the EU as a whole, have not yet decided whether to lift the embargo imposed after the demonstrations in China in 1989. The review continues, and will take all relevant factors into account.
28 Jun 2005 : Column 1278
The EU is obviously also interested in the views of the United States and other countries. It would be wrong to pre-empt the review's conclusion. In the meantime, we will continue to implement the embargo fully.

Many people in the UK are also interested in the possibility of establishing an EU special representative for Tibet. I have considered whether we should be making approaches, but it is not clear to me that this is the right time to think about such an appointment, especially as I understand that the US special representative on Tibet, who was appointed some time ago, has not yet been able to visit the region. I suggest that in such circumstances the EU-China human rights dialogue remains a better mechanism for encouraging change, supported by the bilateral efforts of individual countries.

Next Section IndexHome Page