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David Taylor : Before the hon. Gentleman leaves this part of his speech, will he pay tribute to the adherents of the Falun Gong beliefs in the UK? They have mounted a sustained, vigorous and very effective campaign to alert Parliament and other organisations to the problems faced by Falun Gong in China.
Mr. Amess: I welcome the opportunity to join the hon. Gentleman in paying tribute to those brave people in this country who are fighting for what they believe in. I salute what they are doing, and I hope that the Minister will find time to comment on the Government's approach to what they are trying to do.
Tibetan Buddhists continue to face persecution as the Chinese Government attempt to diminish support for their independence. They interfere in every aspect of Tibetan life, and impose restrictions on the numbers of monks, nuns and monasteries, while populating all occupations with secular administrators. Leaders are continually persecuted, beaten and exiledand Britain remains silent.
As has been noted previously, there are numerous examples of arbitrary arrest, detention and exile among religious and media groups, but those instances of injustice are not limited to them. Innocent citizens filing petitionsthe only real means of recourse, albeit typically futilehave been beaten and arrested for seeking justice on matters such as work compensation, local authority abuse and obtaining electricity, among other things.
Political dissidents are targeted and subjected to some of the cruellest treatment. Often, they end up being incarcerated in mental institutions, as happened with the pro-democracy Wang Wanxing. In such instances, the so-called criminals are forced to undergo electro-shock therapy and to ingest high doses of antipsychotic drugs. They live in terror among people who are truly insane and often violent.
Sadly, defenders of human rights are the group most targeted for illegal arrest. Zhen Enchong is a lawyer and human rights activist. He has been in prison for three
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years, and his family has been denied the ability to visit him or communicate with him. That perpetuates fears of ruthless beatings and mistreatment. When he was finally allowed to speak to his family, he reported that he had received a severe beating for requesting a piece of paper on which to write a letter to the Government listing the names of people who had died after forcible relocation.
Many people regarded as disturbances to the state are punished by being incarcerated in "re-education through labour" camps. They can be held without charge for up to four years, with no legal counsel and no opportunity to face trial or undergo judicial review of their case.
China's corrections institution can boast of one statisticits position as the global leader in executions. Amnesty International has said that at least 3,400 executions84 per cent. of the global totalwere performed last year, while another 6,000 people were condemned to death in China alone. The true figures are classified as state secrets, but are believed to be much higher.
People can be sentenced to death when found guilty of one of 68 crimes, ranging from murder to non-violent and economic offences that include tax fraud, smuggling and counterfeiting. Those statistics are a cause for much concern, given the widespread flaws in the judicial system such as lack of transparency and rampant corruption, and the seeming impossibility of attaining justice or even recourse, especially in rural Chinayet Britain remains silent.
Given those aspects of the Chinese criminal justice system and the criminal practices the Government exert on their female population, I am baffled by the lack of concern shown by our Government about China's one-child policy and reproductive regulations. Article 16.3 of the United Nations declaration of human rights states:
That being so, it is unbelievable that the Chinese Government could actually sanction a policy of murder and prevention of life, via forced abortion and sterilisation, to ensure the obedience of the female population to the one-child rule, through the Population Association of China. In four months in the Linyi county alone, 7,000 women were subjected to such reproductive practices. According to Chinese Government statistics, IUDs and sterilisation account for more than 80 per cent. of all birth control methods employed. Thanks to reports such as Lord Alton's column in The Universe pertaining to China's one-child policy, those disgraceful policies are now being uncovered. However, the UK still provides international aid that helps fund agencies that finance the Chinese Population Association, such as the United Nations Population Fundthe UNFPA. In contrast, the United States has cut all funding to the UNFPA and instead directed the monetary contribution to humanitarian organisations that help women and children directly.
Not only are women in China being subjected to horrid reproductive procedures, but the female gender suffers from the moment of conception. There is a
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natural inclination towards male children in order to perpetuate the family name. That traditional preference has led to massive female infanticide, sex-selective abortions, and abandonment and neglect of baby girls. In 2002, a survey in the Hainan province discovered that 68 per cent. of all abortions were of female foetuses. The male-female birth ratio is 116.9:100, whereas the global norm is 106:100. For second births, the ratio jumps to 151.9:100. Women are also threatened with job loss, demotion, eviction, property confiscation and exorbitant fines up to 10 times annual income.
I would like the Minister to address the following points. Why is the Government's criticism of China much weaker than that directed at other countries that commit human rights abuses, such as Zimbabwe? Why do the Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary not publicly criticise China in the same forthright terms as their own human rights annual report? Do the Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary stand by the criticism of China's political system by US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld? If so, why have they not publicly raised it in the same terms? If not, do they disagree with the Americans about the need for the Chinese to have political freedom?
Trade with China is very important, but as it benefits both us and the Chinese, it is in neither the Chinese nor the British national interest to restrict it. For decades, the Government have tried quiet diplomacy and it has not worked, and nothing the Minister can say in his response will convince me that it has. Is not it better to combine openness to trade and business with frank criticism of Chinese human rights abuses?
I ask the Government, rather than continuing the EU-China dialogue on human rights that has been going on for more than a decade, and the UK-China talks that have been going on for even longer, when will the talking end and the action begin? How can the Government persist unabashed with their trade with China in the knowledge that it continues to empower that oppressive regime? How can the Government continue to supply aid to fund programmes such as those of the Population Association of China, which contributes to the sterilisation of thousands of women and the abortion of millions of babies?
It is time for our Government to stand up and implement strong measures to deter Chinese persistence in unconscionable human rights abuses. It is time for the UK to admonish international business for perpetuating the policies of the Chinese Government. It is time for UK to begin supplying funds directly to humanitarian groups that will unequivocally aid Chinese women and children. In the interests of a silenced population, it is time for the UK to end economic empowerment of the Chinese regime. It is time at long last for the British Government to speak out clearly, loudly and firmly against human rights abuses in China.
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The Minister for Trade (Ian Pearson): I congratulate the hon. Member for Southend, West (Mr. Amess) on securing the debate and I acknowledge the contributions of my hon. Friends the Members for North-West Leicestershire (David Taylor) and for Stroud (Mr. Drew) and the hon. Member for Kettering (Mr. Hollobone). In response to the hon. Member for Southend, West, I shall outline in broad terms the Government's assessment of the human rights situation before explaining what we are doing to encourage improvements.
Over the past 25 years the Chinese Government have done an enormous amount to reduce poverty levels within China and to promote economic development. Impressive growth rates fuelled by a strong trade performance have enabled the country to take about a third of a billion people out of poverty. The World Bank estimates that in the 1980s and 1990s, China was responsible for 75 per cent. of poverty reduction in the developing world. The 11th five-year plan, which is expected to be approved at the forthcoming session of the National People's Congress, aims through harmonious development to reduce further the number of Chinese people living in poverty.
As so often when talking about China, the numbers can be difficult to digest, but it is clear that the scale of transformation taking place in China is unprecedented and will have a global impact. We should not forget that China experienced great turmoil in the last century. War and famine have left a deep impression, so it is not surprising that many Chinese people focus on the right to an adequate standard of living, as set out in article 25 of the universal declaration of human rights. The Chinese Government know that their citizens are judging them on their ability to continue to deliver economic well-being.
Economic growth has been accompanied by fundamental changes in Chinese society and a growing appreciation by individuals of their rights. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for North-West Leicestershire that a great deal of change has occurred. Since the economic reforms began, there has been more freedom to move around China and to travel outside the country. Chinese citizens no longer need official permission to marry or divorce. There have also been welcome moves to develop the rule of law and some engagement with international institutions and foreign Governments on human rights issues. China ratified the international covenant on economic, social and cultural rights in 2001. It also welcomed a visit by the UN working group on arbitrary detention in September 2004, and a visit by the UN special rapporteur on torture in November 2005.
I also welcome the fact that, today, representatives of the Dalai Lama arrived in Beijing for their fifth round of talks with the Chinese Government. We hope that both sides will make serious efforts to address their differences and to try to find solutions.
But for all the progress China has made, we continue to have a wide range of serious human rights concerns. Those concerns include the arbitrary harassment and detention of lawyers, journalists and activists, including trade unions; severe restrictions on freedom of association, speech and the practice of religious belief; ongoing extensive use of the death penalty, torture, forced labour; and the situation in Tibet and Xinjiang.
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China needs to make substantive progress on human rights, not only in alleviating poverty, although that is welcome. We want the Chinese Government to make steady progress with civil and political rights. That is why the UK Government have regularly, and at high level, lobbied the Chinese Government to issue a timetable for the ratification of the international covenant on civil and political rightsa covenant that, if ratified with minimal reservations and applied in its true spirit, could do much to improve the lives of China's citizens.
The UK is pursuing a policy of critical dialogue and engagement that aims to lead to real progress in China. We are not remaining silent. The hon. Member for Southend, West obviously disagrees with our strategy, but the process of critical engagement is producing change and is the best possible means to ensure that further change takes place in the future. In practice, under that policy, we use a variety of mechanisms, including the UK-China human rights dialogue, ministerial contacts and EU mechanisms to raise concerns about certain practices or incidents in China, which, in our view, are incompatible with international human rights standards. We urge the Chinese Government to change their behaviour and to try to share our own practice and experience on human rights, where possible.
The Foreign and Commonwealth Office also funds a number of human rights projects in China that focus on priority topics, such as the death penalty and torture, and aims to work with those institutions that are interested in bringing Chinese practice into line with international standards.
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