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22 Jun 2006 : Column 538WH—continued

I welcome hon. Members’ interest in this and other parts of my portfolio. On every occasion on which parliamentarians in this House, whatever their background, engage with Foreign Office Ministers and our staff on the ground, it gives us the capacity to discuss relevant issues with those regimes. If they did not intervene, apply pressure and speak up, it would be easier for such countries to continue to ensure that their citizens have no power or opportunity to voice their concerns, and those countries would continue to have no obligation regarding their citizens’ well-being. I ask hon. Members to maintain that pressure and assist
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our diplomats on the ground and NGOs and others outside this country who take just as effective an interest in this and other countries, and who want to work multilaterally with us and bilaterally with the countries concerned.

The hon. Member for Taunton (Mr. Browne) talked about our relationships with the United States and with China. This is not just a matter of bilateral relationships between us and the United States. Some 86 countries, including large countries in the region that have excellent relationships at every level with us, the US and other countries, take the same view as us and the United States about the need for a process and change. We need to take a multilateral approach: a partnership approach including countries in the region and countries outside it that have acknowledged expertise and a range of other diplomatic weapons, if that is the right word, at their disposal to work within the confines of the UN to bring about effective change.

It is also true that with the Chinese, we have very effective leadership in relation to the six-party talks, and we should recognise that. They have been enthusiastic and effective, and it is in our interests to encourage them—

Mr. Hands: I think the Minister is saying that relations with the Chinese have been particularly effective, or that the Chinese have been particularly effective, but in the spirit of genuine inquiry, what progress can the Minister point to that has come out of the six-party talks other than that talks are taking place? Has anything at all been achieved since the talks started three or four years ago?

Mr. McCartney: The reason why progress has not been greater is that the North Koreans have withdrawn, but it is a process that was agreed with the North Koreans. The fact that they agreed to a process in the end was in itself progress. The fact that they decided to withdraw after some four meetings has led to stalling in a range of areas, with no outcome possible. It is important because it is the only process in which they have so far decided to participate, so they should return to it.

The hon. Member for Taunton asked about China. We have formal bilateral dialogue on human rights with China twice a year. In addition, as I said earlier, Ministers from the Foreign Office and those with other portfolios have regular opportunities to discuss United Nations initiatives on human rights and other, wider issues. We will continue to do that. From this week, we also have the opportunity to have dialogue in a more sophisticated way. There is the possibility of periodic reviews; we will have more than just one shot at the process, and more than just one approach—resolution after resolution. I am not opposed to using resolutions, but they do not give regional Governments with regional relationships the opportunity to sit down and participate effectively in a process.

I shall write to hon. Members, because the discussions on what the processes should be are at an early stage. This week, before going out to Geneva, I sat down with the NGOs and the Foreign Office, and went through with them my ideas about what the process should look like. Their views were fed in, and when I was in Geneva I spoke to representatives of a
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range of countries about how they could join with us to develop an effective system of periodic review, and what the principles of that system should be.

The next stage will be to ensure that that periodic review system is effective, that there is agreement about what its pillars will be, and that there is capacity for reviews to be effective and transparent and to identify accountability. The NGOs should play a role in seeing what is happening and why, and should be able to make effective, practical proposals that will help us to turn the situation around. I gave Nepal as an example. There is a lot to play for in the coming weeks and months in negotiating an approach that ensures that the Human Rights Council has effective mechanisms with which to do the job that its predecessor could not do because it lacked the capacity. I could spend 20 minutes setting out what it will do. I think that hon. Members are seeking confirmation from me, first that I have an intellectual understanding of what they are asking for and secondly that we are in the same ballpark. The answer to both is yes. Thirdly, are we enthusiastically involved in behind-the-scenes discussion and negotiation, and trying to show some leadership? The answer to that, too, is yes.

Mr. Clifton-Brown: I am sure that the Minister, like me, would welcome a strong condemnation by China of the potential firing of ballistic missiles. Would he take the opportunity when he next has talks with the Chinese to condemn the practice of returning North Korean refugees who take a very hazardous path to escape to China, but are then sent back by the Chinese authorities not only to almost certain torture and death but to the torture and death of their families as well?

Mr. McCartney: I have made it absolutely clear that we have done that, and will continue to do so. It is important for the Chinese Government to agree to let the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees go to the most affected border areas between China and North Korea. That is critical.

Several hon. Members, including the hon. Member for Hammersmith and Fulham, have observed, like me, that anything we say is an approximation. We need to gain access, and that is not done by megaphone diplomacy. Let me give an absolute assurance that the issue is very important to us, and to our relationship with China. China is well aware of how we would like it to co-operate and why we would like it to be proactive in relation to Human Rights Council processes. We are in the early stages of discussions on that. What is absolutely certain, in terms of the six-party talks, is that the Chinese have been as good as their word, enthusiastically, intellectually and politically doing their damnedest to use the talks to get things resolved. We need to encourage the North Koreans to come back into those talks. I hope that that gives the hon. Member for Cotswold (Mr. Clifton-Brown) some reassurance.

Hon. Members asked about foreign presence on the ground. That is important, because it helps to undermine the regime’s propaganda effort to blame outside sanctions for its problems—a point that the hon. Member for Cotswold made. Access to areas outside Pyongyang is gained through the existing programmes. Our embassy staff go to look at the existing programmes, and that helps to secure a better
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picture on the ground, but it is clearly far from perfect; no one is suggesting otherwise.

It is not just our staff who are on the ground; we should recognise the role of the non-governmental organisations, and we should praise them, both individually and collectively, and their willingness and preparedness. Despite the obstacles put in front of them to make them less effective, they are willing to stick at it and stick in there, to assist change in North Korea.

Mr. Hands: Which NGOs does the Minister think are currently operating in North Korea?

Mr. McCartney: I do not have a full list on me; I apologise. I will provide that information to the hon. Gentleman. There is a reason why I do not have it; hon. Members will remember that the food aid programme was stopped, and that affected the operations, but I will come back to the hon. Gentleman on that. I will ensure that every Member in this Chamber gets a copy of that detailed information. I hope that that is helpful.

In relation to Christians in North Korea, we clearly condemn all instances of persecution of individuals because of their faith or belief, whatever the religion or group concerned; that is a subject that the hon. Member for Buckingham (John Bercow) mentioned. We regularly raise the issue of human rights, which encompasses religious freedom, with the North Korean Government through our embassy and through their embassy here in London.

In Pyongyang in September 2004, my hon. Friend the Minister for Higher Education and Lifelong Learning handed a list of 18 named individuals to the vice-Foreign Minister responsible for human rights, asking for a full written response. Those individuals included two South Korean pastors who were reportedly abducted from China and taken to North Korea in 1995 and 2000 respectively, but no response was received. Incidentally, Son Jong Nam, the gentleman whom I named earlier, is also a Christian. I want to reassure colleagues once more about the issue of religious discrimination; it is one of our core issues with the North Korean Government, and we actively make it part of our discussions.

I re-emphasise to my hon. Friend the Member for Halifax the need to encourage the North Koreans to return to the six-party talks. There were four complete rounds hosted by the Chinese Government in Beijing. The initial session of our fifth round of talks was planned for November last year. However, the North Koreans have since refused to attend, blaming

They also blame

after US authorities last year designated the Macao-based Banco Delta Asia a money laundering concern. The fact of the matter is that the North Koreans withdrew from the talks; they have not been forced out, removed or encouraged to leave. Nothing has happened, other than their becoming unwilling to see through what they agreed to see through.

I promised the hon. Member for Cotswold—and you, Mr. Benton—that I would give an update on
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developments as regards the Taepodong test. We are, of course, monitoring events closely and are concerned about the ongoing possibility of North Korea proceeding with a test launch of the Taepodong missile/satellite launch vehicle. The European Union has urged the North Korean Government to refrain from such a provocative act, which would add considerable tension to an already complex regional situation and be deeply regrettable.

The EU heads of mission in Pyongyang jointly delivered a démarche to the North Korean Foreign Ministry on 18 June, expressing concern that a test launch of the missile may be imminent. Several member states, including the UK, have called in North Korean ambassadors to underline the strength of their concerns. The Australian and New Zealand Governments have also made their opposition clear.

The United States has urged North Korea to abide by its past agreements and said that it would regard any test launch as a very serious matter. The Japanese Government have warned North Korea against launching a ballistic missile as it would be a violation of its 1999 moratorium and the 2002 Pyongyang declaration. China’s representative to the UN has said that the Chinese Government have a lot of concerns about any test and that it would have a very negative effect on the political atmosphere.

Speaking yesterday, at the UN conference on disarmament, the Secretary-General urged North Korea to take great care not to make the situation on the Korean peninsula even more complicated. People are keeping a close watch on this matter and keeping in contact with each other. Let us hope that the expectation does not come to pass and that we can get back to the agenda that we asked the North Koreans to operate at the six-party talks previously and the agreement in 1999.

We must all wait to see how the situation develops. We have no power to decide what happens. Hon. Members may rest assured that in waiting, everyone is trying their best publicly and behind the scenes, using every diplomatic lever possible, to ensure that the missile is not tested in the way that I suggested.

We will continue our dealings in North Korea and in the UK with the regime, and use our best endeavours to try to demonstrate that our concerns are real and not fabricated for political purposes. We want to help and to progress matters. We want North Korea to be involved once again with the work of the Human Rights Council and to give access to the special rapporteur and the United Nations. We want the North Koreans to work with NGOs, return to the six-party talks and give appropriate access to the UN.

The world wants to embrace a relationship with North Korea and its people. Embracing the relationship will lead to change, but that change will lead to something: the recognition of the universal human rights of every human being there. So many people in the world take those rights for granted. In North Korea, not only can people not take them for granted, but they are as far away from having those rights as they were when the regime commenced.

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I shall finish by discussing one simple fact. In 1945, South Korea was poorer than North Korea; it was even poorer than the poorest African nations of that generation. Yet by open access, democratic accountability, public and private investment and rights, and by using the skills, knowledge and commitment to do their best of every person and community in that country, it emerged to be a major force in social and economic terms which
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is respected across the world. That same fate is available to North Korea and its people. All North Korea needs to do is open the door, walk through it and work with us. I ask it to do so.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at six minutes to Five o’clock.

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