Select Committee on Foreign Affairs Seventh Report


Foreign Affairs Committee Recommendations on the UK-China Human Rights Dialogue

Foreign Affairs Committee Recommendation Government Response
First Report, Session 1999-2000, Annual Report on Human Rights 1999, HC 41 Government Response, March 2000, Cm 4687
We expect the Government to list in its next Annual Report the practical results it has achieved since the publication of the 1999 Annual Report in response to the human rights dialogue it has with China and to list any specific commitments it has elicited from the Chinese authorities to improve human rights standards. (Paragraph 14). The Government continues to believe that a policy of critical dialogue with the Chinese government remains the best way of achieving long-term concrete improvements in human rights on the ground. The Government has never claimed that the dialogue would prevent the kind of deterioration that occurred in 1999. There is no quick solution to the human rights situation in China.

The dialogue process is slow, but effective in a number of ways:

the Chinese now accept that human rights are a legitimate subject for discussion;

dialogue has been a catalyst for positive change and provided the environment for a wide ranging programme of cooperation, particularly in the development of the legal and judicial fields;

the dialogue now covers sensitive issues such as the death penalty and administrative detention;

China is now more engaged in international human rights mechanisms.

The fourth round of the UK/China human rights dialogue took place in Beijing between 16-18 February 2000. China made the following commitments:

agreement for the All Party Group on Tibet to visit Tibet in Summer 2000;

agreement for an early visit to Beijing by the Foreign Secretary's Death Penalty Panel;

the establishment of a UK/China Working Group of experts to work towards China's ratification of the two key UN Human Rights Covenants;

agreement to start discussions with the International Committee of the Red Cross on a prison visiting programme;

a commitment to conclude an agreement with the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mary Robinson, on a multilateral technical assistance programme.

The Government believes that the dialogue process merits continued support. But equally the Government will not shy away from publicly criticising the Chinese government when its actions merit it. As the Committee has requested, the Government will report the practical progress of its human rights policy towards China in the next Annual Report on Human Rights. (Paragraphs 8-11)
Tenth Report, Session 1999-2000, China, HC 574 Government Response, February 2001, Cm 5038
We recommend that, so long as the dialogue process continues, the Government should set out in each year's Human Rights Report its objectives in relation to China for the year to come and its achievements over the past year. Both objectives and achievements should be expressed in as explicit and measurable a form as possible (Paragraph 74). The Government has identified a set of working objectives towards which we expect the dialogue process to work. They cover issues relating to the rule of law, engagement with UN mechanisms, political and religious rights, economic and social rights and the situation in Tibet. These, together with achievements from the dialogue process over the preceding year, will be set out in the FCO Annual Human Rights Report.
(Paragraph 5)
We recommend that the Government does all that it can to involve human rights organisations in the dialogue process (Paragraph 75). The Government is committed to involving Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) in the dialogue process. This includes full consultation before each round of the bilateral human rights dialogue and de-briefings afterwards. The views of NGOs are also sought on the cases of individual dissidents submitted to the Chinese side. The Government will also continue to consult NGOs on strengthening the critical dialogue through the setting of objectives towards which the process should work. (Paragraph 16)
We conclude that the Government has been supportive of a number of positive developments for human rights in China, but that it now needs, in concert with our EU partners, to toughen its stance in response to the deterioration in human rights standards which have occurred in China over the past two years. (Paragraph 108) The Government has made clear in its evidence submitted to the Committee that it harbours serious concerns about the human rights situation in China and particularly over the developments of the last two years. The policy of critical dialogue is not a static one. It is continually reviewed in the light of developments in China. The Government has responded to recent developments in China by making its concerns known to the Chinese through a wide variety of channels, both public and private. We and our EU partners have made it clear to the Chinese authorities that we expect the dialogue process to achieve real progress in the respect for human rights in China. (Paragraph 108)
[…] Our Report sadly reveals that there has been a serious deterioration in the human rights situation during the last two years which calls into question the efficacy of the Government's new approach to human rights through the dialogue. The dialogue has not yet delivered meaningful results.

This should be a matter of great common concern to Ministers and Parliament. The Foreign Secretary confessed that his Department has not analysed why there had been such a deterioration. We believe it imperative that such an analysis be conducted to contribute to the way forward. (Paragraph 222)
In the Government's view, significant systemic change is bound to be a long term process in China. The policy of critical dialogue with the Chinese Government was never expected to achieve immediate improvements. We do not however agree with the Committee's conclusion that it has yet to deliver meaningful results. The very fact that a dialogue exists without limitations, and with NGO involvement, is in itself a dramatic departure on the part of the Chinese who had previously refused to go beyond statements that such issues were an "internal" matter. It is also noteworthy that the dialogue has been accompanied by increased cooperation by the Chinese with international human rights mechanisms. We welcome in particular the signature on 20 November with Mrs Mary Robinson of a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) on the provision of human rights technical assistance, and the submission of reports for Hong Kong in 1998 under the International Covenants on Civil and Political Rights, and Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. We also welcome the Chinese Government's signature of those Covenants and recent indications that ratification of the Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights may take place as early as the next session of the National People's Congress in March 2001. Encouraging the Chinese to live up to these obligations will remain a high priority. Critical dialogue has helped create an environment which facilitates the comprehensive programme of cooperative projects in human rights[…]

The last round of the dialogue took place in London between 16-18 October and was characterised by increased Chinese openness and frankness. For example, the Chinese side:

provided information for the first time on 18 individual cases of concern submitted by the Government.

were more open than before on Tibet-related issues, providing a briefing on resumed approaches to the Dalai Lama, through his elder brother, and showing photographs of Gedhun Choekyi Nyima, the Dalai Lama's choice as Panchen Lama.

invited the Foreign Secretary's Death Penalty Panel and the All Party Parliamentary Group on Tibet to visit China and Tibet respectively next year.

committed themselves to signing an MOU with Mrs Mary Robinson on the provision of technical assistance, as indeed they did on 20 November.

stated that they would welcome visits by UN Special Rapporteurs to China. […] (Paragraph 59)
Fourth Report, Session 2002-2003, Human Rights Annual Report 2002, HC 257 Government Response, May 2003, Cm 5820
We conclude that, despite the best efforts of the FCO, the rate of progress in the Human Rights Dialogue with China remains too slow. We recommend that future Annual Reports present a more honest picture of what has and has not been achieved by the Dialogue. We also recommend that the FCO give serious consideration to a fundamental re-evaluation of its work with China on the issue of human rights, given that the current strategy appears to be yielding few tangible results (Paragraph 39). The purpose of the Human Rights Dialogue is two-fold: to raise with the Chinese government our serious concerns about human rights in China; and to look for ways of working with Chinese people to improve respect for human rights. Improvements in human rights in China have been slower than we would wish. But there has been progress, albeit incremental. It is important to acknowledge that this is a long term engagement which aims to promote systemic reform and better human rights in China.

The Government does not agree with the FAC's criticism about the honesty of its reports of the UK/China Human Rights Dialogue. The Annual Reports have always tried to present a balanced picture. However, this year's Annual Report will include a more detailed account of the Dialogue including the Chinese response to points raised and areas where we expect more progress to be made.

As the Committee will be aware, the UK took the initiative in pressing for an evaluation of the EU/China Human Rights Dialogue. The Government is constantly considering how to improve our Dialogue. In April we exchanged views on evaluation methods and the creation of benchmarks with other countries holding similar bilateral human rights dialogue with China (eg the US, Canada, Australia). The Government has also taken into account Non-Governmental Organisations (NGO) suggestions for more transparency. At an NGO seminar in April in Geneva, in which FCO officials participated, and which looked at the successes and failures of the dialogue process, all participants supported continuing the dialogue with China. (Paragraph i)
Fourth Report, Session 2003-2004, Human Rights Annual Report 2003, HC 389 Government Response, Cm 6275, July 2004
We recommend that the Government do more to raise human rights questions with the Chinese authorities, and that the Government does not let the human rights dialogue with the People's Republic of China become nothing more than a talking shop. Similar considerations apply to the EU dialogue. We recommend that in its response to this Report the Government set out what it hopes to achieve with the dialogue, and to what extent it has been successful. (Paragraph 152) The Government continues to raise human rights issues with the Chinese government at every appropriate opportunity. The Prime Minister raised human rights and Tibet with Premier Wen during his visit to the UK in May. The Foreign Secretary had a robust discussion with Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing about Tibet-related issues during the same visit. Other ministers, particularly the Minister responsible for relations with China, Bill Rammell, have engaged with high level Chinese interlocutors on various human rights concerns including labour issues and DPRK refugees. Mr Rammell has also backed up our private exchanges with public statements about our concerns, notably at the CHR in March. We have supported EU human rights activity, in particular on individual cases of concern.

We have made clear to the Chinese government that the dialogue is not an end in itself and that it has to contribute to real improvements on the ground. The Joint Statement, signed during Premier Wen's visit in May, made clear that we valued the dialogue but also stressed that it was an opportunity for concrete co-operation. At the most recent round of the dialogue, Mr Rammell made it very clear, both in public and in private, that the dialogue had to contribute to genuine progress on issues of concern. There will now be an assessment of the round in order to agree appropriate follow up action, including project work.

The EU dialogue has a very similar overall objective to the UK dialogue. We and EU partners share information about our bilateral dialogues, where they exist, in order to influence and get better value from the EU dialogue process.

We set out the individual objectives of the UK dialogue in last year's Annual Report. Over the past year, there has been some movement on some issues particularly those connected with rule of law. For example the Chinese government, having abolished the "custody and repatriation" form of arbitrary detention, appear to be seriously working towards the abolition of "re-education through labour" a form of administrative detention. At the dialogue round in May 2004, the Chinese delegation confirmed that they had invited the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, Theo van Boven, to visit in June and the Chairperson of the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, Zerrougui, to visit in September. However in June they announced that they had decided to postpone the visit of the Special Rapporteur on Torture until November because of "technical difficulties". We are concerned at this further delay to the visit, and hope that it will go ahead as soon as possible.

On other issues there is much less movement—for example the death penalty and the end to controls on access to the Internet. However, even where there is no concrete change, the dialogue process has enabled us to effectively highlight our concerns regularly and in detail. In some cases we have been able to work with the Chinese authorities on those issues. For example we are carrying out projects on the death penalty and on other issues related to ratification of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. We will not change Chinese attitudes to human rights overnight. But we believe that the dialogue process has led to an increased willingness on the part of the Chinese government to discuss issues and to permit and in some cases to request co-operation with others. The Annual Report on Human Rights 2004 will give a detailed breakdown of progress against the individual objectives of the dialogue. (Paragraph 27)
Fourth Report, Session 2004-2005, Human Rights Annual Report 2004, HC 109 Government Response, Cm 6571, May 2005
We conclude that the UK-China Human Rights dialogue is failing to deliver results with sufficient speed, despite the incremental progress described in the Annual Report. We recommend that the Government review the continuation of the dialogue in this light. We further recommend that the Government set specific goals for the dialogue, with appropriate timescales by which it hopes to achieve them. (Paragraph 179) The Government reviewed our dialogue and broader China human rights policy internally after the May 2004 dialogue round. We also held a similar in-house review and forward look after the latest round. The Government continue to believe that the dialogue process is useful and contributes to incremental positive change, although we look continually to refine and improve it. China's progress on human rights is slow relative to the impressive economic change in the country. But we do not believe that this lack of speed means the dialogue is failing. Engaging with China on human rights is not easy and requires sustained long-term effort. The objectives of the dialogue are ambitious and long term. We assess China's progress towards these goals through the dialogue process and through reporting on the dialogue to Parliament. (Paragraph 76)
We recommend that the Government describe, in its response to this Report, how it co-ordinates the UK-China dialogue with the EU-China dialogue and with other mechanisms available to the UK and EU to encourage positive change in China on human rights. (Paragraph 180) The Government consult with other countries that hold dialogues with China through the Berne Process. We play a full part as an EU member in preparations of the EU Dialogue and EU demarches. As the Presidency we will lead the next EU Dialogue round. The EU dialogue now has a focus, as does ours, and consequently we will try to ensure that all the key human rights issues of concern are raised and discussed at least once a year through either the UK or EU dialogues. Our overall strategy and activities aim to encourage positive change which complements reform in China, for example building up rule of law and encouraging co-operation with UN Special Mechanisms. But we also pursue an advocacy role on issues on which China is less interested and less capable of change - for example difficult topics such as freedom of association or freedom of expression. We also respond to specific concerns or cases that arise on an ad hoc basis and are often brought to our attention by NGOs. (Paragraph 77)
First Report, Session 2005-2006, Human Rights Annual Report 2005, HC 574 Government Response, Cm 6774, May 2006
We conclude that the UK-China human rights dialogue appears to have made glacial progress. We recommend that the Government set out in its response to this Report what measures it uses to determine whether the dialogue is a success, what it sees as the achievements of the dialogue to date, and why it wishes it to continue. (Paragraph 186) The Government agrees that China's progress on human rights is slow relative to the economic changes in the country. We do not believe this means the Dialogue is failing. In our view improving the political and civil situation of its citizens presents serious challenges to the Chinese Communist Party and the Chinese Government. In order to secure improvements we and other members of the international community have to commit to long-term engagement.

In determining whether the Dialogue is a success, the key factor we consider is what progress China is making towards fulfilling the objectives set out in the FCO's Human Rights Annual Report. In addition, we consider what progress China is making in other areas of concern not directly covered by the objectives. We make a political judgement about this progress, taking into account exchanges at the Dialogue and information obtained through ministerial exchanges, project work, EU exchanges and Embassy and other reports.

The Government believes that, together with similar effort by other countries and with ministerial engagement and project work, the Dialogue contributes to incremental improvements. There are several developments in recent years to which we believe our engagement, through the Dialogue and in other ways, has contributed:

Signature of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) in 1998

Ratification of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) in 2001

A visit by the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention in September 2004

A visit by the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture in November 2005

The decision by China's Supreme People's Court to take back its authority to review death sentences (which we expect to take effect in 2006).

Five rounds of talks between the representatives of the Dalai Lama and the Chinese Government

The Dialogue is an important political signal to the Chinese authorities that we are concerned about their human rights record. It allows us to put across our messages in detail at a high level with members of the Chinese Government who lead on human rights issues (e.g. representatives from the Ministry of Justice and Supreme People's Court). These exchanges are complemented and reinforced with other engagement by Ministers and officials; project work; and EU exchanges. We therefore see merit in continuing with the Dialogue. (Paragraphs 114-117)

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