Previous Section Index Home Page

1 Feb 2007 : Column 166WH—continued

Hong Kong already has in place such protection. Intellectual property rights, including rights on trade marks, patents, copyrights and designs, are protected in Hong Kong, as are brand names, logos on clothes, layout designs of integrated circuits and plant varieties. Under articles 139 and 140 of the Basic Law, Hong Kong has the exclusive right to determine its own law in those areas. It has signed up to international conventions such as the Berne convention, which, as the House will know, systemises international copyright for commission.

It is always worth commenting on the fact that one of the more notable features of the business environment in Hong Kong is the strength and breadth of its legal protection of intellectual property and other such rights. Indeed, Hong Kong trade mark law protects foreign-registered trade marks, even though a trade mark is usually solely a national right so that it cannot be copied in the country where it is registered. Hong Kong offers protection to foreign trade mark owners.

The Committee rightly concluded that

We should focus a lot more attention on how, collectively, the UK Government and other agencies can maximise the potential for British business that Hong Kong offers.

UK exports to Hong Kong exceed those to mainland China, which is obviously partly because of the distinctive British legacy in Hong Kong. British business, financial and cultural interests there remain extensive. There is considerable good will towards Britain and businesses of British origin, but it goes much wider than that.

The rapid growth of the Chinese economy is concentrated in three regions: the Bohai rim around Beijing, the Yangtze river delta around Shanghai and, significantly, the Pearl river delta. As the Committee reports, the closer economic partnership arrangement signed in 2003 allows Hong Kong products to be exported tariff-free to the mainland and gives preferential treatment to Hong Kong-based service providers. That agreement has given considerable impetus to the integration of the pan-Pearl river delta economic area, and, as the British Chambers of Commerce told the Committee, that integration has created a Pearl river delta common
1 Feb 2007 : Column 167WH
market. Indeed, there are now an estimated 60,000 Hong Kong-owned businesses in the delta, employing 11 million people—more than three times the work force of Hong Kong itself.

Hong Kong has provided about 70 per cent. of foreign direct investment in the Pearl river delta region over the past 20 years. That has led to the creation of further enterprise in Hong Kong with the expertise needed to establish and manage manufacturing opportunities in mainland China and co-ordinate Chinese exports to the rest of the world. Hong Kong therefore has the best of both worlds: an economically privileged relationship with mainland China and the resources, both human and capital, to exploit it to the full. It has the opportunity to benefit enormously from the rapid growth of China.

A couple of years ago, I spent some time in the Pearl river delta on business, seeking to negotiate joint ventures for a plastics company called 3DM plc, in which I am still a shareholder. It is only by going to the provinces of the Pearl river delta that one can get a proper impression of the scale and speed of development there. Cities of which we have never heard, larger than Coventry, seemingly grow up overnight and compete with the rest of the world.

Understandably, we need to do more in mainland China. I repeat that the Committee notes, in a single, stark, two-line sentence:

However, the House should note that, if one sets aside the curious quirk of the sizeable quantity of British investments in Hong Kong that are held through special financial institutions in the Netherlands because of tax and administrative advantages that I do not pretend fully to understand, the UK is undoubtedly the largest European investor in Hong Kong. British investments there are very large indeed—in the order of £18 billion—which represents a strength that we should be spending every effort to build on.

Understandably, the Committee recommends in its report that

We have the Asia Task Force and the China Task Force, as well as a UK trade and investment strategy. I would like the Minister to explain how those task forces and strategies will focus on maximising UK business opportunities in Hong Kong and, through Hong Kong, in the rest of China. Even Hong Kong’s challenges, such as poor air quality, lack of space and local landfills, present obvious opportunities for British companies that are skilled in renewable energy and recyclables.

The forthcoming six-monthly visits to Hong Kong by an all-party group will, I hope, enable Members of Parliament to, maintain among other things, a focus on Hong Kong’s potential and on what the UK Government and UK plc can do together to maximise that potential.


1 Feb 2007 : Column 168WH
4 pm

Ms Gisela Stuart (Birmingham, Edgbaston) (Lab): I am glad to follow the hon. Member for Banbury (Tony Baldry). Those six-monthly visits to Hong Kong offer the most extraordinary advertisement for the virtues of Hong Kong, but I hope that he will speak with equal vigour about business in Banbury if he expects businesses to invest there. I also hope that those visiting parliamentarians continue to press on human rights.

I first visited China in 1980, when I had the thankless task of trying to convince the Chinese Government to sign up to an international copyright agency. At that time, I might as well have asked them to walk to the moon. The country’s technology and economy have changed immensely, but its respect for human rights has not. The most startling conversations I had were about organ donation. They simply could not understand why we thought that harvesting organs from people who had been executed and had not given their consent to donation was unacceptable.

I must take issue vigorously with the notion that business is conducted whether the other Government are nice people or not. China will buy from British business when what British business wants to sell to China is what the Chinese want to buy, not because we are shilly-shallying over human rights. Our biggest opportunity is the forthcoming Olympics in Beijing. During that period, the International Olympic Committee will take over the functions of the nation state at Olympic venues, so it will have huge powers. There will also be a massive influx of western journalists, and it will be an opportunity for further work. I simply do not accept the argument that human rights and trade do not go well together. I thought that we had buried it 10 or 15 years ago.

Tony Baldry: The hon. Lady either deliberately or—I am quite sure—accidentally misunderstands my point. I shall try again for the third time, because clearly, I have not made it very well.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Tonbridge and Malling (Sir John Stanley) was critical of Ministers. I simply sought to point out to the House that Ministers, other parliamentarians and everyone who seeks to engage with China has a particularly difficult challenge. The Committee’s report exhorts the Government to do more simultaneously on trade and on human rights, but doing both simultaneously is difficult. That was my point—not that we should not lobby the Chinese Government on human rights. I agree with everything that the Committee says about human rights. It is, however, difficult to do the two—trade and human rights—simultaneously. China presents a particular challenge that we do not encounter anywhere else in the world.

Ms Stuart: I just do not accept that argument. One can do both, and what is more, one must find a way of doing both.

That brings me to the arms embargo. At one stage we seriously considered lifting it, and that was simply wrong. Although I understand the point made by one witness who told us that it was symbolic, I accept the logical argument that the new European Union code would have been stronger. We must be careful when we
1 Feb 2007 : Column 169WH
deal with a country that takes symbolism and pride seriously, because we would have sent out the wrong message. I shall not repeat what other Members have said. I agree with almost everything that has been said, although I am not quite as pessimistic about Taiwan.

I should like the Minister to think about four areas. First, the Shanghai Co-operation Organisation is mentioned in the Committee’s report, and its membership is interesting. It comprises China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, and India, Mongolia and Pakistan have observer status. The United States, and Japan at some stage, sought observer status, but it was denied them.

I am not entirely convinced that we are paying sufficient attention to an organisation about which I have questions as I have travelled the world in the past four years. It was only during my last visit to Beijing that I thought that the pieces of the jigsaw came together. The organisation has a dual function: to deal with potential terrorists and secessionists, particularly Islamic secessionists, and to ensure the security of the energy supply. A brief look at the map and at the amount of money that China is prepared to put into that organisation shows that it is far more important than we accept.

Secondly, Tibet was on one level very much what I expected. However, the biggest danger to Tibet is that China will undertake a simple cultural takeover in two ways: through population movement and ideology. The most telling anecdote we heard was when we visited a monastery. The monastery’s head spent two years training in Beijing—so, a Tibetan Buddhist monk went to train in Beijing. When I asked whether anybody from the rest of the China ever went to Tibet to receive training in Buddhism, we were told, “No.” That very simply shows the flow of information. The new railway will also bring fundamental change. We did not in Tibet see anything that we were not meant to see; we were somewhat sheltered by not seeing the large areas where the Chinese army is housed.

I also find troubling the tree-planting schemes in Tibet. Although something needs to be done about the desertification of the mountain ranges, on seeing valleys where there are suddenly millions of willow trees, I was slightly worried about whether anybody had thought through the environmental impact of such large-scale reafforestation with a single crop. In other areas of China, dam building is an environmental disaster waiting to happen, because the undertaking is somewhat untested.

Thirdly, Taiwan was a most pleasant surprise. I had no idea what to expect, but I found three things incredibly encouraging. The country has now passed my test of democracy: it functions not with the first election, but when one removes a Government for the first time via the ballot box. We met a bunch of politicians who were arguing fiercely with one another, they had an extraordinary sense of humour, and I thought, “They are there.”

If the Minister has not visited Taiwan, I recommend that he does, because it has extraordinarily good food. I had not realised that in the Tai history of Taiwan, Taiwan had only ever been under full Chinese
1 Feb 2007 : Column 170WH
occupation for 40 years. Before that, it was Portuguese. There has been huge global influence, and there is a vibrancy to it.

The reason why I am less pessimistic about Taiwan is because of two statistics. First, the Taiwanese claim that one in 10 manufacturing jobs in mainland China depends on Taiwanese investment. Secondly, a common currency is being tested in parts of Taiwan, so that everything is in place for the peaceful flow of people from Taiwan to the mainland. The Beijing Government still have much to do on direct access and on flights, however. The question struck me about whether the British Government are doing enough work on university exchanges with the young people of Taiwan. What can we do through universities?

We focus so much on China and perceive Taiwan as being a problem all the time, but we may need to do more on that. I know that this is not within the Minister’s bailiwick but, for the record, I hope that the Vatican does not withdraw its representation from Taiwan in favour of basing it in Beijing. That would be very bad.

Finally, the most lasting lesson I got from my visit, having revisited certain places, is that we ought to throw away the maps of the world we are used to—the ones with Europe in the centre—and acquire maps with India and China in the centre. We shall then begin to see the way the world will go in the 21st century. It will not be a battle between the United States and Europe. The best that Europe can hope for will be to be a bit-part player among the huge emerging economic forces in that part of the world. I very much hope that China moves the way India has and becomes a true democracy through that process.

4.11 pm

Mark Hunter (Cheadle) (LD): May I say what a pleasure it is to contribute to this important debate under your chairmanship, Mr. Benton? I begin by congratulating the chairman and members of the Foreign Affairs Committee on the prodigious job that they have done in producing the report, and I thank the Government for their response to it. The Chairman of the Committee, the hon. Member for Ilford, South (Mike Gapes), gave a very thoughtful speech in opening the debate.

The debate is particularly timely, not only because of the publication of the Foreign Affairs Committee report on east Asia, which we are here to discuss, but because of the upcoming Beijing Olympic games in 2008, to which several hon. Members have referred. The games will focus international attention on China and is symbolic of China’s emergence from its long period of relative isolation. I think that we all welcome the fact the China is engaging more with the international community.

We are especially pleased that China is involving itself more in the World Trade Organisation: its acceptance of a rules-based system for trade is an important step forward. It is playing an increasingly active and important role in helping to encourage stability in North Korea. We know and are pleased that those roles, as well as its position as a permanent member of the UN Security Council, and its rapprochement with Japan, will continue to develop
1 Feb 2007 : Column 171WH
further in the years to come. However, with the influence and benefits that come from China’s further involvement in international affairs, comes the responsibility to ensure that its behaviour in the international arena and in the area of human rights is appropriate, and is set within both the letter and spirit of international law.

One such issue that needs to be addressed is China’s involvement with the foreign regimes on which it is becoming more and more dependent for resources. Paragraph 92 of the report states that in 2005 China accounted for 31 per cent. of world oil demand, and such dependence on natural resources has led to questionable relationships with, and in some cases the support of, abusive regimes. Dr Philip Andrews-Speed of Dundee University described China’s

In that list he included Iran, Myanmar and Venezuela. One of China’s most concerning relationships is with Sudan, from which it receives 5 per cent. of its oil imports and in whose oil industry it has invested $3 billion.

China still displays isolationist tendencies in its attitude to human rights abuses in other countries. While we are pleased that the EU-China summit went ahead and that the Chinese agreed to develop a structured dialogue on Africa, we are worried that, as Professor Wall of the centre for Chinese studies stated in paragraph 97 of the report, the Chinese

That special relationship with Africa was consolidated in November at a China-Africa summit where new deals worth $1.9 billion were signed and China announced that it expected trade with Africa to increase to $100 billion by 2020. That was further supported by an announcement on Monday that the Chinese Government would provide the continent with $3 billion in preferential credit in the next three years, regardless of the human rights and good governance records of some of the Governments involved. I agree with the Select Committee’s recommendation on that matter. China’s close relationship with such regimes supports behaviour that damages efforts to uphold international standards in human rights and good governance.

Given China's investment in Sudan, it is uniquely positioned to take the lead in persuading President al-Bashir to co-operate in implementing the UN’s Security Council resolution 1706: a mandate for a UN peacekeeping mission in the Sudan. Similarly, China’s relationship with Zimbabwe is closer than that of the west, and it could play a greater role in encouraging President Mugabe to abide by international law. China’s investment in the region means that it is in its best interests to have a stable and well governed Africa. I would be interested to know—perhaps the Minister will address this in his remarks—whether discussions on Sudan and Zimbabwe were part of the September meetings between the Prime Minister and Premier Wen, and the Foreign Secretary and the Chinese Foreign Minister, which were mentioned in the Government’s reply. If so, were there any reportable outcomes of those discussions and has China indicated
1 Feb 2007 : Column 172WH
that it will encourage the Sudanese Government to co-operate with the UN on resolution 1706?

Another issue that I hope the Government will confirm was discussed is mentioned in paragraph 97 of the Committee’s report. It states, very worryingly, that Beijing has, according to some sources, placed non-uniformed forces in Sudan to protect its interests there. Will the Minister say what, if anything, the Government are doing to substantiate and check out the rumours of Chinese troops in the Sudan, and what they are doing to negotiate their withdrawal?

We are extremely concerned about the current situation in Tibet. The European Parliament’s July report stated there were

Deep concern was expressed about


Next Section Index Home Page