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1 Apr 2008 : Column 237WH—continued

All along, our messages to both sides have been consistent and the Prime Minister will repeat them to the Dalai Lama when he meets him in London next month. They are: there should be an end to violence by those demonstrating and by the forces reacting to the demonstrations; there should be no use of excessive
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force by the authorities against those involved in violence, and no force should be used against those demonstrating peacefully; there must be due process for those detained; and there should also be an urgent resumption of the transparent and meaningful dialogue that the hon. Gentleman said is needed between Beijing and the Dalai Lama to resolve the underlying issues. I have no doubt that such face-to-face discussions as my hon. Friend the Member for Leyton and Wanstead mentioned would help.

We have been extremely active with international partners. We supported the EU presidency statement on 17 March and action in the UN Human Rights Council on 25 March. We participated in an extensive discussion of Tibet at the Gymnich, the informal EU Foreign Ministers’ meeting, last week. The Prime Minister has discussed the situation in Tibet with Presidents Bush and Sarkozy, and it is hoped that he will be able to meet Ban Ki-moon, the Secretary-General of the UN, to discuss the issue, in the margins of this week’s NATO summit in Bucharest.

Ben Chapman (Wirral, South) (Lab): Does the Minister agree with me that the way forward is through dialogue with the Chinese, and between the Chinese and the Tibetans, but that the dialogue is not particularly helped by a one-sided presentation of the facts, which ignores, for example, the violence against the Han Chinese in Tibet? Does he agree equally that it is not the best way forward to use the Olympic Games as a means of pressurising the Chinese, or to condemn the Chinese ambassador, who incidentally is a she not a he, for doing what is entirely proper in the circumstances and bearing the torch as a representative of her country?

Dr. Howells: My hon. Friend raises some important issues, and I agree with him on this: there should be no attacks on Han Chinese or anyone else in the streets of Lhasa, or any other city. I know that my hon. Friend and the hon. Member for Lewes would agree on that 100 per cent. It does no good to any cause when people are attacked in that way. The action of mobs can never be condoned. We must of course be very careful when we try to rationalise or defend such attacks simply because they are occurring to an ethnic minority or outsiders. We have seen the results of that all too often in the world.

In the few moments left to me I want to answer some of the points raised by the hon. Gentleman. Our priority must certainly be to ensure that the tense situation on the ground does not develop into violence or lead to further repression. That means making it clear to the authorities, but also to Tibetan groups, that we believe in peaceful resolution of the underlying problems in Tibet, not the use of force. However, the point that the hon. Gentleman made is the right one: there must be dialogue. Whether such events flare up every 30 years—they seem to happen, anyway, in the year before the end of each of our decades—it is not good enough. We cannot leave things to fester. There must be real dialogue.

Our priority also means pressing for unrestricted access to the region. I am sure that one of the answers is transparency. It is always a mistake—and we have tried it at times in our own history—to try to hide what happens. Those things will bubble to the surface and the sense of frustration increases. We need to get a clearer
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picture of the situation on the ground in Tibet. Of course we worry about the way in which the character of the country is changing, but some things can change for the better. Those will include, if some of the news that we get from Beijing, rather than from India, is true, building hospitals, schools and infrastructure. The Tibetan people should have the opportunity to have those things, but underpinning that must be the sense that their political aspirations and sense of identity should not be stifled and stymied in any way.

We welcome last week’s organised visit by journalists and diplomats, but, given that the security situation is apparently calm, we see no reason for access to Tibet and the surrounding provinces to continue to be restricted
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for those who wish to travel independently. It happened in the past: why should not it happen now? More generally we have welcomed the media regulations that were put in place for the Olympics, which provide for freedom of movement for foreign journalists around most of China. However, we believe firmly that those should be expanded to cover the whole country and should be applied to domestic journalists as well as foreigners and be extended beyond October. We shall continue to urge China to lift all restrictions on freedom of access to Tibet and the surrounding provinces for journalists and others wishing to visit, as long as the security situation allows. That is in China’s own interests.

It being Two o’clock, the motion for the Adjournment of the sitting lapsed, without Question put.

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