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The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (David Miliband): I launched the UK-China framework last month because the Government believe that positive engagement with China is essential to achieving our wider international objectives and to addressing the major global challenges, including the current economic crisis. We welcome the positive response from the Chinese Government to this strategy, we will monitor progress against its detailed objectives, and we will welcome the views of Members and others.

Mr. Murphy: Given my right hon. Friend’s rather special relationship with the US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, can he comment on the US’s new approach to China and inform the House whether that new approach will impact in any way on the policies of the United Kingdom?

David Miliband: My hon. Friend will be pleased to hear that I spoke to my new friend in advance of her trip to China. I think that the messages she gave to the Chinese about the determination of the whole of the American Government to engage with China in a new way is wholly welcome. There was, I think, in Secretary Clinton’s remarks in Beijing an important recognition of the changed balance of power in the world and of China’s centrality to addressing many of the big global problems we face—not least economic and environmental problems and nuclear proliferation.

Willie Rennie (Dunfermline and West Fife) (LD): If we are ever to secure peace in Afghanistan, we are going to have to engage all the countries in the wider region, including China, especially if we are going to seek a final solution in that area. What discussions have the Government had with China about engaging with Iran to provide that solution?

David Miliband: I agree with the hon. Gentleman. We obviously talked about Afghanistan during the visit of Premier Wen and Foreign Minister Yang at the beginning of this month. I was in Afghanistan last week. I believe that the important regional approach taken by the new envoy, Ambassador Holbrooke, is wholly welcome.

Mr. Denis MacShane (Rotherham) (Lab): As literally millions and millions of Chinese people lose their jobs with the Chinese economy going into even freer fall than the European and American economies, there are political consequences. In my right hon. Friend’s talks with the Chinese, will he gently suggest that the next economic paradigm has to be based on workers being able to earn enough to buy what they produce and to have social and other networks of support? Will he further bring into play the International Labour Organisation to urge the Chinese to develop a much fairer social and wage system in their country?

David Miliband: I think that my right hon. Friend will recognise the irony of China riding to the rescue of international capitalism at this time, but his points about the balance of economic and social stability in China are very well made. Our human rights dialogue certainly provides one opportunity to raise a whole range of social issues with the Chinese Government.

Mr. David Heathcoat-Amory (Wells) (Con): Is the Secretary of State aware that when North Koreans try to leave that dictatorship, they often cross into China,
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where they are rounded up and sent back to North Korea in defiance of all China’s obligations as a signatory to the UN refugee convention? The fate of these returnees to North Korea is extremely gruesome, so will the Secretary of State ensure that his new love-in with China—whether via Mrs. Clinton or anyone else—does not prevent him and the Government from raising this issue with the Chinese Government as a matter of urgency, or does he think that China is too important and large to merit such criticism?

David Miliband: The right hon. Gentleman raises an important point, which is one that we have raised with the Chinese. I think I should write to him with a report on how those discussions have gone and what the latest stage is. The importance of our engagement with China is precisely that, because we engage with the Chinese, we are able to raise all issues, including human rights issues, openly and frankly. That spirit of candour has been developed over the past few years in our relationship with China. Respect for China does not mean the relegation of our concerns to a subsidiary role. In fact, I would argue that the respect that is afforded to China is the basis for proper engagement on issues that concern us.

Sri Lanka

5. Joan Ryan (Enfield, North) (Lab): What recent assessment he has made of the political situation in Sri Lanka; and if he will make a statement. [257917]

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (David Miliband): The recent military advances by the Sri Lankan Government and the subsequent humanitarian crisis are of continuing serious concern. We have repeatedly called for an immediate humanitarian ceasefire. We have made it clear to the Government of Sri Lanka that a political solution that addresses the legitimate concerns of all communities in Sri Lanka is the only way to bring a sustainable end to the conflict.

Our commitment to that goal and our desire to work with the Sri Lankan Government are clear in the appointment of an experienced former Secretary of State, my right hon. Friend the Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun (Des Browne), as the Prime Minister’s special envoy. I remain in active discussion with the Sri Lankan Government to encourage them to work with him.

Joan Ryan: I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer and also welcome the appointment of my right hon. Friend the Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun as special envoy to Sri Lanka, as well as the statements made in the House by members of the Government regarding ceasefire, but warm words and good intentions will not protect the civilians of the Vanni.

My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary will be aware that, in the last 24 hours, a ceasefire offer has been made but was rejected out of hand by the Government of Sri Lanka. The situation is grave, with 2,000 civilian deaths since January. Is not now the time for the Government to take the issue up at the highest levels—namely, at a session of the United Nations Human Rights Council or in the Security Council itself, or by seeking the suspension from the Commonwealth of the Government of Sri Lanka?

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David Miliband: The situation is indeed extremely serious. For some time, the Sri Lankan authorities were offering a ceasefire and it was rejected by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. Now there is news of an LTTE offer, which has been rejected by the Government. My right hon. Friend will have seen the strong conclusions reached by the European General Affairs and External Relations Council yesterday on the Sri Lankan issue, which are wholly appropriate and welcome, and she can be assured that we continue to press at the highest levels for humanitarian assistance and for a ceasefire.

Mr. Edward Davey (Kingston and Surbiton) (LD): Further to the point made by the right hon. Member for Enfield, North (Joan Ryan), will the Foreign Secretary explain to the House why the Government have not sought a resolution of the UN Security Council for a ceasefire in Sri Lanka? Indeed, why, when Mexico recently asked for the council to be briefed on Sri Lanka, did the British representative to the UN fail to support that call? Does the Foreign Secretary realise that people get pretty angry when UK Ministers here in London talk about and call for a ceasefire, but British officials in New York do not follow through?

David Miliband: I am sorry to hear the hon. Gentleman talk in that way, because he knows that a failed resolution—one that faces a veto—is worse than no resolution at all, and it would strengthen precisely the forces that he and I oppose. I can assure him that our diplomats, whether in New York or in the region, are all working off the same script, which is one that has been set by the Prime Minister and me.

Mike Gapes (Ilford, South) (Lab/Co-op): Can the Foreign Secretary confirm that the problem in the Security Council is not the UK Government, but the Russian Government, who refuse to support the Security Council resolution? Therefore, unlike in Gaza, we are unable to get the Security Council resolution that is so needed.

David Miliband: There certainly is a blockage at the UN. That is why the UN has not been able to opine on this issue.

Andrew Stunell (Hazel Grove) (LD): The Secretary of State will know that there are credible reports of atrocities on both sides. Will he assure the House that the Government will channel their energies into getting this ceasefire before more and more civilians are killed and brought into the conflict?

David Miliband: Yes. The tragedy in Sri Lanka has claimed 70,000 lives in the course of the conflict. That conflict is against the interests of all Sri Lanka’s communities, which could find a way to live together if they had representation that was able to eschew violence and look for a political solution. I assure the hon. Gentleman that we are using all our best efforts to achieve that. It is deeply to be regretted that the appointment of an envoy has not yet been met with a welcome in Colombo, but that is what we are working for.

Fiona Mactaggart (Slough) (Lab): But will that envoy be able to help us ensure that Ban Ki-Moon’s commitment to supporting a ceasefire that enables civilians to leave the hot areas in Sri Lanka can be realised? Families in Britain are anxious about relatives of whom they have heard nothing for months. We need to help them, and their relatives, to be safe.

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David Miliband: My hon. Friend speaks about this issue with knowledge and passion. She is absolutely right about the need for us to do all that we can to protect those civilians, including working with the United Nations. There are very distressing reports of both sides interfering with civilians’ ability to find safety. It is at the heart of our concerns not just to try to provide money, but to try to provide space to which civilians can escape and in which they can be given proper safety. The situation is deeply distressing, not just to people in the region but to many, many people in the United Kingdom.

Mr. Elfyn Llwyd (Meirionnydd Nant Conwy) (PC): Some of the signals coming from the Sri Lankan Government imply that they are quite prepared to go ahead with acts of genocide. Time is of the essence. I understand that the right hon. Gentleman is doing what he can, but many of us are deeply worried about what is going on in Sri Lanka and, as time goes by, it is getting worse. The next fortnight may be crucial. May I urge the right hon. Gentleman to think again about every possible avenue that might enable a horrible humanitarian catastrophe to be averted?

David Miliband: The hon. Gentleman has raised an important point. Sri Lanka has a democratic Government, and—as I have said in another context—high standards are rightly expected of democratic Governments, and should be adhered to by every single Government.

What the hon. Gentleman said about the Sri Lankan Government was absolutely right. No one denies that there is a terrorist problem in Sri Lanka. That terrorist problem poses a mortal threat to Sri Lankans in all communities, but the resolution of that terrorist problem cannot be achieved at the expense of the rights of minority communities in Sri Lanka, and that is what we are trying to work on.

Mr. Andrew Love (Edmonton) (Lab/Co-op): As chairman of the all-party parliamentary group on Sri Lanka, I welcome the appointment of my right hon. Friend the Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun (Des Browne), and wish him well in his discussions with the Government there.

Human Rights Watch reported recently that 2,000 people had died and 5,000 had been injured—innocent civilians caught in the conflict. There are now reports that the so-called safe areas are no longer safe because conflict is proceeding there. I have noted the comments of my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary. Will he redouble his efforts to secure a humanitarian corridor that will allow innocent civilians to escape entirely from the area of conflict in the Vanni?

David Miliband: I recognise the work that my hon. Friend has done as chairman of the all-party group. We will certainly explore all options for the provision of civilian safety, including a ceasefire, a humanitarian corridor and humanitarian safe zones. The situation does indeed get worse day by day. The stories that emerge are of extreme cruelty—cruelty, I have to say, on both sides—and it is very important for the international community to work on the issue. The unanimity of the European Union’s response yesterday is an important indication that the issue is rightly becoming higher on the international agenda.

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Mr. Keith Simpson (Mid-Norfolk) (Con): Obviously we all wish the right hon. Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun (Des Browne) great success. However, is it not the case that after the Prime Minister had announced the right hon. Gentleman’s appointment, the Sri Lankan Government made it clear that they had not been consulted and that they found the whole thing extremely objectionable, and is it not the case that, on Wednesday 18 February, the Sri Lankan Cabinet met and refused to withdraw its opposition to the right hon. Gentleman’s appointment? If that is so, it must mean either that the right hon. Gentleman personally is unacceptable—which I would find strange—or that a special envoy from the United Kingdom is unacceptable and will therefore be in permanent limbo.

David Miliband: I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman has taken the position that he has, because following a letter from our Prime Minister to the President of Sri Lanka, I spoke to the President of Sri Lanka on 30 January—a long time before the date the hon. Gentleman mentioned—and President Rajapakse said he would engage with a UK envoy. Two meetings between our high commissioner and the President confirmed that position, so it is important that we do not leave on the record the suggestion that there was not consultation. There was, indeed, consultation on this issue, and that is why we are working hard to explain to the Sri Lankan Government not only the virtues of my right hon. Friend the Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun, but the potential benefit of a UK envoy, joining envoys from Japan, Norway and other countries, playing a positive role in the conflict.

Dr. Phyllis Starkey (Milton Keynes, South-West) (Lab): Among the civilian deaths in the north of Sri Lanka as a result of the Sri Lankan Government’s military action are 11 relatives of a member of the Milton Keynes Tamil Forum. What she wants to know is what justice there will be for her relatives killed in that action. Can the Foreign Secretary offer any hope of justice?

David Miliband: The constituent my hon. Friend mentions has lost 11 relatives, and it is impossible from this Dispatch Box to say anything that will give someone in such a situation, at a time of such huge distress, any sense of real comfort. She is among a large number of people in this country who have lost large numbers of relatives in this terrible conflict. I can assure her and every person who has Sri Lankan heritage or relatives in Sri Lanka that their Government in the UK are working very hard, internationally and bilaterally, on the issue. There are responsibilities on the LTTE, but there are also responsibilities on the Sri Lankan Government, and both need to fulfil them.

Democratic Republic of Congo

6. James Duddridge (Rochford and Southend, East) (Con): What recent reports he has received on the political situation in the Democratic Republic of Congo. [257919]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Gillian Merron): The DRC and its neighbours are co-operating constructively on regional security. The Government have begun work on areas such as security sector reform and development,
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and the national Parliament is increasingly effective in holding the Government to account. However, much work remains to be done to achieve the lasting progress that we all want to see.

James Duddridge: In addition to looking at increasing UN troop numbers, which the Minister mentioned earlier, will she also look at the effectiveness of those troops, particularly given UN commander Bipin Rawat’s comments that he can only get munitions delivered 9 to 5, Monday to Friday, not at the weekends, and that there is no capacity whatever for night flights?

Gillian Merron: Of course, this is a matter for the UN, and we will discuss it there. The MONUC team is available to the DRC and Rwandan armies to help them with their military planning, and I would encourage them to make full use of that, because what we want to see is the MONUC troops carrying out the highest priority, which is civilian protection.

Mary Creagh (Wakefield) (Lab): Developing the justice sector is key to creating political stability in the DRC. We were all delighted to see the arrest of Laurent Nkunda, the warlord who ran CNDP criminals in north Kivu, over Christmas, but what conversations has my hon. Friend had with the Governments of Rwanda and the DRC to ensure that Laurent Nkunda returns to the DRC to face justice for the unspeakable acts committed by him and his troops?

Gillian Merron: My hon. Friend is right that justice not only has to be done, but has to be seen to be done, and matters such as those are raised regularly both directly with the Governments and through the UN and EU.

Mr. Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con): Is it the view of Her Majesty’s Government that 3,000 extra troops will be enough?

Gillian Merron: That is the estimate that has been made, and, indeed, the UK has supported the United Nations security resolution that brought about that extra reinforcement. What matters is that those reinforcements arrive as soon as possible, that they get on with the job that they are there to do, and that they assist the Rwandan and DRC Governments to protect civilians and to bring about a lasting peace. However, as I said earlier, that cannot be done only by military means. It has to be done through a political process. There has been progress, and we will continue to support that.


7. Mrs. Linda Riordan (Halifax) (Lab/Co-op): What recent discussions he has had with his international counterparts on peacekeeping initiatives for the Gaza strip. [257920]

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Bill Rammell): The Foreign Secretary and I this morning met special envoy Mitchell to discuss Gaza and the middle east. We reiterated the UK’s determination to support the ceasefire, both by helping to stop arms smuggling into Gaza and by pressing the Israeli Government to open the crossings. The Foreign Secretary will be leading the UK delegation to the Gaza reconstruction conference in Egypt on Monday.

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