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5.32 pm

Baroness Verma: My Lords, I too congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Alton of Liverpool, on this very important debate. While we recognise and celebrate the advances that China is making as an economic superpower, we must continue to assess and question China's role in promoting and respecting human rights, which we cannot ignore, even more so in light of its economic success. China has taken some steps in advancing its promotion of human rights, but there is no denying that China needs to go further in this area. I hope that the Minister will answer the question posed by the noble Lord, Lord Alton, on whether the Chinese Government have indicated when they may ratify the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Like my noble friend Lady Park of Monmouth, I would like to direct part of my speech to China's efforts in Africa.

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China has been a key supporter of Robert Mugabe, a man who has sparked political fury across the globe with his most questionable leadership in Zimbabwe. It has been only a few months since China dropped assistance to the Mugabe regime, but we are aware that it is still assisting with humanitarian aid, which remains a positive step, especially with China expressing its desire to work more closely with the international community.

It was widely reported that, in the Minister's discussions with China last year, China expressed a wish to work more closely with the international community to bring peace to Darfur, particularly as previously it had been seen not to acknowledge the heartless policies of the Sudanese Government, who had continued to ignore the basic human rights of large parts of the Sudanese population. It appears that China is beginning to take its relationship with the African countries and with the international community more seriously; in particular, China has recognised that Zimbabwe is an out-of-control, failed state. In 2006, the GDP growth for China was 10.7 per cent, which has fuelled a rapid growth in tracking sources of oil in major oil-producing countries which pose high risks to inward investors, particularly when the rest of the world is reluctant to engage in contracts due to the challenging positions facing them when they choose to invest, particularly in Africa.

China's investment in Sudan, Nigeria, Angola and the Republic of Congo, to name but a few, is, as reported, the reason for China’s 40 per cent total growth in the demand for oil, with figures from reports claiming that Chinese companies had invested $175 million in the first 10 months of 2005 in African countries. Figures have suggested that China is taking up to 64 per cent of Sudan’s oil exports, and we must remember that Sudan remains one of the world’s poorest countries. While China continues to export oil out of Africa, the people of Africa remain poor, with the majority of Africans in abject poverty, corruption and suffering severe violations of their human rights.

It is only right that we continue to monitor and assess the role that China is playing in Africa. It has been estimated that by 2045 China will depend on imported oil for 45 per cent of its energy needs. To ease the effect such trading has on Africa, experts have said that China has an aid-for-oil strategy, and with such limited time I feel that this is a debate to be had in its own right.

As we see China striking deals with countries and Governments from across the globe, it is important that as an international leader it is aware of the destruction and violation of the human rights of the people in those countries where arms are traded in exchange for good oil prices. Equipping countries such as the Sudan, Zimbabwe and Nigeria, China is gaining strong political allies, succeeding in fulfilling political goals, but diverting attention from not addressing its own poor human rights record.

China is a leading member of the global community and must be met with the same scrutiny that is given to the rest of the world. Before making some points about China and its people, I shall finish this part of my speech on China’s relationship with Africa, because

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we must be aware that there have been some reported positive impacts on the economic growth of Africa, but let us not forget that the people who are not in power are the exploited masses in these international deals. The Africans are mainly cut out of jobs as China underbids local firms, but it can be argued that, where most global powers have not taken to being more practical in their help to rebuild many of the African countries, China has cashed in on such opportunities.

The issue of the rights of people in China has been a long-standing debate but, with the successful bidding for the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, the eyes of the world are even more on China. I have recently read that the authorities have given permission to the police to hold and detain dozens of activists, outspoken intellectuals and human rights lawyers, including the arrest of Hu Jia—as mentioned by the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich—reportedly one of the biggest targets for the authorities, as it was said that he had gathered and distributed information on the Government’s human rights abuse. Is the Minister aware of such actions?

When China won the bid to host the Games in 2001, it made a pledge to the world that it would take steps to improve its human rights record. One of the human rights issues that has come to the fore is the abuse of media freedom. On the rebuilding programmes going on in the run-up to the Games, it has been reported and seen that workers are being cheated out of wages and are working under dangerous conditions with no access to medical and accident insurance. With much redevelopment taking place, many local residents have been forced to move from their homes without compensation.

In conclusion, while we see that China is making huge leaps in the global economy and positive impacts in Africa, it is important to assess China’s role in promoting and respecting its own human rights record. With the Olympic Games taking place in Beijing we can see that China must play an active part in aiding its own people and serving them with the freedoms that they should be enjoying while the rest of the world comes to its door to celebrate the Games. Its relationship with Africa may be of economic fruitfulness, but we must not be blinded by the human rights violations that are still taking place within a rapidly expanding power.

5.38 pm

Lord Wilson of Tillyorn: My Lords, like other noble Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for raising this subject, both because it is important in its own right and because it helps us to put into context what is happening and to question what we might do positively to help. Coming near the end of the debate, there is no need to raise more individual questions of abuses of human rights in China. There are plenty of examples and I am sure that they are real ones.

It is interesting to realise that recently at the Communist Party Congress at the end of October last year, the President of China, Hu Jintao, said that it was necessary to,

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One can question what that means in practice, but can one imagine 20 years ago the President of China saying that this should be an objective? Here, surely, is something that we can build on.

The other part of the context, I suggest, is the massive internal development of China. The noble Lord, Lord Watson, referred very movingly to what Shanghai looks like. The same is true of Beijing and Guangzhou, or Canton. There is massive development. What we hear much less about is the enormous disparity of wealth between the countryside and the cities. Something like 50 per cent of China’s wealth is in the control of something like 10 per cent of the population. Virtually all those people live in the cities. The influx of people from the countryside to the cities is absolutely enormous. It is estimated that there are something like 200 million migrant workers in the cities of China at the moment and that they will continue to move into the cities at a rate of 15 million per year, probably for the next 20 years. The conclusion is that governing China is no easy task for anybody.

Other noble Lords have referred to another part of the context: the enormous economic growth of China over the past few years and its impact on China’s role in the world. China is already the fourth largest economy in the world and the figures for 2007 will probably show China overtaking the UK to become the third largest. Inevitably, this dramatically affects China’s position in the world and its relationship with other countries, including the UK. Recently, the very effective Chinese ambassador to London, Madame Fu Ying, came to Cambridge to address members of the university. She made a point of saying that the world tended to see China as an elephant, while those involved in formulating Chinese policies tended to see it as a mouse. The reason for this is that while the world sees China as huge, powerful and significant, the policymakers in China see instead all the problems that they face. I would not dare to pick certain animals from the Chinese zodiac, particularly not the next one on the calendar, which might be misunderstood, but a tiger is a better animal to choose than either an elephant or a mouse.

The really important point is that now, inevitably, China is being drawn into discussion of key world issues in a way that has not been true in the past. Previously, China has been able to say that it does not involve itself in the internal affairs of other countries. That is no longer possible. As other noble Lords have said, China already plays a significant role and, in many places, a very positive role. Examples include North Korea and Iran on nuclear matters, and also Burma, to some extent. There is huge involvement in Africa. It must surely be our objective, picking up on what noble Lords have said, to make that as positive as possible. China is also involved in UN peacekeeping operations.

In this context, we already have a widely based dialogue with China. That is something on which we can build. It is in that forum that one can and should raise the question of human rights as something that is important for its own sake and important for the economic development of China. Doing it in a much broader context means that one does not run into the

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danger—which there has been in the past—of China seeing these comments and criticism of its human rights record as antagonistic and, to put it crudely, as “China-bashing,” and therefore disregard it. Put into a wider context it can be dealt with in a different way.

To pick up on another point from the noble Lord, Lord Watson of Richmond, China has made enormous strides in the development of its legal system over the past 20 years. Of course, there is still a long way to go. The Chinese leaders recognise that. At the Communist Party Congress last October, President Hu Jintao spoke of the importance of the rule of law as “a fundamental principle”. We in the UK have helped in the past with the training of Chinese lawyers and judges. A lot of this has been done through the British Council. Some of it, interestingly, has been done in Scotland, because the Roman law basis of the Scottish legal system is often easier for the Chinese to latch onto than the common law tradition in England. A lot has been done, and I am sure that a lot more could be done.

In conclusion, I ask the Minister, first, to tell us something about the wider context of our discussions with China on a broad range of international issues and how the human rights issue could be inserted into them, and, secondly, what the British Government think that they can go on doing to help the Chinese to help themselves to develop a sound rule of law, both for China’s own sake and because that is, after all, a key element in helping to improve a record of human rights.

5.45 pm

Lord Moynihan: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Alton of Liverpool, for introducing this debate. I declare my interests as chairman of the British Olympic Association, a director of the London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games and a member of the Olympic board for the Olympics to be held here in London in 2012. The subject of my speech will come as little surprise to noble Lords this evening. I have also sustained a strong personal interest in foreign affairs and human rights, two subjects which dominated the years during which I had the honour and good fortune to sit on the Front Bench as senior foreign affairs spokesman for my party, a humble predecessor to the eminent current incumbent, my noble friend Lord Howell.

Many noble Lords have referred to the problematic nature of China’s human rights record and, indeed, that of a number of other countries in the region. Noble Lords have referred to breaches in human rights which are clearly unacceptable in the 21st century. Every part of the international community must strive to do what it can to move the issue forward. I am also sure that we all recognise the sensitivities associated with taking the Olympic Games to China at this time.

I strongly support the stance of the International Olympic Committee that the 2008 Olympic and Paralympic Games should and will go ahead in Beijing. I also share the view of Jacques Rogge, president of the International Olympic Committee, that there is a real chance that we will see a positive impact on China’s human rights as a result. However, neither the

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Olympic movement nor, indeed, anyone should expect the 2008 Olympic Games alone to bring China into line with international human rights standards. Expectations of an Olympics-led metamorphosis are simply unrealistic. Real change requires consolidation of the position of China's domestic reformers and a wider public recognition of human rights. It would not be unusual for this to take many more years—in effect, another generation. Indeed, one of the major challenges will be how the momentum for change will be sustained after the curtain comes down on the Games in Beijing. Nor can, or should, the International Olympic Committee be expected to solve a problem to which the Governments of the international community have yet to find an answer.

At the same time, it would be wrong to underestimate the growing national influence of sport and the power of the Olympic movement. For just as China's human rights record fits uneasily with the Olympic ideals, so too does the idea that sport can harbour prejudice, geographical or otherwise. The goal of Olympism is to spread fundamental human values as widely as possible and not to confine them exclusively to the western world, as we tended to do in the 20th century. Sport is about humanity.

An argument for why the 2008 Summer Olympics should be held in Beijing is that sport in itself is a force for good. It is a mass phenomenon which gives enjoyment to hundreds of millions of people every week. We have gone far beyond the principle of the value of sport as simply entertainment. That has been recognised, not least in the 1978 International Charter of Physical Education and Sport, which places the development of physical education and sport at the service of human progress. Sport has a role to play in society. At all levels, it is influential and pervasive. By their very nature, sport and physical education are about participation, inclusion and a sense of belonging. Sport, as a universal language, can help to promote peace, tolerance, reconciliation and understanding. It cuts across lines of class, nationhood, ethnicity and culture that might otherwise divide, and it is an exceptional vehicle for bringing people together, bridging differences and promoting communication and understanding.

For example, sport has helped reinitiate dialogue where other channels have struggled. A tradition of such sports diplomacy has certainly played its part in Asia. North and South Korea promoted reconciliation by merging their athletes into a common team for the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games. Table tennis set the stage for the resumption of diplomatic ties between China and the United States in 1971. Elsewhere, Israeli and Palestinian children regularly come together to play soccer or basketball. If anyone doubted the extraordinary power of sport, they would have to look no further than last year’s Asian Football Cup. In Iraq, riven by sectarian violence and turmoil, there are few rays of hope. Yet Shia, Sunni and Kurdish players made up the Iraqi team and, putting aside the differences that separate them in their own country, they came together as one team to win the Asian Football Cup. The uplift to the Iraqi people as a result of that victory of their national team stands as a testament to what sport can do to bring people together.

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Despite this evidence, we have heard some calls for a boycott of the Games, not least from Edward Macmillan-Scott, a member of my own party in the European Parliament. I recognise that boycotts can in some cases be successful, but not in this case. As the noble Lord, Lord Watson, rightly argued, China is at an important stage in its development. As a nation, it will also play a key role in all of our futures. We need to help open up China to the rest of the world, to integrate and to cultivate relationships, to shine a spotlight, as the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, has done today, on the issues which concern us, and to work together to encourage resolutions. It is incumbent on all of us involved with the Olympic movement to play our role in this. It is also incumbent on those involved with the IOC fully to engage with all the issues of a host nation in order to ensure that the principles of Olympism and the Olympic ideals are promulgated as effectively and as widely as possible. Human rights, educational programmes and environmental matters are all on the agenda of those whose lives are impacted by sport, and indeed the IOC. As I was leaving the IOC headquarters in Lausanne only last month, I was passed by three members representing a human rights group, drawn from a demonstration outside, who were welcomed into discussion with IOC executives.

We should not forget the progress which has been made since Beijing was awarded the Games, a direct consequence of the strength of the sports movement to which I have referred. As the noble Lord, Lord Alton, acknowledged in his speech, foreign journalists are, for the first time, welcomed without restriction. Amnesty International has recognised that positive steps have been taken in relation to the death penalty and to police brutality, while rightly continuing to focus on cases of human rights violations which have never before in history been under such a strong global spotlight of media, political and public attention—and never would have been had the Games gone elsewhere.

In conclusion, the IOC has created a serious momentum for change by deciding to stage the Olympic Games in Beijing, a momentum that could generate pressure on the Chinese regime to change its behaviour and, at the very least, accelerate the process of instituting long-term reforms. Amidst concerns that this will not pay off, it is worth remembering that there would not have been the recent Chinese promises to improve human rights and press freedoms that we have heard about, fulfilled or not, without the Beijing Olympics. Beijing 2008 has pushed China’s human rights record to the top of the international agenda for the next eight months. The challenge for politicians, human rights groups, the Chinese Government and the IOC is to work together to make the wisest use of this opportunity, to ensure that fundamental human rights are treated with a new-found respect in China. This is, after all, a fundamental goal of the Olympic movement.

5.54 pm

Lord Avebury: My Lords, we are all grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for enabling us to have this debate at such a topical moment and for allowing us to hear from the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan. We

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have missed him over the last few years and we are pleased to hear his contribution to this debate and his optimism about the effect that the Olympic Games may have on human rights in China. Nobody expects to wave a magic wand over China and suddenly institute a regime of complete human rights instantly. We recognise that it is a question of a whole generation, but the fact that a start is now being made is a hopeful sign.

The noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe, said in the debate on the gracious Speech last November that China’s huge and continuing economic success is by no means the only reason why its presence on the world stage is so important. He drew attention to the remarkable success of our agreement with China on Hong Kong as an indication of China’s reliability as a partner in international agreements, to China’s support for UNSCR 1769 on Darfur and to the visit by the UN special envoy, Ibrahim Gambari, to Burma in October, as examples of China’s increasing involvement in the solution of major problems on the UN’s humanitarian and peacekeeping agendas. As has also been mentioned, the return of North Korea to the six-party talks on non-proliferation just after that debate was also attributed largely to Chinese diplomacy. China’s involvement in key world issues was underlined again today by the noble Lord, Lord Wilson of Tillyorn.

It is common ground that in a few years China not only will have become the greatest economic power in the world but may also have assumed a much greater share of responsibility for upholding standards of governance, human rights and the rule of law that hitherto have been led by the West, through the motors of change referred to by my noble friend. It will be natural for China to develop those standards within its own borders and to promote them internationally, if only for reasons of self-interest. Several noble Lords mentioned Zimbabwe. The massive Chinese investment there and in other countries in Africa can be protected only if it is embedded in ordinary societies where people have rights protected by the Government and the rule of law. It is welcome that China has signed up to the six major human rights treaties—although it has still to ratify the ICCPR—and has thus acknowledged them as the yardsticks that need to be applied both at home and abroad.

Where China falls short of complying with those obligations domestically, it is not very likely that it will promote them abroad. Amnesty International has provided us with a useful checklist. There is some progress. As has been mentioned, fewer death penalties are being imposed. Some restrictions on foreign journalists were lifted at the start of 2007, as the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, mentioned, but Reporters Without Borders says that since then it has received 180 reports of threats, physical violence, harassment, destruction of equipment, interrogation and visa refusals. In the run-up to the Olympic Games, that simply will not do, nor will the jamming of the BBC’s Mandarin broadcast, which has also been mentioned. I should like to know what the Minister thinks we can do about that before the Olympic Games begin.

As the noble Lord, Lord Alton, said, the next round of UK-China dialogue is at the end of this month. It would be useful to know from the Minister

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what is to be discussed and what assessment the Government have made of progress over the year. The FCO’s human rights report for 2006 contains a useful summary of the points raised at that dialogue meeting, but what is always lacking is a picture of the effects of all the dialogue over the longer term and how they match up with the reports in the UN Human Rights Special Procedures.

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