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Ambassador Liu Xiaoming, China's new and accomplished ambassador to Britain, presented his credentials on 26 May. When diplomatic relations were established 38 years ago in 1972, bilateral trade was worth just $300 million. Last year, it was worth $39.1 billion, a theme addressed in chapter 6 of the report. Thirty-eight years ago, there were just a few dozen Chinese students in the United Kingdom; today, their number has reached 100,000, our largest source of overseas students. Thirty-eight years ago, a meagre 1,000 people travelled between China and Britain every year. Today, each and every day, thousands of visits are made, with 200,000 Chinese tourists visiting the UK last year.
On coming to office, the Prime Minister, Mr Cameron, rightly made one of his priorities a telephone conversation with premier Wen Jiabao and the Foreign Secretary, Mr Hague, spoke to his opposite number, both discussing the further expansion and advancement of the China-UK strategic partnership and looking at ways of developing that vital relationship further.
The oldest Chinese community in Britain outside London is to be found in Liverpool. My first visit overseas as a young Liverpool MP was to stay with Chinese families in Hong Kong. Two years later, I travelled to mainland China, to Shanghai, which the noble Lord, Lord Anderson of Swansea, mentioned. I met some of those to whom he referred who had suffered grievously for their religious faith. It is significant that only yesterday, and I welcome it warmly, the authorities in Beijing recognised the underground bishop, Matthias Du Jiang, as Bishop of Bameng in Inner Mongolia. I also mention the constructive role played by Ma Yingling of Yunnan, one of the remaining bishops of the official church yet to be recognised. Last year, I met the Bishop of Beijing, now officially recognised by both Rome and Beijing. Anyone who has followed the issue touched on by the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, and how, for instance, Cardinal Kung, the former Bishop of Shanghai, was imprisoned for more than 30 years, knows that these are historic, momentous, significant developments which we should all warmly welcome. That is not to say that there is not still much to be done; indeed, there are several underground bishops who remain in prison as we meet today. However,
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In 1999, Liverpool twinned with Shanghai, which opened the way for commercial and entrepreneurial opportunities for both cities: commerce, development and jobs. Perhaps every town in Britain should consider twinning with a city or town in China. Liverpool's story is a good illustration of the benefits of good fraternal relations. It had many reasons for twinning with Shanghai; it shares many characteristics with Shanghai, not least the architectural similarities between the waterfronts. Shanghai, of course, has grown exponentially, with a population of more than 21 million people, and a stock exchange of 74 million investors, but the two cities retain many similarities, including the waterfronts, maritime industries, football, and a history of innovation and change.
The relationship between the two cities has prospered so much that Liverpool was invited to participate at no charge at Expo 2010, to which the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, referred, which began in May and ends in October. China's expo is four times larger than any previous expo and is expected to attract around 70 million visitors from 140 countries. The Liverpool team running the Shanghai pavilion tells me that an average of 3,000 people come to its stand each day, with as many as 5,000 people at the weekend. From all this, I hope that both cities and both countries will see Expo 2010 as an opportunity for even closer economic and commercial relationships and inward investment, along with more educational exchanges and tourism. Here I declare an interest, as I hold a chair at Liverpool John Moores University. Education should be a two-way street. I should like to see more of our students travelling to China with Mandarin and Cantonese more widely offered in our schools and universities.
None of these positive developments should occlude the way in which Britain is still perceived by some Chinese-and I would like the report to have touched on this. One hundred and fifty years ago, on 18 October 1860, at the command of Lord Elgin, Britain's High Commissioner in China, one of the most shameful episodes of British history occurred: 3,500 British and French troops torched China's Old Summer Palace in Beijing-the Gardens of Perfect Brightness. It was a vindictive and philistine act which aimed to humiliate China's Qing Dynasty and assert the hegemony of the British and French occupying forces. Its consequences still reverberate today, and it is another of those unforgotten and unhealed chapters of history.
The burning of the palace was the culmination of the second opium war, waged by the British in China, a war whose lessons have contemporary resonance. The French writer, Victor Hugo, in his Expedition de Chine, described the pillaging and burning of the palace as akin to two robbers,
So what was Britain's objective in pursuing the second opium war-or arrow war-of 1856 to 1860? The pretext which was given was the killing of a French missionary, Father August Chapdelaine. In reality, the British Empire and the Second French Empire pitted themselves against the Qing Dynasty with the objective of legalising the opium trade and expanding the trade in coolies-a derogatory slang expression used to describe the virtual slave labour and exploitation to which Chinese labourers were subjected. The trade in coolies was the forebear of the human trafficking which continues to this day. Along with the opium trade and the trade in people, Britain was determined to open up all China to British merchants. The opium war concluded with the British, French and Russians demanding and getting a permanent diplomatic presence in Beijing. China was forced to pay reparations of 8 million taels to Britain and France. Britain acquired the territory of Kowloon, adjacent to Hong Kong, a territory taken at the end of the first opium war. The opium trade was made legal, and Christians were given the right to evangelise-a sad and discrediting linkage of religious freedom to the worst excesses of imperialism.
Most scandalous of all was the trade in opium itself. Vast numbers of Chinese had become addicted to opium and Britain, instead of helping to eradicate the addiction, became the supplier. The Chinese Government said:
Instead of upholding China's policy, however, Britain decided to play the part of pusher and profiteer-the equivalent of today's urban heroin and cocaine pushers, not only government-sponsored and sanctioned but backed by force of arms. In the House of Commons, the young William Ewart Gladstone rebuked the British Government. He said,
By the conclusion of the second opium war and the burning of the Old Summer Palace, Britain had achieved its strategic objectives but its reputation was left in the ashes and charred remains of the Gardens of Perfect Brightness. As we approach the 150th anniversary of these events and catch a glimpse of drug addiction, human trafficking, theft, arson, violence and humiliation, we might pause to consider how these unhealed and unforgotten events continue to play into the times in which we live now. As we exhort China to take its place in the world and consider its development role in Africa, which has been mentioned, or how it should be a major broker in countries such as Burma and North Korea-and I hope that that will be the case-we should have regard to how China has traditionally perceived foreign powers, how it has been treated itself and how it sees its own interests.
Above all, China cares passionately about its own domestic stability. It is acutely aware that social cohesion and stability are two great prizes. How to achieve that without repression is daunting. I shall now say something about China's domestic challenges. On 22 May the Spectator drew attention to the plight of a Beijing academic, Professor Yang Zhizhu, who had lost his job and become an outlaw after refusing to pay a
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It is estimated that there are now 37 million more men than women. The British Medical Journal says that the overall sex ratio for China is 126 boys for every 100 girls. Nine provinces had ratios of more than 160 boys for every 100 girls, for second children. The article stated:
China also has the highest female suicide rate of any country in the world. It is the only nation in which more women than men kill themselves. According to the World Health Organization, approximately 500 women a day end their lives in China. This extraordinary suicide rate may well be related to the campaign of forced sterilisation and compulsory abortion. I was particularly grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Verma, who is on the Front Bench today, for the reply that she gave me yesterday to a Written Question, where she said that last year alone £770,000 had been provided by DfID to Marie Stopes International, and that this will be reviewed as part of the process of looking at overseas funding. I would point out to your Lordships that MSI might claim to disapprove of compulsion but recently gave a red-carpet welcome in its London headquarters to Ms Lin Bin, Minister of China's National Population and Family Planning Commission, which is responsible for the one-child policy. I also hope that the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, will be able to confirm that the Government will follow the previous Government in upholding the case of Chen Guang Chen, the blind human rights activist who in the Xiandong province exposed the compulsory abortion and sterilisation of more than 130,000 women and is now into his fourth year in prison for having done so.
Last year, under the auspices of the All-Party Parliamentary China Group and with the assistance of the Government of China, I was able to organise a small all-party visit by four British parliamentarians-two Members of the Commons and two from your Lordships' House, the noble Lord, Lord Steel, and myself-and we subsequently published our report, Tibet: Breaking the Deadlock, which can be viewed on the all-party group's website. We travelled with the blessing of the Dalai Lama, who, in the aftermath of the March 2008 riots, trenchantly condemned violence as a means of procuring change in Tibet. He has also accepted, as the British Government have done, that Tibet is part of China, but believes that it should be allowed significant autonomy. He has repudiated any return to feudalism and has stated that he is willing to accept a spiritual role, rather than a political one. We concluded that these four principles could form the basis of a firm settlement with the Government of China. The noble
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It is not too far-fetched to consider the making of a religious concordat with the Dalai Lama that sees him as a spiritual rather than a political leader and designates Lhasa's Potola Palace as a holy city, comparable perhaps to the standing enjoyed by the Holy See. Were the Chinese to initiate such a move, it would show a new and welcome openness to the principle that each man and woman should be free to determine the religious belief of their choice. Instead of undermining the unity of the state, invariably the state becomes the beneficiary of the good that religious faith and spiritual endeavour are then free to promote.
Last year the Lhasa Evening News said that a "strike hard campaign" had been launched. Perhaps a "think hard" campaign would now be more apposite. How much better it would be if the Dalai Lama were invited to have direct discussions in Beijing with President Hu Jintao. The fourteenth Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso, now aged 75, is willing to find a solution and is in a position to make a lasting settlement. His word and his judgment will be accepted by disparate groups of Tibetans. When he dies there will be no similar focus for unity, risking a more radical and intractable conflict. If agreement is not reached during his lifetime, it could leave a dangerous vacuum which could threaten China's cohesion.
The Chinese ideogram for "crisis" also means "opportunity". There is an opportunity to use Chinese genius, as happened in the case of Hong Kong and is now happening in the area of religious liberties, to find creative and durable solutions to some of the issues that I have touched upon.
Lord Selkirk of Douglas: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Alton, has spoken with conviction and clarity. In my speech, I will deal with some of the matters that he has mentioned, but first I should declare a past interest: when I was a student at Oxford University, I visited Singapore and wrote a thesis in the 1960s on the overseas Chinese in Singapore, which dealt with the process of transition from colonialism to self-government. I was particularly interested to discover that the Chinese students whom I met there were extremely proud of the prowess of mainland China and that that pride was accompanied by a great loyalty. This was all the more remarkable to me since Singapore had moved from a colonialist regime towards a democratic one and a thriving capitalist economy. I therefore hoped that one day I would get the opportunity to visit mainland China to better understand its attitude and, more important, to appreciate the constantly growing economic importance of China in the world.
The most important conclusion that I believe must be drawn from our visit is that the European Union should pursue a wider policy of constructive engagement
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When our delegation visited China last summer, what struck me most forcefully was the way in which the Chinese Government were geared to obtaining maximum development and economic growth with all possible speed. China has some of the most highly developed cities in the world on its eastern seaboard, but on the other hand, with its 1.3 billion citizens-nearly one-fifth of the world's population-it has a great deal of rural poverty in its vast western areas. The report rightly proposes that the EU ought to establish a stronger presence outside Beijing and Hong Kong.
The policy of rapid economic development in China has now taken priority over everything else, including issues involving human rights. As my noble friend Lord Teverson said, while China has commendably raised millions of its citizens out of poverty, the Chinese leadership has shown no great enthusiasm for extending democratic rights, and political dissent is quite simply not tolerated. That was amply demonstrated by the events in Tiananmen Square and by China's treatment of Tibet, to which the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, referred. More recently, there was widespread disappointment when a UK national was executed in China on drugs charges despite pleas from the British Prime Minister for clemency. Indeed, I was told when we were in China that the death penalty is still on the statute book for the smuggling of cigarettes.
I believe that the Chinese Government correctly understand that the EU will continue to assert its deeply held commitment to human rights and will wish to raise such issues in a consistent and practical manner. On this subject, we recommended that the EU delegation in Beijing should consider increasing the number of those working on human rights. However, we should strive to ensure that our approach does not cause other key negotiations on the future of the world's environment and trade to be derailed. It is a difficult and delicate balance to strike, but progress, even if slow, can be achieved on a variety of fronts. In that connection, I strongly endorse the perceptive and far-sighted words of the leader of our delegation, the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, who said on 23 March:
"It is also important that the EU sticks to its principles on Human Rights when dealing with China, but we feel more progress will be made in this area by pursuing a frank and detailed private dialogue rather than EU leaders grand-standing with public condemnations".
One reality about China that I knew before I went and was confirmed to me when I was there is-the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, emphasised this in his speech-that the Chinese Government plan on a very long timescale. One distinguished Chinese professor
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The second important message that came across to us strong and clear was that China is totally committed to its territorial integrity, to which the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, referred in relation to Tibet, Hong Kong, India and especially Taiwan. Our view in relation to Taiwan was that,
"The EU should state its support for the one China policy but its rejection of reunification by anything other than peaceful means. It should discourage China and Taiwan from taking any unilateral actions that would infringe these principles".
My final point is that we are having this debate against a background of heightened tensions between North and South Korea. As the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, stated, we had a constructive meeting in China on this subject with the Minister of Foreign Affairs and the senior official representing the Communist Party. I express the hope that the Chinese Government will use their good offices to try to bring about a reduction in tension. They have the capability to act as a major restraining influence on the unpredictable North Korean leadership.
There is no doubt that our report points towards the EU needing to establish an effective relationship with China based on trust and mutual respect. It will be a long road and there will almost certainly be potential pitfalls on the way and perhaps even a few daunting distractions. However, China's illustrious philosopher, Confucius, offers guidance for us all with these wise words:
Perhaps that statement of principle, too, was indirectly recognised in our report-compiled under the able leadership of the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, with the dedicated assistance of Kathryn Colvin and her team-in wanting a long-term dialogue and a policy of constructive engagement by the EU. This evening, I not only commend the wise words of Confucius but strongly support the recommendations in our report.
Lord Faulkner of Worcester: My Lords, I am pleased to follow the noble Lord, Lord Selkirk of Douglas, because I agree with almost everything that he said, particularly on matters of human rights in China and relations with Taiwan. I start by declaring an unpaid interest as the newly elected chairman of the All-Party Parliamentary British-Taiwan Group. I have on a number of occasions had the good fortune to visit Taiwan in recent years and I shall say something about relations with Taiwan in a moment.
First, I join others in congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, and his committee on producing such an excellent report and the members of that committee who have spoken in this debate on their contributions. The report is informative, thoughtful and well argued. Indeed, in many respects it is a model of what a good Select Committee report should be.
I think that the noble Lord is aware of this, because I had a word with him before this debate, but I feel that one thing missing from the report is any detailed reference to the disproportionate and excessive use of the death penalty by the People's Republic of China. I agree completely with what the committee said about the execution of our fellow British citizen, Akmal Shaikh, in December 2009 and I was pleased to see repeated at paragraph 235 of the report the EU statement reaffirming its,
However, I could see no reference in the report to the annual reports from Amnesty International on the use of the death penalty worldwide, particularly in Asia. The 2008 report on death sentences and executions says that in that year more people were executed in Asia than in the rest of the world put together. It states:
"These figures represent minimum estimates-real figures are undoubtedly higher. However, the continued refusal by the Chinese authorities to release public information on the use of the death penalty means that in China the death penalty remains shrouded in secrecy".
The report continues with a damning description of how those facing capital charges do not receive fair trials, with failings including the lack of prompt access to lawyers, a lack of presumption of innocence, political interference in the judiciary and failure to exclude evidence extracted through torture. I listened carefully to what the noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe of Aberavon, said and I hope very much that the description that he gave of how things are improving turns out to be the case. In this House, however, where there is such strong opposition to the use of the death penalty, it is right that we should express our concern about the situation that continues to exist in China.
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