Select Committee on Foreign Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 60 - 79)



  60. We agreed to appoint him to a high-level Commission in the Commonwealth.
  (Mr Hain) That was a Commonwealth decision.

  61. We supported it.
  (Mr Hain) Commonwealth decisions are Commonwealth decisions and you are part of them. There is usually a consensus and you do not always like every little detail.

  62. If we take the scale of human rights' offenders, with Saddam Hussein as one of the worst and somebody who is not as bad but nevertheless a human rights' offender like Mr Mugabe, where do you think the current Chinese regime fits in?
  (Mr Hain) I think President Mugabe is a serious human rights' offender—that is self-evident—and I do not accept at all your point that there is somehow one law for right-wing dictators and another law for left-wing tyrants, if I can put it that way, to use your comparison. One of the reasons why I personally and the Foreign Secretary have been as vociferous publicly as we have been privately about not condoning events under President Mugabe's leadership and his responsibility for those events in Zimbabwe is precisely because we do not have any double standards. On China the Chinese regime is responsible for a series of human rights' abuses. There is no question about that. And we, as a result, have established a process of critical dialogue with the Chinese Government which is fairly unique, although I think the Americans just recently have followed suit, where we have twice a year in Peking and in London our two teams discuss our concerns, our agenda—whether it is the treatment of the Falun Gong, for example, the crack-down on political activists, or the situation in Tibet—and we have had some positive and practical outcomes from that which I am happy to report to you.

  63. I understand the policy of critical dialogue but I asked you where you thought China fitted in on this scale. You said you thought there were pretty bad human rights' abuses. In those circumstances why did the Foreign Secretary refuse to meet Wei Jingsheng, probably the most famous Chinese dissident in London, and only as a result of being called "two-faced" by Wei Jingsheng did the Foreign Secretary agree to meet him the second time?
  (Mr Hain) I do not think there was any reason not to meet him. In fact, I met him—the Foreign Secretary did before of course—on the eve of the Chinese state visit, a couple of days beforehand. I was pleased to do so. We had a very good discussion and we agreed to remain in contact. I did so, I might add, despite pressure from the Chinese ambassador not to because I think it is very important that the voice of leading dissidents like him are heard at ministerial level.

  64. Nevertheless the Foreign Secretary did refuse to meet him.
  (Mr Hain) You may or may not be referring to a situation some years ago. We certainly did not refuse to meet him—

  65. While this Government has been in power, in the last three years.
  (Mr Hain) On the most recent occasion that I can speak for the Foreign Secretary asked me to do it not for any other reason but that he was involved in other matters.

  66. I am suggesting to you that the way we approach China on human rights is very pragmatic. We have serious interests with China, there is not an awful lot we can do about bad human rights there, so we are very, very practical. You are sounding very pragmatic. If I may say so, you are sounding like a Conservative Foreign Minister in this evidence!
  (Mr Hain) I do not accept that at all.

  67. When it comes to other countries we have a rather different policy. Let's come to the visit of the Chinese President because that is where we have got to. Why was it necessary for Foreign Office officials to hold eight meetings with the Metropolitan Police to discuss the policing of that visit?
  (Mr Hain) First of all, can I say for the record that I reject the suggestion that I am sounding or acting in any way like a Conservative Minister, as my Foreign Office officials would confirm.

Sir Peter Emery

  68. You cannot help it!
  (Mr Hain) I will not invite them to but I am sure they would concur. In fact, this Government is regarded internationally as one of the most progressive in all respects by people who follow foreign policy matters and certainly by other states with whom we have a bilateral relationship.

Mr Maples

  69. You think it is respected by those people who sought to demonstrate on the streets of London against the Chinese President's visit, who had their flags and banners ripped away from them by the Metropolitan Police and Chinese secret policemen standing beside them pointing out Chinese dissidents, which is what happened to Wei Jingsheng whom you had met the day before?
  (Mr Hain) I think that your observations on that were taken very much to heart by the Government. There was a report, as you know, by the Metropolitan Police investigating as to what happened and I think some hard lessons have been learnt. Certainly I would not like to see anything like a repeat of that unhappy series of events, and that is true for the Government as a whole.

  70. I am glad lessons have been learnt because I was going to come on to ask what they were. Is not what happened that those eight meetings were effectively a conspiracy between Foreign Office officials and the Metropolitan Police? I use the words of your colleague Mr Battle in answer to a Parliamentary Question sent to me: "Foreign and Commonwealth officials and the Metropolitan Police discussed the proposed programme for the state visit and the concerns of the Chinese authorities about the possible impact of demonstrations on the visit". Were those meetings not designed to conspire to prevent, stop, minimise demonstrations which Wei Jingsheng might otherwise seek to lead?
  (Mr Hain) I was obviously not present at those meetings and you are not suggesting I was. My colleague, John Battle, has explained the situation both to Parliament and in public very, very fully. There was certainly no conspiracy, absolutely no conspiracy. Indeed, when I met Wei Jingsheng only a few days before he said to me, "Will we be given the right to protest peacefully?" and I said he would and contacted the Home Office as a result. Obviously subsequent events proved that promise wrong and I regret that, but I think one of the lessons that we learned from that incident is that we make sure in any state visit by any country in future that the right to peacefully protest is upheld, and I am very pleased to see Conservative Members supporting it, which is not always my experience in the past, I might add.

  71. You said that there was no conspiracy. There were 35 Chinese secret policemen who accompanied the President here and in the case of Wei Jingsheng, he was forcibly grabbed by policemen outside Buckingham Palace. He says he was grabbed by three Metropolitan Police officers, two of whom pinned his arms and one of whom grabbed his back and he was being pointed out to them by one of these Chinese secret policemen. Is that or is that not a conspiracy to stop him demonstrating?
  (Mr Hain) What happened there is not acceptable to me, and I dare say is probably not acceptable to the Committee, which is why the lessons have been learnt. There was no conspiracy between either my ministerial colleague, John Battle, or Foreign Office officials with the Chinese secret police. Some mistakes were made, some lessons have been learnt and that will not happen again.

  72. I am very glad to hear it will not happen again because what it seems to say to me is that there were efforts, whether it is a conspiracy or not is another matter—and similar incidents happened in Cambridge and outside the Guildhall in the City when the Chinese President went there to dinner—and while it is clearly our job to protect his security, it is not our job to remove from his sight offensive demonstrations by citizens of his own country, and action was taken to minimise those demonstrations. I suggest to you that the pragmatic approach that you are now adopting to this is partly a result of that and that the "ethical" foreign policy died during the course of the demonstrations on the streets of London.
  (Mr Hain) If I may say so, I think that is a flight of rhetorical fancy. I have said what I have to say about those demonstrations and it will not happen again and I think the lessons have been learnt and the right to peacefully protest must be protected at all times. If you look at what we have done on human rights in China, it is a very difficult situation and again I would like a better policy suggestion from you, if I may so ask, and it has not been forthcoming. We have had a whole series of initiatives, for example we have got the agreement of the Chinese to accept three members of the Foreign Secretary's Death Penalty Panel to visit China in September because we are very concerned about the level of executions there. There is some interest from the Chinese authorities in moving on that front. We have also facilitated a comprehensive programme of human rights' projects on the rule of law, human rights' awareness, children's and women's rights and other issues, and we have got British Council and Department for International Development projects there. We have raised a whole series of matters of individual cases of concern about dissidents and others, and again the Chinese have provided significantly more information than ever before as a result of this critical dialogue and they are beginning to co-operate in the international sphere. Their signature on 20 November to a Memorandum of Understanding on technical co-operation with the UN on human rights' matters is a welcome development. We look forward to the ratification on their part of two additional UN Covenants. China has got a long way to go. There are still serious crack-downs on dissidents.

  73. Those particular developments are in the context of a consensus among non-governmental organisations that there has been a deterioration in China in the situation on human rights in the past two years.
  (Mr Hain) Yes, and I do not deny that, I would agree with that. In a sense when we have been assessing our policy of critical engagement we have had to do some very hard thinking about the advantages I have mentioned, including some major advantages, partly, at least, as a result of our stance on legal advances and administrative law and other legal practices which have given some extra protection through the legal system that was not there before. As against that, you have had the crack-down on the Falun Gong and the crack-down on political dissidents, and the treatment of Tibet, and so on.

Mr Mackinlay

  74. And trade unionists last week.
  (Mr Hain) Indeed. I would not attempt to defend that. I think when we balance that we have to look at the end of the day to the fact that we have made these advances but there is still an awful long way to go and in some respects it has been two steps forward and three steps back.

  Chairman: Again on China, Dr Starkey?

Dr Starkey

  75. To put Mr Maples' remarks in context, would the Minister agree that there is a long-standing practice in this country, which I suspect he has been at the receiving end of and certainly I have, of photographing people taking part in entirely peaceful political demonstrations and, indeed, for example in respect of US bases, of the British police co-operating with the US military in allowing them to take pictures of British subjects and then giving them to the US military police outside the military bases? In that context, and as reprehensible though the action on the Chinese demonstration might have been, is it not a trifle rich for persons in the previous Government who did this all the time against other people suddenly getting all upset about it?
  (Mr Hain) I think it is and although this is not a matter for Party points to be made in this arena and you would not want that, Chairman, I am sure it is the case that because we have set ourselves higher standards towards an ethical dimension foreign policy, putting human rights at the very top of the agenda, in a sense we invite greater criticism. You have never had an Annual Report published before on which this Committee can quiz us and encourage us to do better and make suggestions on how we can do better. Because we have elevated this whole agenda right up to the top of foreign policy therefore we invite precisely the kind of criticism, which I do not complain about. I would say finally on this that I think compared with previous Conservative Governments, whether it is policing of demonstrations or whether it is human rights at the heart of foreign policy we have a record of which to be proud.

Sir John Stanley

  76. Finally on the Chinese Premier's state visit, is it not factually incontrovertible that the degree of suppression of the basic human right of peaceful protest in this country, as in any free democracy, during the Chinese Premier's state visit was absolutely unprecedented in relation to the conduct of the policing of any previous state or indeed any senior ministerial state visit in this country? When you say, Minister, there was no conspiracy, it is factually incontrovertible that there were only two Departments that were involved in detailed discussion on the handling of the policing of this and the security dimension; the Foreign Office and the Home Office. Would you not agree that there are absolutely no grounds for thinking that the Home Office would produce a total change of all previous policing arrangements for such visits and therefore there must have been a clear steer from the Foreign Office? It was widely reported in the press that your Department had said there was going to be basically a zero tolerance policy on demonstrations during this state visit.
  (Mr Hain) No, that is simply not true. There was no such statement made and there was no conspiracy. There were a lot of mistakes made. The Metropolitan Police report has identified those and the necessary action was put in place. I also have some personal experience of peaceful picketing myself going back over the decades and I can say that police treatment on occasion was not exactly as one might have expected having a cup of tea in your back garden on a Sunday afternoon. Things go wrong and you learn lessons from them. I think this rather contrived attempt, if I may say so Chairman, to elevate this into some crushing destruction of our whole foreign policy because the policing of those peaceful demonstrators went unhappily wrong is completely unacceptable.

  Chairman: I would like to wrap up this part on China by referring you to the response of the Chinese Embassy to the recommendations in our own Foreign Affairs Committee report on China in which they described our Report, which concentrated very much on the situation on human rights, as "a document harmful to Sino-UK relations." We look forward very much to the Foreign Office response to our Report in that context. Mr Mackinlay?

Mr Mackinlay

  77. Various matters peppered around the report, if I may. On Kosovo, the European Union and United Kingdom Government and others have welcomed the election of the new President in Yugoslavia and we are looking forward to Parliamentary elections in the next few days' time. Nevertheless I and other members of the Committee were quite surprised to realise that there are still in Yugoslav prisons substantial numbers of Kosovans who might not have even have gone through a mode of trial. One was absolutely flabbergasted because a pre-condition of a relaxation of a regime of sanctions and so on was that these people were released. What say you on that?
  (Mr Hain) I think it is right that you raise this. We obviously are very concerned about that. We continue to make representations on it, but we took the view in the European Union context that it was so important to strengthen Kostunica's position in taking Serbia (and the whole of the region therefore) down the road of normality, that that was the priority, and having done that and having established diplomatic relations, as we have now done, then to raise all these issues, as we continue to try to do.

  78. I hear what you say, but there has to be a point where it either has to happen or you say, "You are not fulfilling the qualities of a regime which should have sanctions lifted and should have diplomatic representation." It seems to me an extraordinary way to go about it and, if I might say so, all you Western European governments have rather hid this matter. Legislators around Europe and many members of the press assumed that there was a general amnesty. You did not draw attention to this serious deficiency in what is the current arrangement in Yugoslavia. You are all guilty of it, not just the British Government, the whole lot of you.
  (Mr Hain) I think that the first thing had to be to get the existing regime, which came into office in very difficult circumstances, bedded down and so on, and then these issues can be pursued. For example, the ICRC now has access to 792 Kosovar Albanians—

  79. 792?
  (Mr Hain) —Still detained in Serbia, but the releases are continuing and we are continuing to put on pressure for the releases. The Federal Republic of Yugoslavia authorities have tabled an amnesty law and initiated discussions on those detained or missing on both sides with UNMIK. The process is continuing. It might be helpful if I just say on the advice I have that the ICRC estimate there are still 3,368 people who remain unaccounted for. This is a desperate situation but obviously the whole region was in a desperate predicament. The idea that we were turning a blind eye to these things is not true. We just thought the priority was to get things moving forward, the country being able to turn round and, and then continuously engage and press for these detainees to be released.

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2001
Prepared 30 January 2001