|Previous Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|
Lord Alton of Liverpool rose to ask Her Majesty's Government what assessment they have made of human rights abuses in China, and whether they intend to re-assess the funding of agencies involved in population control measures in China.
The noble Lord said: I ask this Unstarred Question against the backdrop of massive violations and abuses of human rights in China. I am extremely grateful to those noble Lords from all sides of the House who have indicated their willingness to contribute to the debate.
Today, I wish briefly to concentrate on two specific instances of human rights abuses. On Monday last, during the Committee stage of the International Development Bill, I supported an amendment from the Opposition Front Bench seeking to end British funding for agencies involved in the one-child policy in China. During my speech, reported at column 1327 of the Official Report, I documented examples of appalling abuses of the human rights of women and their families. On 16th October, the House will return to these issues at Report stage. I hope that Her Majesty's Government will use the intervening period to reflect on the evidence that I laid before your Lordships' House.
In particular, I hope that the Government will reassess their argument that because there is a non-coercive population policy being pursued in 32 counties, this mitigates the use of coercion in the other 2,500 counties in China, or in its 335 prefectures, 666 cities and 717 other urban districts.
This barbaric policy of forced abortion, the compulsory sterilisation of women and the compulsory fitting of inter-uterine devices, accompanied by infanticide and terror, has been pursued now for some 20 years. British taxpayers' money has been poured into the International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF) and the United Nations Population Fund, which in turn pour money into two agencies of the Chinese communist state, the SFPC (State Family Planning Commission) and the CFPA (Chinese Family Planning Association).
The CFPA is a full member of IPPF and has been headed since its inception by Chinese government officials. It has a declared aim to "implement government population policies". Quin Zinzhong, one of the Ministers who has overseen that policy, said:
Over the past 20 years, apologists for this policy have argued that it needs time to work; that the West will ultimately be able to influence a more enlightened approach; and that this funding is a legitimate use of our aid programme. But I invite your Lordships to measure those arguments against the following four reference points and to ask what horrors have to occur before we, like the American Administration, reassess this policy.
Secondly, the US State Department confirmed in a recent report that women had been incarcerated in "re-education centres" and "forced to submit to abortions". Thirdly, the BBC reported that refugees arriving in Australia had cited coercive family planning as one of their reasons for leaving China. And, fourthly, Tibetan dissidents, who were quoted in the Tibet Vigil on 24th August last year, said:
A few weeks ago, Amnesty International highlighted the cases of a baby boy, born above the permitted quota level, who was kicked to death by family planning officials. That case was reported in the Sunday Times. Amnesty International also reported the case of a man who was tortured to death because he would not reveal the whereabouts of his pregnant wife. I find it extraordinary that no-one disputes that these outrages occur daily, and yet we persist in issuing weak words of disapproval and providing funding which finds its way to the perpetrators of these deeds.
China's repression of its citizens also manifests itself through religious persecution. The 1989 events culminating in the Tiananmen Square massacre precipitated an increased repression of all activity which the Chinese state perceived as a threat, including religious practice. The tone was set by "Document No. 6" issued by the Communist Party Central Committee in February 1991, which called for the elimination of all "illegal" religious groups. Within the last year, 130 evangelical Christians were detained in Henan province. They were all members of the Fangcheng Church, one of many Protestant house churches. They were sent to re-education centres.
Amnesty International say that 24 Roman Catholics, including a priest and 20 nuns, were detained in Fujian province, where police found them holding church services in a mushroom processing factory. Father Liu Shaozhang was so badly beaten by police that he vomited blood, and the whereabouts of many of the other detainees remains unknown.
Many of your Lordships will have seen the report which appeared recently in The Times. It concerned a 79 year-old Catholic bishop who had been re-arrested. He had already spent 30 years in Chinese prisons. The report from Oliver August said:
But whether it is in regard to the Falun Gong, Buddhist monks and priests, Christian evangelicals or Catholics, all the evidence that has been accumulated by both the human rights group, the Jubilee Campaign, and by Amnesty International proves otherwise.
I have four specific suggestions. First, that there should be sustained international pressure on the Chinese Government to permit religious freedom in China and to release all those detained for their peaceful religious beliefs and practices. Secondly, that the system of official religious organisations and the requirement that one must join them in order to worship should be abolished. These organisations are often used as instruments of control and repression by the state. Thirdly, that the restrictions placed on the publishing and distribution of the Bible in China should be lifted. Fourthly, the state's prohibition against Sunday schools and the giving of Christian teaching and baptism to young people under the age of 18 should also be lifted.
China systematically uses re-education centres and imprisonment for religious believers and political reformers. These include political dissidents, such as members of the banned China Democratic Party, and anti-corruption and environmental campaigners. Suppression of the Internet, arrests, detentions, unfair trials and executions, the imprisonment of hundreds of Buddhist monks, Christians and members of Falun Gong, and the barbaric treatment of women and children through the one-child policy, must surely cause each one of us to question how we can persist with a policy of business, sport and aid as usual.
Baroness Massey of Darwen: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for giving us the opportunity to clarify some issues relating to population and human rights in China. I shall speak mainly about population. I have experience of working on reproductive health programmes and I shall draw on my personal experience. I am also a member of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Population, Development and Reproductive Health.
I touch first on human rights. There was correspondence this week in the Guardian in relation to the Olympic Games. One letter argued that bad human rights records are not confined to China. Are we to hold such events only in democratic, developed countries which may be profiting as arms brokers and which may have a poor record on environmental issues? Another letter pointed out that China has lifted people out of poverty and has improved literacy rates and life expectancy. The writer of another letter says that half his kitchen equipment bears the labels of respected Western companies, but is stamped "Made in China"--presumably because cheap labour in China can be exploited. I do not quote these letters to defend China but to suggest that human rights is not a simplistic issue and that we in the West may be inclined to condemn selectively, and sometimes without a holistic view or comprehensive and accurate information.
Of course, I deplore torture, killings and suffering inflicted on people in any country. The noble Lord, Lord Alton, gave graphic examples. In relation to reproductive rights, I deplore forced sterilisation or abortion, including gender selective abortions, and female genital mutilation. But how can we risk removing the positive attributes of reproductive health programmes for ordinary men and women because of repressive government policies? Policy makers can and do change. I have seen it happen in my own work.
What concerns me here are the words "population control", with the implication that international organisations might be promoting this in their reproductive health programmes. We must be very careful not to dismiss such programmes and to challenge their funding by imputing to them negative and sinister motives.
We cannot neglect human reproductive rights just because a country has poor human rights. I have been involved in reproductive health programmes in various parts of the world--not in China. In one particular country there is widespread corruption at local and national level, leaving around 40 per cent of the population in poverty and distress. The programme in which I was involved contributed to halving the numbers of abortions and teenage pregnancy rates in the capital city over a four-year period. Had we refused to collaborate with doctors and teachers on the ground in that country because of unsavoury policies and practices, that would never have happened. Many lives would have been blighted by illness and poverty.
As I understand it--the Minister will be able to clarify this--DfID gives annual grants to organisations that seek to improve reproductive health in general. Will she comment on the aims and objectives of such programmes and on how they are monitored and evaluated? If their aim were the coercive control of populations, then I assume that DfID would not be contributing to their funding. Programmes in which I have been involved have had very clear aims and strategies in order to obtain funding in the first place. They have been subject to internal and external monitoring and evaluation.
I want to emphasise the fact that without such programmes the right to family planning--already denied to 350 million people worldwide--would be in jeopardy. This would contribute in turn to extreme poverty. Unsafe abortion levels, already high, would increase. Frequent pregnancies would continue to result in maternal death and diseases such as chronic anaemia. We should remember that pregnancy rates are five to 20 times higher in the less developed world due to the absence of contraceptives, sex education and appropriate services. Richer nations must combat this and the enormous threat to health and life posed by the HIV/AIDS pandemic. It is our ethical, moral and humanitarian duty.
The International Conference on Population and Development emphasised that services in reproductive health should be voluntary. In the countries in which I have worked, as in other countries, men and women desperately want such services.
We must support organisations that seek to better reproductive choices and thereby life chances. The implications of the Question posed by the noble Lord, Lord Alton, put those programmes in doubt and I must take issue with it, although the noble Lord and I agree on many issues apart from this one. Will the Minister tell us more about the strategic planning, monitoring and evaluation of such programmes so that we can be sure that coercive action is excluded?
Lord Moynihan: My Lords, the news last week that China has been successful in its bid to host the 2008 Olympic Games has made this evening's debate on human rights abuses in China a most topical one. I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Alton, on securing it. I want to concentrate my remarks on human rights abuses.
There can be little doubt that China's human rights record has deteriorated in the past two years. The worsening picture which emerges clearly and consistently across the spectrum of opinion--not only from respected human rights organisations such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch but also from the US State Department and from our own Select Committee on Foreign Affairs--cannot be ignored or dismissed as an unfortunate anomaly in an otherwise rosy situation.
From the evidence gathered, China remains one of a minority of all the world's nations which institutionalises abuse of human rights and represses the basic civil and political freedoms of its people, such as those of speech and assembly.
The growth in the scale of human rights abuse has taken place during the implementation of a new government policy on China. This fact alone must at least cause us to pause and wonder whether this is the right approach or whether another might have more effect. In 1997, the Government put human rights "at the heart of foreign policy" and they announced a new China policy. It was their intention to,
It is valid to ask what real improvements in China's human rights record have been achieved by the Government's bilateral human rights dialogue. Has China been persuaded to live up to the standards of the UN covenants it has signed, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights? Has China been persuaded to resume dialogue with the Dalai Lama? Has it given Tibet real control over its own affairs? Has China's persecution of Tibetans and the suppression of their traditional culture and religion ended? Has the boy designated as the Panchen Lama been produced? He has not been seen for six years and, at the age of 11, is one of the world's youngest political prisoners--if indeed he is alive. The answer on all counts is a resounding "No".
I do not for one moment suggest any kind of confrontation through megaphone diplomacy or aggressive grandstanding. Such an approach to a country for which foreign involvement is tantamount to the anathema of imperialism would only be counter-productive. Here I am in agreement with the noble Baroness, Lady Massey. A quieter approach is just as likely, if not more likely, to bear fruit. Nor is a policy of isolation the answer. Britain should take advantage of the areas where our interests and Chinese interests coincide--and we should narrow our differences through regular contact and dialogue. The policy of principled and purposeful engagement with China, while firmly supporting human rights and democratic reform, is sensible. China is an emerging military and economic superpower and, as a consequence, we want the best possible relations with the government and the people of China.
Yet the Government seem to have fallen into the trap of believing their own rhetoric and, as a result, their attitude towards dialogue appears too inflexible. Dialogue with China is not the only show in town and alternative or complementary unilateral or multilateral action to improve human rights should not necessarily be eschewed.
Dialogue is not an end in itself. The value of dialogue can only be measured over time in terms of concrete improvements for victims of human rights violations. No such progress has been made in the dialogue with China. In the light of the worsening human rights situation, it may be time to consider a broadening and a strengthening of our expectations from dialogue.
I conclude with a few words about the BBC World Service. This service is an invaluable link to the outside world for millions of Chinese listeners. It provides accurate and unbiased information and is no less than a lifeline to many of its listeners. According to the World Service, there is "persistent jamming" of its
Lord Hylton: My Lords, I should like to mention three aspects of human rights in China: the treatment of Christians and the treatment of practitioners of Falun Gong or Falun Dafa, together with the situation in Tibet. Ever since 1957 at least, the Chinese Government have insisted on controlling Christians by means of registration in state-approved organisations. Catholics, for example, have to belong to the Patriotic Association which, officially, does not recognise the Pope. There is also a large unofficial underground Church, which does recognise Rome and tries to keep in contact as best it may.
Bishops and priests of the unrecognised Church have been imprisoned for decades, and are sometimes only released if they are prepared to emigrate. As recently as April of this year, a priest in Hebei was arrested for preaching the gospel and for not recognising the Patriotic Association. He was sentenced to three years' imprisonment in a labour camp. In what condition, I wonder, will he emerge from the end of that sentence? Protestants are also expected to belong to recognised associations. As I understand it, the Government's intention is that they should be controlled, regardless of the methods used to that end. In practice, again, there are many independent Churches and house Churches. However, their members are subject to fine, torture and internment in labour camps--part of the widespread Laogai that produce cheap goods for sale worldwide.
The Falun Gong came into existence from 1992 onwards as a result of the teaching of Li Hongzhi. He had studied earlier for 30 years under widely-respected Buddhists and Taoist masters. At first, his teaching was commended by the authorities. Outside observers consider that the teaching has given new hope and self-discipline to many people, especially to the rising generation, who found themselves growing up in a moral vacuum.
However, since 1998, the state has abruptly changed tack, without giving adherents of the Falun Gong the option of joining a registered association. The whole security apparatus has tried to suppress the movement with ruthless violence. No public or private practice of exercises and meditation is allowed. Tens of thousands of these people have been sent to labour camps, often without trial. They are also sent to prisons and mental hospitals, just as occurred in the Soviet Union in its latter years. Torture and beatings are widely used to extort renunciations. British, Canadian and Australian citizens have been violently abused when visiting China for religious purposes.
This totally unacceptable state behaviour continues despite international protest, notably at the UN Human Rights Commission. Earlier this year, I took part in a delegation to the Chinese Ambassador in London with other Members of both Houses of Parliament. One cannot help wondering whether Falun Gong fell from favour the moment that its membership equalled, or exceeded, that of the Chinese Communist Party.
I shall not say much about the sufferings of the people of Tibet. They have been well documented, and the long, peaceful struggle of the Dalai Lama is known to many; and, indeed, was recognised by a Nobel Peace Award. I merely ask: if Hong Kong can have a separate constitution and administration, if Taiwan remains independent, why cannot Tibet be allowed internal autonomy?
The key issue seems to be religious toleration, whether for Christians, Muslims, the Falun Gong, or the Tibetan Buddhists. Will Her Majesty's Government work steadily for this, remembering that freedom of conscience and religious worship are central to United Nations declarations and covenants? Will they seek the release of those imprisoned for their beliefs and religious activities? Will they ask for the abolition of registration as a means of control, and for the use instead of the criminal law against anyone causing public disturbances or harm to the common good? Finally, will Her Majesty's Government ask for a new, nation-wide law in China for the protection of religious freedom based on international standards?
Lord Powell of Bayswater: My Lords, I, too, am most grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for raising this important issue and for giving us a chance to debate it tonight. I should recall to the House that I am president of the China-Britain Business Council, the not-for-profit organisation funded by business and government to promote British trade and investment in China. I should also mention that two of the companies in which I have registered directorships have significant business in China.
Doing business in China does not mean that one is indifferent to human rights abuses in that country; indeed, far from it. Because businessmen are more directly engaged in China, more likely to visit regularly--or even to live there--and more accustomed to having to confront human rights abuses in China in their daily lives, they are probably a good deal better informed about such abuses than organisations that hurl their darts from a distance.
So, from the business perspective, let me make it crystal clear: there are severe human rights shortcomings in China, some of which have been catalogued tonight. They are indefensible and they should cease. There is no argument about that, but the question is: how best to hasten change and the end of such abuses?
Public campaigns to draw attention to specific human rights abuses, whether it be the case of Tibet or some other issue, are legitimate and useful--provided always that they remain within the law. Above all, they ensure that abuses cannot be buried or hidden from public sight, or simply forgotten. However, I should be hard pressed to convince myself that they actually, in themselves, lead to change. Nor am I persuaded that declaratory resolutions at the United Nations, or elsewhere, achieve much beyond giving their authors a nice, warm feeling. The UN has too many discreditable resolutions to its name, such as that on Zionism, to be very credible. It is very easy to pass a resolution, go home, and feel that you have done good day's work.
A more profitable course is dialogue on human rights issues with the Chinese authorities. British governments of all persuasions have a good record in this respect. But while dialogue may occasionally yield results in individual cases--and every individual helped is a plus--or may lead to institutional steps such as persuading China to sign various international conventions, it is not the main route to systemic change.
It is systemic change which matters. Human rights abuses do not, in general, occur in China as a matter of simple whim. They flow from a political system based on one-party dictatorship. They flow from a concept of public good taking precedence over individual rights. They flow from a corrosive fear that political instability will accompany economic change. The example of what happened in the former Soviet Union is, I am sure, never far from the minds of Chinese leaders.
If we want to see an end to human rights abuses in China, we have to encourage changes in the system in a more democratic direction. I use the word "encourage" advisedly, because we shall not make China change its ways. The whole history of foreign intervention in China surely teaches us that overt interference is more likely to produce overwhelming resentment, nationalism, rejection and backlash than it is to lead to liberalisation of the Chinese system.
That is the justification for the policy of engagement with China which, on the whole--with some setbacks--characterises European and American policy. Perhaps I may make this clear: "engagement" does not mean overlooking human rights abuses; in fact, it multiplies the number of opportunities for raising and discussing them. Engagement does not excuse human rights abuses or allow them to be submerged by selfish pursuit of commercial interests. What it does do is bring China constantly face to face with the realities of the world outside China, with the fact that the market and the private sector are the most efficient means to ensure the prosperity which China
That change is happening. It is visible in limited, village-level democracy. It is apparent in the role of the private sector in China--now the real engine of economic growth and given formal recognition recently in the Chinese constitution. It is evident in the emergence of a business class, whom President Jiang Zemin recently praised publicly and to whom he even offered Communist Party membership. It is apparent in the spread of the Internet which will surely be an immensely powerful engine for change, despite the bureaucracy's attempts to censor it. It is clear in the appetite for education overseas, shared by the families of China's highest party functionaries.
In other words it is not by telling China what to do, nor by regularly berating China publicly, that change will come. It will come through Chinese membership of the World Trade Organisation, with the host of obligations which that brings. It will come through holding the Olympic Games in China, which will keep China in the international spotlight like nothing else, with an incentive not to give countries the excuse to boycott the games in seven years' time. It will come through the role of business in pressing for proper, transparent legal and regulatory systems; in introducing British best practice to the way we run our companies in China; in financing training and scholarships and in all sorts of other practical ways.
The greatest pressure for change will come from two factors: first, from growing realisation in China that abuses of human rights are a barrier to economic modernisation and to full participation in the world economy and, secondly, from the ever greater demands for a more open political system as economic modernisation and spreading prosperity lead people in China to seek greater control over their own lives.
I am not recommending appeasement or excessive pragmatism, of which the business community is all too often accused. We in the China-Britain Business Council recognise that China's human rights record is poor. We acknowledge that it deserves criticism and it is the duty of our Government to reflect the values of our society in their contacts with China. While we welcome the positive improvements which have taken place in China, we accept that they cannot be an alibi for the negative practices which continue.
We ask the Government to recognise that what business is doing in China is not only good for British jobs and British prosperity, but in practical terms is more likely in the long run to produce desirable changes in China than any amount of stone throwing, preaching and hand-wringing. I therefore strongly urge the Government to maintain a balanced policy which combines legitimate protest with peaceful dialogue, avoids egregious posturing and supports the efforts of British business in China as an agent for change.
Lord Desai: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Alton, made a disturbing speech on Monday. I am sorry that I did not respond to it then as I had to be somewhere else. He made another disturbing but thoughtful speech today.
As many noble Lords have said, there are, and have been for a long time, inexcusable violations of human rights in China. I take that as given, and noble Lords have given many examples of it. China is a communist dictatorship. As the noble Lord, Lord Powell, said, it has a philosophy and a belief from which it will not easily budge. What can we do? There are two views, one of which was eloquently expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Powell; that is, that eventually change will be brought about through economic prosperity. We are in the end dialectical materialists; we believe in the crude Marxist doctrine that economics influence politics and that businessmen are even more Marxist than anyone else. However, I am sceptical of that doctrine. I wish that it were true. I know that business practices speed up all kinds of social and economic change. However, that does not necessarily prevent human rights violations. I put down that marker.
Nor do I believe that our protests, working through what I call the "interstate system"--that is, the United Nations, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and so on--will exercise much of an influence on a sovereign country such as China. China too is a member of the Security Council and it can more or less tell those who criticise it to get lost. Therefore, we are in a dilemma. Here is a large, powerful country, the behaviour of which we do not know how to change.
I make two points about China. First, I believe that, powerful as China is, it is a fragile country. A country which uses tanks to control a student demonstration is full of fearful people at the top. Those people have no confidence in the legitimacy of their own rule. The Chinese used tanks to control a demonstration that could have been controlled using at most water cannon. As we know from the Tiananmen tapes, there was real fear among the Chinese ruling classes that the demonstration constituted a big problem. Throughout China's history there have always been sudden uprisings such as the Boxer rebellion in which suddenly the whole system has been destabilised by an eruption of the masses.
It is not wishful thinking to say that China's inability to deal with the Falun Gong points to one of its system's biggest weaknesses. If it cannot deal with 10 million or so religious, reasonably non-violent, people and if it has to take extreme measures to control the Falun Gong--as occurred in Hong Kong recently--the system cannot be all that strong. I believe that human rights abuses will be brought to an end in China through an internal upheaval. I do not know when that will occur but I know that it will occur. I am not trying to let Her Majesty's Government off the hook, but whatever we do and whatever fiddling little amount of money we give to China will not affect the situation.
I give an example from India. People in India protested about the building of the Narmada dam, which would have displaced 100,000 or 200,000 people. That incident was clearly a violation of the human rights of people who lived in that area. Local groups successfully appealed to the World Bank. The World Bank was asked not to provide loans to India to build that dam. The Indian community in Britain placed an advertisement in a London newspaper for funds. That community sent much money to the Indian government to build the dam. There is the problem of different perceptions.
If one thinks back to 1949 when the human rights situation in China was utterly desperate, nowadays many people's lives have improved. There is a difficult balance to strike here. Either one takes the view that a single violation of human rights is bad or one takes a broad based view. I shall sit down in a moment. The amount of money we give to China is small and therefore whether we give it or not will not make much difference. I welcome whatever decision the Government make in that regard.
Viscount Craigavon: My Lords, I add further support to the case for constructive engagement with China, particularly in the population field. Perhaps I may first declare an interest having just been re-elected as Vice Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Population Development and Reproductive Health. That group benefits from financial support from the United Nations Population Fund and the International Planned Parenthood Federation. It recently held a joint reception to mark World Population Day with the sponsorship of Marie Stopes International, when we had the pleasure of being addressed by the new departmental Under-Secretary, Mr Hilary Benn.
My basic stance on this Question is that the extensive recent experience of outsiders becoming involved in Chinese population matters has produced considerable net benefits. Of course, there are problems. There are by any standards, especially western standards, examples of quite unacceptable practices and individual cases. There are bound to continue to be some individual examples in the years to come simply because of the scale of what is being attempted and the magnitude of the China phenomenon.
In the field of population and reproductive health, the attempt to influence what is happening is necessarily on a small scale and there is a long way to go. There are two fallacies in some arguments put forward. The first is that any money spent by outside population agencies in China must be going to promote and support unacceptable practices. The second is that if you identify something you dislike the only answer is to disengage and walk away.
Reference was made in the debate on Monday to the input of the UNFPA in the 32-county project, where Chinese authorities have been persuaded to abolish all quotas and targets and to make changes in many of the surrounding reproductive health services. There are no instant or magic solutions but examples of best practice can be introduced generally, with the prospect of being taken up or copied in other districts. There is also a system of regular review by an outside committee which I understand recently has been very positive.
In financial terms, the input by the United Nations Population Fund is under one half of 1 per cent of China's own national population budget. Even this small input gives the UNFPA the opportunity positively to influence China's population policies.
Finally, perhaps I may say a word about the China Family Planning Association, which is separate from the state Family Planning Commission. The CFPA is a member of the International Planned Parenthood Federation umbrella organisation of the family planning associations. The IPPF is able on a small scale to bring to bear its organisation's standards and concept of best practice through providing information, education and communication. This is a long-term task and regular reviews indicate that important progress has been made.
We are all--or at least very many of us--delighted and share the joy of the Chinese nation in that the Olympic Games are to be held in Beijing in 2008. It will, I am sure, be a marvellous and artistic event, showing the world some of the many skills and artistic sides of the Chinese people which we have so long admired. It will also, we hope, generate much good will among nations towards the Chinese people. We very much hope that the Olympic Games in Beijing will prove to be as great a success and as happy an occasion as were the last Olympic Games held in Sydney.
However, this will not be the case if there remain massive unresolved problems of human rights, both in China and in Tibet. I refer to the Chinese position on religious freedom, both for Christians in China, and for other religions, and for Tibetan Buddhists in Tibet. I also refer to the Chinese continued annexation of the free independent country of Tibet.
We can never undo, nor indeed forget, what is passed. We will remember the 1.2 billion Tibetans who died as a direct result of the Chinese occupation of Tibet. We will remember the 40 million Chinese who
We have spoken many times to my knowledge of these things in this Chamber over the past 15 years. Our words have been caught up and blown away by the winds blowing over the roof of the world. Our words are still there, fluttering like distant Tibetan prayer flags. They still exist.
That is the past. We are now in the present and looking to the future. For the next seven years, the strong spotlight of the world will be on Beijing as China prepares to celebrate the 2008 Olympic Games.
Now is the time for China to show the world her serene and human face; to stop imprisoning and torturing Christian, Tibetan Buddhist and other religious groups. Now is the time to allow freedom of religion without registration. Now is the time to recognise the complete independent autonomy of Tibet as a free nation. And now is the time to release all religious prisoners including the little Panchen Lama. Like the winds, we are all holding our breath and waiting for these things to happen, as they surely will if the Olympic Games in Beijing are to prove to be the success that we are all wishing for them.
Lord St John of Bletso: My Lords, I put my name down to speak in today's debate not just because of my strong feelings about the atrocities of the family planning officials in China, the labour camps, the repression in Tibet and press censorship as well as judicial abuses and many other human rights violations, but because in 1982 I studied for my Masters in Chinese Law at London University and in 1983 spent a year in China and Hong Kong. I have fond memories of my first day as a student at SOAS. Professor Paul Cheng went around the class. Only two of us were not from Asia. He asked each of us why we were studying Chinese law. I said that I was from Cape Town in South Africa and as one in every five people in the world was Chinese I wanted to learn about the mindset of the Chinese. The professor swiftly rebutted that he had thought I must be a foreign spy.
Much has happened since I first visited Hong Kong and China in 1983 and my subsequent visits. In 1983 everyone was wearing Mao suits. Few of the cities were open to foreigners. One was viewed with suspicion by many and even restricted from visiting the early morning markets. But much has been achieved. I refer to the dramatic economic transformation, in particular in Shanghai, Guangzhou and Beijing, the opening up of international tourism and trade and, as almost every noble Lord has mentioned, the recent announcement that China will be hosting the Olympic Games in 2008.
Unfortunately, parallels cannot be drawn between China and South Africa, where I have spent most of my life, living in the bad old days of apartheid. Sporting sanctions and limited economic sanctions thankfully succeeded in bringing democracy to the country at a time when the South African Government were desperate for international recognition and acceptance. The Chinese do not appear to have such desires, except as part of their long-term strategy of economic growth. The tenth report of the Foreign Affairs Committee in another place--to which I notice that my noble friend Lord Powell of Bayswater gave evidence--summarised the Chinese political system accurately as,
I entirely concur with the concerns of my noble friend Lord Alton of Liverpool and am full of respect and admiration for his efforts to keep abuses of human rights, particularly in China, at the forefront of the political agenda. I have deliberately not spoken on the thorny issue of population control measures in China. My noble friend Lord Craigavon and the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, have spoken eloquently about that. My personal experience and belief is that the only viable way forward in dealing with the Chinese Government is to promote a process of proactive dialogue. I agree with my noble friend Lord Powell of Bayswater that economic change in China will eventually result in political reform.
Time prevents me from commenting on several of the excellent recommendations of the Foreign Affairs Committee in another place. It is a leap of faith to expect that human rights abuses in China and Tibet will improve in the seven years leading up to the Olympic Games. China has long endured cycles of political liberalisation and repression. We live in hope--I stress hope--that we are at the dawn of an era of sustained liberalisation and, with that, democratisation and more respect for basic human rights.
Lord Avebury: My Lords, many of your Lordships, including the noble Lord, Lord St John, echoed the hope expressed by the Director-General of the International Olympic Committee when he said that he was taking a bet that in the next seven years there would be many positive changes. That was an act of faith. The pessimists say that, like Nazi Germany in 1936 and Soviet Russia in 1980, the Communist Chinese will exploit the Olympics for their own glorification to strengthen their grip on the people without making the concessions to world opinion that
An irrevocable decision has been made, so we must hope that the optimists are right and we must encourage China to accelerate the reforms that need to be undertaken if foreign visitors are to be given that good impression in seven years. For some potential visitors, the decision to attend the games may depend on the pace and extent of the changes. The hosts will have to calculate the effect of their policies on the attendance figures, even if they see no reason for changing on moral grounds.
The noble Lords, Lord Powell and Lord St John, talked about dialogue and engagement. We have had UK-China dialogue since 1997. Whether or not it is as a result of that process, China has agreed to sign the UN covenant and is moving towards ratification. China is discussing a possible visit by the UN Rapporteur on Torture, Sir Nigel Rodley, and has issued an open invitation to other special rapporteurs. Talks have been held with the International Committee of the Red Cross on a prison visiting programme. It would be useful to know from the Minister what progress has been achieved on those issues since the last round of talks in February.
The Government have promised to carry out regular reviews of the dialogue process, to include an assessment of the progress that has been achieved on their objectives. Will the Minister arrange for the outcome of those reviews to be published on the FCO's website and in its annual report? The existence of specific objectives gives Parliament and the public yardsticks by which they can judge the effectiveness of the process, having regard to the timescale over which changes may reasonably be expected to occur.
Two of our objectives that are not in the EU list were mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan: an end to the unacceptable jamming of the BBC World Service broadcasts, which is contrary to international law; and our simple and reasonable request for access to the Panchen Lama. If those matters are still outstanding in the review that I hope the Government will publish, we shall want to know the reasons for the refusal by the Chinese to concede those simple requests.
Why is the dialogue with the Dalai Lama not included among the objectives? Surely the way forward in Tibet is to promote dialogue with the Dalai Lama, as the representative of the Tibetan people. There is no excuse for not holding such dialogue now that the Dalai Lama has firmly said that he is not in favour of separating Tibet from China.
Should we not establish target dates for particular objectives in collaboration with the Chinese and all the other partners in the process, so that we can draw up a road map for achieving all the objectives that the Government and the European Union have set out in time for the opening of the Olympic Games in seven years? If all the parties can agree on substantial and detailed progress in advance of 2008, we may be able to say that the games have enhanced the cause of human rights. However, if no agreement can be reached for such a road map of improvements over the next seven years, it could turn out that the International Olympic Committee has made an unfortunate error of judgment.
Lord Howell of Guildford: My Lords, once again, the noble Lord, Lord Alton, has given your Lordships' House the opportunity to address an issue of enormous sensitivity and vast importance in what has proved to be a candid and balanced way. It is impossible--indeed, unnecessary--for me, in a few minutes, to go over many of the expert views that have been uttered as your Lordships have traversed some of the problems and dilemmas involved.
The issue resolves itself into three major dilemmas. First, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Desai, that China is a frightened and fragile nation. I do not agree with him about the Marxian analysis because I believe that Marxism is fatally flawed. However, the nation is inward-looking and nervous. How do we combine that with the fact that China must be woven into the global integration of security that has now emerged and into the entirely new patterns of mutual deterrence and deterrence by denial which are emerging as a result of American missile technology?
Secondly, how do we balance our real concern for China's very nasty record on human rights with our wish to further our interests, global interests and the interests of China in a massive expansion of commerce and trade?
Thirdly, how do we acknowledge that progress is being made in some areas--although there is much back-sliding in others, as my noble friend Lord Moynihan reminded us--while keeping up at all times through every conceivable channel the pressure for change?
I shall try to answer briefly those three dilemmas. The first, concerning security, is a matter that falls primarily to the United States and to the US approach to China. I believe that that approach must be one of engagement and involvement and not one of hostility and pandering to the easily developed view that somehow China and the United States are rivals for the central power in Asia. That is a hopeless battle. The
The second dilemma is the question of China's human rights record. There are very great grounds for concern. We are all repelled by the appalling reports that we receive from, for example, the television programme "The Dying Rooms", by the coercive birth control policies and by the stories and accounts which the noble Lord, Lord Alton, and others have rightly set before us. I can hardly swallow but I believe that I must repeat what the noble Lord said. Reports from Amnesty state that in the past three months more people have been executed in the People's Republic of China--namely, 1,700--than in the entire globe over the past three years. That is a sobering statistic which makes one pause. Let us be in no doubt that horrible events are occurring. There is no excuse for them and there is every reason to work in every way possible to bring about a better record.
In relation to that dilemma, I want to refer to an extremely good document which the Government provided in response to the Foreign Affairs Committee. I sound a little like a government Minister when I am meant to be on the other side. However, whoever wrote that response did so extremely well. They said that they rejected the idea that there was a trade-off between the pursuit of our commercial interests and a forceful approach to human rights. The Government said--I apologise if I pre-empt what the Minister will say--that they believe that we should seek to use what influence we have. They consider the integration of China into the world community in general, including joining the WTO, to be the most powerful external factor likely to strengthen the rule of law and to lead to improvement in the human rights situation.
I believe that that must be the overall common-sense view and the answer to the apparent dilemma between the nasty human rights record and the overall importance of expanding our commerce and trade in the interests of everyone in the world.
I turn to the third dilemma. How do we acknowledge that there have been improvements, as there have been, while not relenting for one moment in our pressure for constant change? The one-child policy appears to be undergoing some reform, and there appears to be a greater willingness to begin thinking about moving from the coercive birth control position.
The Marie Stopes papers, with which the noble Viscount, Lord Craigavon, was kind enough to provide me, set out facts of which I was not aware. The one-child family planning policy now stands at: one child in urban areas; two in rural areas if the first is a girl; four children for ethnic minorities; and no restriction on births for those of Tibetan ethnic origin. The policy is still rather horrible but it is not quite as bad as it was previously, whereby anyone throughout the whole of China who had more than one child would be visited by the family planners and their brutal attendants. Therefore, there appears to be something to work for.
I end by saying that big events are coming up in the relations of China with the rest of the world. First, I have mentioned the question of revising the attitude towards security, which is a very dangerous area. I believe that, if there is another major world crisis, it will be in the north-eastern Pacific--perhaps in the sea of Japan.
Secondly, there is the question of the Olympic Games, mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Strange, and others. They will, in any event, take place. Therefore, we should build on the opportunities and leverage that they will provide rather than take a negative attitude towards them.
Thirdly, the joining of the World Trade Organisation will happen. I believe that it will come as much more of a shock to China than many Chinese economic planners realise. However, again, we should certainly use that as an entree and a lever to maximise the pressures for the improvement of China's human rights record. As the noble Lord, Lord Powell of Bayswater, rightly said in a well informed speech, such matters as the Internet are integrating China, despite its frightened dictatorship, into the world system. Those are the forces with which we should work in a positive manner in order to bring about a better result.
Finally, I end with two questions. First, I repeat the question asked by my noble friend Lord Moynihan. When are we going to demand that the BBC jamming be stopped? It really cannot continue. Secondly, we now have a UK-China forum, which was started with quite a fanfare a couple of years ago. I believe that one of our newer noble Members in this House is the chairman of it. Can the Minister tell us how the forum is progressing and whether it is picking up and developing any of these issues?
Baroness Amos: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Alton of Liverpool, for introducing the debate. Human rights is an emotive issue, and at no time more so than when discussing China. I believe that this debate has demonstrated that amply.
At the outset, I say that I particularly welcome the approach taken by many noble Lords, including the noble Lords, Lord Howell of Guildford and Lord Powell of Bayswater, in recognising that we are discussing complicated issues and that progress has been made in some areas.
Improving respect for human rights in China is a central element in our bilateral relationship with that country. It is also an area where we work closely with our EU partners. China is an important player on the international scene. We wish to encourage closer integration into the international system in all fields.
The noble Lord, Lord Powell of Bayswater, drew our attention to the importance of business in bringing about economic change and of corporate social responsibility. China has an important role to play in tackling many of the global and international issues that we face. A strong and vibrant bilateral
We consider that the human rights situation in China, although improving in many aspects, remains bleak. There has been considerable progress, often in areas that we now take for granted. The ability of individual citizens to manage their own lives, engage in business, travel freely and own a home have improved markedly in recent years. However, severe restrictions on the enjoyment of civil and political rights in China, especially the freedoms of religion, association and expression, remain. China carries out more executions than the rest of the world combined.
The noble Lord, Lord Alton of Liverpool, mentioned the recent Amnesty International report into the "strike hard" anti-crime campaign. China also detains more than 250,000 people without trial through procedures known as administrative detention and re-education through labour. Leaders and followers of groups who are perceived to be a threat to the regime, including the China Democratic Party and the Falun Gong movement, are harshly treated; some are given very long prison sentences.
The noble Lord, Lord Alton, suggested that Her Majesty's Government had been--I use his word--"silent" in relation to Tibet. The situation in Tibet is a particular concern. The treatment of Buddhist monks and nuns, the erosion of Tibetan traditional practices and culture and the lack of any real dialogue between the Chinese authorities and the Dalai Lama, are worrying.
The noble Lord, Lord Alton, highlighted the one-child policy and the Chinese Government's family planning policy as another area of major concern. I made it clear on Monday during the Committee stage of the International Development Bill that the Government disagree with China's one-child policy. We do not support it. UK assistance for sexual and reproductive health anywhere in the world is provided in support of the principles of free and informed choice. Those principles were firmly established at the 1994 Cairo conference on population and development.
My noble friend Lady Massey asked me about our aims and objectives in relation to reproductive health. The Department for International Development makes annual contributions towards the work of the United Nations Population Fund and that of the International Planned Parenthood Federation in more than 150 countries. Those organisations have programmes in China that are aimed at promoting better understanding of international standards in reproductive health.
The noble Viscount, Lord Craigavon, mentioned the programme of assistance of the United Nations Population Fund, which is making available a full range of client-oriented reproductive health services in 32 Chinese counties on a voluntary basis. Birth quotas have been abolished in the areas in which UNFPA works. I agree with the noble Viscount that there is already strong evidence of a shift from
The noble Lord, Lord Alton, quoted from the ODA publication, China: Population Issues, both this evening and during Monday's debate. I remind him that that document was published in 1995. It acknowledges that the process of change will be gradual. We believe that there are now real signs of change, reform and improvement. That is helped not least by the engagement of organisations such as UNFPA and through activities that enable Chinese officials to appreciate the importance of choice and quality in reproductive healthcare.
My noble friend Lady Massey asked about monitoring. We set clear objectives for the programmes that we fund. We set milestones, which we monitor, in terms of the achievement of those objectives. I confirm that reproductive health programmes are evaluated to satisfy the requirements of funding. There are also a number of complementary mechanisms, including having regular meetings with UNFPA and IPPF, in which we examine the achievement of objectives.
Addressing human rights concerns with the Chinese authorities is a major priority for the Government. In 1997, the UK and our EU partners embarked on a policy of engagement and dialogue with the Chinese authorities on human rights concerns. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, that we do not pretend that that dialogue will produce instant results.
Political and institutional changes in China happen slowly. Dialogue improves our ability to influence the direction of the Chinese and is a long-term commitment to work with the Chinese authorities. We have made it clear to them that to be worthwhile and to continue, dialogue must achieve progress.
The noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, asked specifically what improvements there have been. Since 1997, there have been six rounds of the UK/China Human Rights Dialogue. China has taken important steps forward, including those mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, in terms of the ratification of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights in March this year. Other important steps taken by China include signature of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights in October 1998, a commitment to work towards ratification and a stated commitment to work towards the abolition of the death penalty.
In September 2000, members of the Foreign Secretary's Death Penalty Panel became the first abolitionist group to visit China and to engage in discussions with the Government, parliamentarians, lawyers and academics. We have seen greater engagement with the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, including the signature of the Memorandum of Understanding in November 2000
The noble Lord, Lord Avebury, asked specifically what the Government are doing to assist the outcome of each round of the human rights dialogue. We believe that the bilateral human rights dialogue process is the best means for promoting change in China. It is right, however, that we should assess its outcome, develop positive aspects and seek better ways of addressing those issues that the dialogue has yet to effect. We have sought to be more open about the dialogue process and my honourable friend, the then Minister of State, John Battle, set out for the first time a set of working objectives for the dialogue process in a Written Answer in the other place in April. I welcome any views that noble Lords have on that process.
The Government are not complacent about the dialogue process. We recognise that it has achieved little in terms of promoting positive change in Tibet and on the freedom of religion and the treatment of Falun Gong practitioners. The noble Lords, Lord Alton of Liverpool and Lord Hylton, and the noble Baroness, Lady Strange, all raised the question of freedom of religion. We are deeply concerned about restrictions on the freedom to worship freely in China. We condemn the harsh treatment of those individuals and groups who seek to worship outside the remit of the five official religions. We have pressed the Chinese through the UK and EU Human Rights Dialogues to allow for freedom of religious practice and to release prisoners detained because of their religious beliefs.
The noble Lord, Lord Hylton, also asked about Falun Gong. We are deeply concerned about the treatment of individual adherents of the Falun Gong movement. We press the Chinese authorities at every appropriate opportunity to cease the maltreatment of adherents, in line with the provisions of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and we shall continue to press the Chinese to release adherents and leaders detained for political reasons.
The noble Lord, Lord Alton, then asked five specific questions. I can tell him that the answer to the first four is yes--we are already doing it. The fifth question relates back to the third question which the noble Lord asked. I shall write to him if that would be helpful.
The noble Lord, Lord Avebury, asked about the possibility of putting information on a website. I shall give that suggestion some consideration. We publish details of our Human Rights Dialogue in the FCO annual Human Rights report. The noble Lord also asked about dialogue with the Dalai Lama. We have made it clear to the Chinese in dialogue and on other occasions that the best way to resolve the problems in Tibet is through dialogue with the Dalai Lama.
The noble Lord, Lord Alton, suggested that Her Majesty's Government use weak words of disapproval. That is not the case. My right honourable friend the Prime Minister made it clear to President Jiang Zemin in October 1999 that we wanted to see real progress achieved on the ground through the dialogue process. We are also critical in public. In speaking to the UN Commission on Human Rights in Geneva in March, the then Minister of State at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office criticised China's human rights record.
The noble Lords, Lord Moynihan, Lord Avebury and Lord Howell of Guildford, asked me about the BBC World Service. I agree entirely on the importance of access in China to impartial sources of news and information. That is why we have raised with the Chinese authorities on many occasions reports of jamming in relation to BBC World Service broadcasts, including in our human rights dialogues, and we shall continue to raise this as necessary. BBC World Service television has now been granted a licence to provide its services in hotels in China. That was a question raised by the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan.
Our commitment to promote respect for human rights standards and to influence change through direct action in China is without question. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Powell, and my noble friend Lord Desai that the prime force for change in China lies with China itself. We have a role to play in encouraging and supporting that change. But we must be realistic about what individual governments and the European Union can achieve in China. We believe that the best means for pursuing change remains the human rights dialogue process.
|Next Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|