Thursday 1 February 2007
[Mr. Joe Benton in the Chair]
[Relevant documents: Seventh Report from the Foreign Affairs Committee, Session 2005-06, HC 860, and the Government’s response thereto, Cm 6944.]
Motion made, and Question proposed, That the sitting be now adjourned.—[Mr. Cawsey.]
I am pleased that we have secured this debate. The Foreign Affairs Committee report was published in August last year, and the Government’s response in October, but clearly the issues that we raised remain topical. Indeed, they will remain important for the rest of the century.
The report is entitled “East Asia” and it deals with the region as a whole, but it focuses on the People’s Republic of China and its internal developments and neighbourhood. We tried to cover political, economic and military developments. Indeed, the growing importance of China presents the world with opportunities and challenges. The rise of China has been seen by some as a threat and by others as a chance to bring China into the world as an actor that can work alongside others to solve some important global problems.
Our Committee visited the region in May last year. I remember that visit well because I had to miss the cup final—I am a West Ham fan, enough said—but I saw the match at the British Bulldog pub in Shanghai at 10 o’clock at night. As has become customary with our Committee, which has 14 members, we split into two groups for part of the visit. The group as a whole went to Beijing, then one group went on to Shanghai and rejoined the rest in Hong Kong before going on to Taiwan. Meanwhile, the second group left Beijing a little early and went, under the leadership of my Committee colleague the right hon. Member for Tonbridge and Malling (Sir John Stanley), to visit Tibet. That clearly covered an interesting and diverse range of the parts of China and the region.
We had some problems with the Chinese authorities and political figures when they discovered that we were going to Taiwan. We were told that there would be serious consequences. However, as far as I can assess, the serious consequences were that members of the Culture, Media and Sport Committee had some difficulty getting their visas a few weeks later. We found the fact that we went to Taiwan important for our overall perspective on the cross-straits issues and the role of the region as a whole in investment and political development.
I am conscious of the fact that a number of hon. Members wish to speak, so I want to concentrate on the aspects of our report that concern the People’s Republic of China. Perhaps my colleagues will be able to supplement that. With 50 conclusions and recommendations, as well as a Government response to those, it is not possible for me to go through them all. China’s economy has been growing for many years at rates that would be regarded in Europe as phenomenal, with an annual growth rate of 10 per cent. and a massive growth in exports. Our Committee concluded, and the Government agreed, that the growth of China’s trade will continue to have significant impact on the world economy by providing consumers with cheap goods and by competing strongly with manufacturers in other countries.
We all know the anecdotes about the fact that one can go into a toy shop anywhere in the world and find that the toys are made in China. The fact is that China and its economic rise pose a challenge. Will China play by the international rules or will it by various measures work to undermine the manufacturing industries of other countries and their export potential? We recommended that our Government should work both bilaterally and with our European Union partners to ensure that China works within the spirit, not just the letter, of its obligations to the World Trade Organisation.
The Government told us in their response that they want
“to work together with China as responsible leading members of the international community and support its closer integration into the international system, including through multilateral institutions such as the World Trade Organisation”.
It is of course important that China comply with its obligations and refrain from anti-competitive practices or dumping in western markets, but it is also important that the rest of the world resist the temptation to go towards protectionist measures that, although they are superficially attractive to some industries and some workers, will be self-defeating in terms of their wider consequences for the economy of the country concerned and the world as a whole.
Various international forums involve the Chinese with regard to trade issues, including the bilateral annual UK-China summits, the EU-China dialogue and, of course, the WTO. I would be grateful if the Minister updated us on the position on those issues and whether we are satisfied that the Chinese are complying and working to the spirit, as well as the letter, of their obligations.
We expressed concerns, too, about China and intellectual property rights. The Government say in their response that they believe
“that China has established a generally robust legal framework providing for the protection of intellectual property”.
We were also told that the UK and China are co-operating on enforcement of that framework. Have any results come from that?
According to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the UK is the fourth largest EU exporter of goods to China and the largest cumulative EU investor in China, but the Committee remains concerned that official support for British business in China is unco-ordinated and insufficient. The Government response stressed the importance of investment rather than trade, but also noted
“plans for a significant increase in our resource in China to achieve a step-change in our profile”
in the period up to 2008. Since the report was published, we have taken evidence from the head of UK Trade & Investment, Andrew Cahn, who told us last December that he was satisfied with the support given to UKTI by Ministers—he praised the Minister by name—and that British companies were getting support in general from the Government.
I want to raise, too, an issue on which we had some doubts. One of the matters raised with us when we went to Shanghai was the fact that the Government had not at that time made a decision about participation in Expo 2010. We thought it vital that they should do so and called for that in our report. We are pleased that the Government response accepted that recommendation. However, a written answer was produced last week to a question from the hon. Member for Cotswold (Mr. Clifton-Brown), who is in the Chamber today. It stated that, as well as the FCO, UKTI and the Department for International Development,
“other Government Departments, the English regions as well as the devolved administrations are actively considering their participation”—[Official Report, 26 January 2007; Vol. 455, c. 2085W.]
in Expo 2010. Will the Minister assure us that they will do so in a co-ordinated fashion, rather than a haphazard one, so that the image of the UK collectively will be presented in the strongest possible light? The expo is extremely important.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for quoting that answer. Will he also confirm that the expo will attract 20 million people—more than will attend the Olympics—yet our Government were one of the last Governments in the western world to sign up to it?
Yes, I can certainly confirm that. It was the basis of our concern last year. A number of European Governments signed up early on, and were probably going to get some of the prime, plum sites. We wanted to ensure that our participation was sufficient and that it began as early as possible. I hope that that matter has now been resolved and that we will have strong representation at the expo—20 million is, of course, a small proportion of China’s population, but a very large number of people none the less. The Government are considering how the lines of responsibility between UKTI and the China-Britain Business Council could be delineated further. I would be grateful for an update on that as well.
China’s economic rise has led to a huge energy requirement, and the increase in manufacturing industry, commercial road and air traffic, private car ownership and the number of domestic electrical goods has sucked in oil imports. China is now the world’s second largest net importer of oil, and only this week a report by Chinese scientists admitted that it has failed in the last few years to make any progress on environmental protection. The Committee, therefore, welcomed the appointment of John Ashton to lead the Foreign Office’s work on climate change. Mr Ashton, who gave evidence to the Committee last year, told us about his ideas for EU-China co-operation on energy-saving technology. Now that he is no longer an outsider, but in the FCO, we hope that those ideas will come to rapid fruition and become reality as soon as possible.
We called on the Government to work with the Chinese authorities on the development of renewable energy and energy efficiency technologies. The FCO’s reply concentrated on its various talks and meetings with the Chinese on that issue, but did not say much about specific projects. I would be grateful for more information on that.
British companies have a huge opportunity in China, as they are world leaders in environmental and energy-saving technology. China needs to save energy and to modernise its industries in many respects. We need to get in there, rather than allow our European competitors to beat us to it, and do the work that presents such an opportunity for our economy.
China has an interesting position on global climate change. At the Davos conference, the Prime Minister stressed the need for a successor to the Kyoto treaty, which cannot be brought about effectively unless India and China are part of it. It will succeed only if those two countries—as well as the US, EU and other countries—are signed up. What are the Government doing to achieve that? How optimistic are we that the Chinese will be at the forefront of that new agreement?
China has 16 of the 20 most polluted cities in the world. Even in Beijing we could feel the acrid air, which is unpleasant to breathe, and Beijing is not a major industrial city compared with others in China. It also has large Government buildings.
Our report noted that 70 per cent. of China suffers from water pollution, that crop returns across the country are decreasing and growing desertification, including the encroachment of desert towards Beijing. China emits about 12 per cent. of global carbon emissions, which is expected to rise to 18 per cent. by 2025. To put that in context, the USA emits about 5.5 tonnes of carbon per capita, whereas China emits only 0.6. However, as China industrialises and living standards rise, there will be a massive increase in carbon emissions from China unless there are significant changes in technology.
Water use, which represents a big problem in China, is increasing significantly. That problem is made worse because large parts of the country are not easily habitable. Those trends have a global impact, and our Committee has recommended that the Government increase their support for environmental projects in China. Perhaps we could have an update on that as well.
Some of those trends have an economic impact, as well as an environmental one. China is heavily reliant on fossil fuel imports, and much of its economic development has been based not on its indigenous growth, but on foreign direct investment and cheap labour. The contrast with India is strong. Much of India’s industrial development has been indigenous whereas China has produced goods for foreign companies and export markets around the world. However, China’s population is ageing. It has a large work force, but many families have only one child. The baby boom generation that followed the great famine in the early ’60s, which led to surplus labour for the next 20 years, has gone. The one-child policy means that the Chinese face many years of an ageing population and fewer workers. China’s birth rate is already well below the replacement rate.
The hon. Gentleman is making an excellent speech. Returning to his point about oil, is there not another dimension to this? Many of us are concerned about the fact that China purchases so much of Sudan’s oil output. Those of us who have had the misfortune to visit Darfur have come away concluding that the Sudanese Government feel that they can do pretty much whatever they want in Darfur, knowing that the Chinese Government will veto any UN resolution in the Security Council condemning the Sudanese Government.
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. In fact, a third of China’s oil now comes from Africa. It is interesting that Hu Jintao is visiting Sudan, mirroring a journey made by Cho En Lai 43 years ago. Sudan supplies China with 350,000 barrels of oil a day—two thirds of its exports—which means that China has considerable leverage over Sudan.
Following on from that point, there is great concern about the impact of China’s policies in Africa—not just in Sudan, but right across west and south Africa. Indeed, this is not just a question of the problems in Darfur and human rights. In many instances, China is behaving illegally, such as in Gabon, where the Chinese state oil company was found prospecting in the Luangwa national park, which represents 11 per cent. of Gabon’s land area. As a result of local pressure, it was finally forced to pull out. Will the Minister consider whether it is important for the Government to take a strong stand on that and to exert pressure on China to behave properly in Africa?
I am grateful for that intervention as it saves me from making the same point. I agree entirely—there are big concerns on that issue. Human Rights Watch alleges that Chinese arms sold to the Government of Sudan have been used by the Janjaweed militia when suppressing the people of Darfur. On the Security Council, China has opposed sanctions against Sudanese leaders and insisted that the Sudanese Government be given power of veto over the deployment of a UN force in Darfur, which was needed because the African Union was unable to deal with the situation.
Clearly, it is not just in Africa that we have that problem. China and Russia recently vetoed a UN Security Council proposal on Burma, which is also known as Myanmar. In Africa and elsewhere, China has played a role that, frankly, undermines the concept of good governance. China’s actions are contrary to what our own Government managed to achieve through the G8 and to the commitments made in the Commission for Africa.
The German EU presidency now wishes to reactivate and take forward those commitments following the interregnum of the Russian G8 presidency. China has a growing role in Africa and, a few months ago, held a meeting attended by 40 African leaders. That shows the growing influence that China has throughout the African continent. I would be grateful if the Minister responded to those points.
To reinforce what the hon. Gentleman has said, does he agree that that applies not just to Africa? For example, China’s oil trade with Iran is almost three times that with Sudan, and its oil trade with President Chavez of Venezuela is huge. If China really wants to come into the international community and play a full part, is it not time for it fully to contribute to multilateral organisations such as the WTO and the UN, and to become a modern international nation?
The response from the Chinese on those matters is interesting. They say that they are behaving as other countries did in the 19th century during the scramble for Africa. That raises big concerns for us because, clearly, the world has moved on. In the 20th century, we had an international human rights and good governance agenda that has been developed in the 21st. The Chinese seem to have the view that they will not ask questions or criticise internal governance or human rights issues; they will simply suck in the raw materials and resources whenever they wish from wherever across the world. That raises serious concerns for all who believe in raising the standard of human rights and good governance worldwide.
Before concluding, I turn to the internal Chinese situation. Frankly, China has a poor human rights record and the way it treats its citizens is deplorable in many ways. The difficulty is, how does the rest of the world, which is so dependent on Chinese manufactured goods and obviously interested in having China as a partner, deal with those internal human rights issues? Our Committee raised a number of concerns: the lack of freedom of the media, censorship of the internet and the lack of effectiveness of the various human rights dialogues, including that of the EU, with the Chinese Government.
More recently, on 10 September, Xinhua—the Chinese state news agency—announced new regulations under which all news originating from foreign agencies must be cleared and distributed. Ministers received assurances from the Chinese Government that those regulations would not obstruct foreign media agencies working in China. I would be grateful to know whether that commitment has been honoured.
On internet censorship, the Committee took companies such as Google to task for voluntarily censoring its web portals in China. It is interesting to note that Google’s co-founder, Sergey Brin, was reported this week as having told people at the Davos economic forum that bowing to Chinese demands for a censored version of its search engine was a mistake—presumably because of the unfavourable reaction from the rest of the world, including our Committee. Brin apparently expressed regret that his company had entered the Chinese market under the terms imposed by the authorities and told The Guardian:
“On a business level, that decision to censor … was a net negative.”
I am pleased to hear that because it is important that the rest of the world raise concerns about unethical behaviour by companies or about collaboration with censorship. I would be grateful for an update from the Minister on the role of western companies and the internet in China.
On the wider issue of the EU human rights dialogue, our Committee called on the Government to achieve improvements in that dialogue. We understand that they have recently raised that matter with their EU partners, but I do not know whether there has been any success in encouraging a more robust approach—either from our EU partners or, more importantly, from the Chinese. Will the Minister ensure that that issue is raised and resolved at the next meeting of the EU working group, which I understand is this month?
Finally, on human rights, the EU has a long-standing arms embargo on China. Our Committee and the Quadripartite Committee, which is comprised of four Select Committees, have called for that embargo to be maintained. I am pleased that last month the EU reasserted its support for that embargo. In Beijing two weeks ago, Commissioner Ferrero-Waldner laid down three conditions for lifting it: ratification of the UN international covenant on civil and political rights, release of those imprisoned for their involvement in the 1989 crackdown after Tiananmen square and the abolition of what the Chinese call re-education through labour—a system of imprisonment without trial. Do those conditions represent the position of our Government, as well as a collective EU position? I would be grateful for clarification.
On the resources that the FCO diverts to China, there is clearly a long tradition of our Government producing experts, known as Mandarins. It is important that people who go to China learn the local language, and we have excellent people out there. I praise the support that we received from William Ehrman and his colleagues in Beijing and elsewhere throughout our visit.
I hope that there will be an increased UK footprint in China as it grows as a country. The FCO told the Committee that it will
“continue to review our representation in China and elsewhere to ensure resources are allocated to achieve our strategic priorities. Our ability to maintain or increase resources deployed to achieve these priorities in future will be determined in large part by the outcome of the Comprehensive Spending Review.”
My message to the Chancellor is that China is vital for our economy and our country, and for the peace and future of the world, so please do not ask the FCO to close posts in Europe, Africa or small Commonwealth countries or on Pacific islands. In the CSR, please give it the resources that will enable it to do the job that is needed as the rise of China continues.
I wish to tell the House that I undertook a visit to the Republic of Korea, funded by the Korean National Assembly and the Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, as recorded in the Register of Members’ Interests.
It is a pleasure to follow the Chairman of the Select Committee, the hon. Member for Ilford, South (Mike Gapes). I congratulate him on his effective leadership of the Committee through what was a complex and demanding inquiry and, most particularly, on standing up firmly, when we were in China, against the deplorable attempt by the Chinese authorities to intimidate the Committee out of proceeding as it was planning to do, and did, from China to Taiwan.
China, as we all know, is the most populous country in the world. As the hon. Gentleman said, it is a country that is still deplorably deficient in many aspects of human rights. I wish to devote most of my remarks to that issue. I am very glad that this Minister will reply to the debate, because he has a long-standing and most creditable record in the human rights area. Indeed, that is a particular area of his ministerial responsibility.
As the Chairman of the Select Committee said, a group of us visited Tibet. That was certainly the first time since I have been on the Foreign Affairs Committee that we have been allowed into Tibet. I do not know whether any previous departmental Select Committee has been to that part of China. From years of looking at media reports and pictures, I was prepared to see a very sadly transformed Lhasa, but the Lhasa that we found in reality was sadder than my worst expectations. The bulldozers have been rampant in Lhasa for many years and, sadly, a very great deal of the historic Tibetan part of Lhasa has now disappeared, with, of course, the conspicuous exception of the Potala palace. That reflects what has been going on in Tibet over many years. A striking illustration of the relationship between the state, Tibetan culture and the Tibetan Buddhist religion awaited us when we went to the Sera monastery in Lhasa. The abbot beckoned me to sit next to him on the sofa. I sat down and looked up, and there, staring down at me, was the portrait of Chairman Mao. That spoke volumes for where we are today in Tibet. There is no doubt that Tibetan culture, Tibetan religion and Tibetan language are all under sustained threat. That is clearly a serious and very worrying human rights dimension.
I want to put to the Minister what I think is the key area of policy, both for the British Government and, indeed, for the wider free world—what position do the Governments in the free world take towards the Dalai Lama and towards the authenticity of the Dalai Lama’s statement that he is not seeking to secede as far as Tibet is concerned? We quote in the Select Committee report, at paragraph 367, one of the latest statements from the Dalai Lama on that issue. It is taken from the statement that he made on 10 March last year. He said:
“I do not wish to seek Tibet’s separation from China”.
Nothing could be clearer or more unqualified than that. We made it clear in our report that that was the evidence that we had taken. We say in our conclusion that
“the Chinese assertion that the Dalai Lama advocates Tibetan independence flies in the face of public statements made by the Dalai Lama.”
Unhappily, the British Government are silent on that absolutely key point. I hope that the Minister will tell us in his reply whether the British Government accept that that is the position of the Dalai Lama, because if the British Government and, indeed, Governments around the world can give us that acceptance, the entire argument and supposed justification that the Chinese authorities advance in Tibet for violating human rights—that every Tibetan is a potential subversive and the Tibetan people are universally bent on separation, independence and secession—clearly goes overboard. That is a crucial public platform issue for the British Government and for other Governments around the world, and it would be helpful if the Minister said in his reply whether the British Government accept that what I have set out is the genuinely held, sincere position of the Dalai Lama—that he is not seeking the independence of Tibet.
I come now to human rights elsewhere in China—in mainland China. Just as some 500 years ago the arrival of the printing press had a volcanic impact on freedom of thought in Europe, so undoubtedly the arrival of electronic communications is having an equally volcanic impact on expression and freedom of communication in China now. The hon. Member for Ilford, South alluded to that. As far as the Chinese authorities are concerned, electronic communications is probably the biggest single fear factor that they have in trying to preserve their one-party regime as it is and to continue to conduct the political repression in their country that they do. I have read that they have some 40,000 people engaged simply in trying to police the internet.
The Chairman of the Select Committee referred to the activities of Google. I am sure that the Minister will have seen the report produced last year by Amnesty International. It is entitled “Undermining Freedom of Expression in China: The Role of Yahoo!, Microsoft and Google” and it contains searing criticisms of those three companies. I shall quote just a few sentences:
“All three companies have, in one way or another, facilitated or colluded in the practice of censorship in China. Yahoo! has provided the Chinese authorities with private and confidential information about its users. This included personal data that has been used to convict at least two journalists, considered by Amnesty International to be prisoners of conscience. Microsoft has admitted to shutting down a blog on the basis of a government request. Google has launched a censored version of its international search engine in China. All three companies have demonstrated a disregard for their own internally driven and proclaimed policies. They have made promises to themselves, their employees, their customers and their investors which they failed to uphold in the face of business opportunities and pressure from the Chinese government.”
I would like to follow the request from the hon. Member for Ilford, South by putting two more in that area to the Minister. First, does he have any evidence as to whether any British companies have been involved in any way in facilitating Chinese suppression of human rights through censorship of the internet? Secondly, with regard to the television arena, does he have any evidence that Sky has, as part of its deal with the Chinese authorities, undertaken any self-censorship in terms of the news reporting that it carries out in that country?
Let me turn now to the written media. Those of us who went to Beijing were shocked by the first-hand accounts that we received from the British journalists we met, who told us how extraordinarily difficult it was for them to carry out their proper journalistic responsibilities in China. They told us of the intense degree of control over their travel, the restrictions over how freely they could report, the clearances that they were supposed to get and, indeed, of the possible risk of arrest that they faced. That is all wholly unacceptable, particularly in a country that will shortly host the Olympic games. As we said in the report:
“We further conclude that the Regulations Concerning Foreign Journalists and Permanent Offices of Foreign News Agencies are not acceptable in a modern state, particularly in a state that will be hosting the Olympic Games in 2008.”
In that respect, I was somewhat disappointed by the Government’s response, which refers to the Prime Minister’s meeting with Premier Wen in London on 13 September 2006. The Government quote two sentences from Premier Wen’s statement, the first of which reads:
“The open policy adopted by the Chinese government regarding foreign news media and financial information agencies remains unchanged.”
Open policy? What open policy? It does not exist. That is a ludicrous description of the repression and control exercised over foreign news agencies. The second sentence quoted by the Foreign Office reads:
“Information in the areas of commerce, finance and the economy will flow freely without any obstructions.”
Of course it will flow freely. Western companies’ financial information and details of their trading will be eagerly hoovered up by their Chinese competitors, but that is not the issue. The issue is what is happening as regards the free flow of information about the nascent free trade union movement and non-state-controlled Churches in China? What about information that represents legitimate and proper freedom of expression? What about the ability to talk about Taiwan? Those are the issues on which we want a dramatic change in policy from the Chinese Government.
Is there not a bit of a conundrum here for all those of us who want to thicken and deepen relationships with China? One must be able to establish a basis of friendship and respect to have the appropriate conversations, but our experience has been that beating the Chinese around the head on human rights and other issues sometimes simply causes them to retreat back into themselves. That is a difficult issue for the Foreign Office, or for any Foreign Ministry that is seeking to deal with China, and I should welcome my right hon. Friend’s thoughts on it.
That is the classic diplomatic argument, and I accept that there is a place for private discussions. However, there are also universal obligations, just as there are universal human rights, and some of the things that are happening in China should be made public. On the crucial issue of freedom of expression and the freedom of the media, I see no reason why we should not require the same standards and freedoms from a country such as China, which will shortly host the Olympic games, as we would require from any major country that expected to be treated as a major player in the world. On this issue, therefore, I do not accept that we should compromise our position on the freedom of the media and freedom of expression in any way.
Several hon. Members wish to speak, so let me turn briefly to the Chinese arms embargo. Having had to write to the Committee about this, the Minister will be aware that there was a serious error in the Government’s response, which stated:
“We agree with the Committee’s assessment that the value of the embargo is now mainly symbolic.”
That error was potentially damaging for the Committee, because we made no such observation. That observation was made by a witness, and we are grateful for the apology that the Minister has given us. As hon. Members know, the embargo is hugely sensitive to the United States, but it is even more sensitive now, and that was certainly brought home to me when I was in Washington last week. If the Americans were absolutely determined before that there should be no weakening at the knees as regards the EU’s attitude to the embargo, they are even more determined now, following the apparently successful anti-satellite test by the Chinese military.
Let me now say a few sentences about Hong Kong, before making one point about Korea and one about Taiwan. On Hong Kong, it is regrettable that we seem to be making no progress towards fulfilling the undertaking in the Basic Law to achieve universal suffrage. We stated that clearly in our report, but the Government disagreed with us in their response. They came up with the little phrase that diplomatic officials had faithfully repeated during our visit, saying that the Chief Executive’s constitutional changes
“represented an incremental step in the right direction”.
For those of us on the Committee, that incremental step has been pretty much devoid of movement. We do not accept that any significant steps have been made and we hope that the Government will continue to be robust in seeking the delivery of that crucial requirement in the Basic Law.
I turn now to North Korea and the issue of proliferation. Obviously, we all wish—without huge, rose-tinted optimism—that the six-party talks, which I understand will recommence next week, will be successful. On proliferation, North Korea has been among the worst, and possibly the worst, proliferators of missile technology and aspects of weapons of mass destruction, as hon. Members will know. We were grateful for the Government’s response on the issue, in which they quote the important amendment that has been made to the relevant convention. They say:
“There is currently no legal base for intercepting shipments on the high seas containing ballistic missiles or components, materials or technology for them, which makes direct action against such shipments extremely difficult. However, recent changes to the Convention for the Suppression of Unlawful Acts Against the Safety of Maritime Navigation will make it possible to interdict shipments of WMD and related equipment and materials intended for their production and delivery, including missiles. The amended Convention will only apply to those States which adhere to the revision.”
The killer sentence is of course the last one. I hope that the Minister and the Foreign Office’s experts on maritime law will apply their minds to how we can establish a legal basis for intervention on the high seas in cases where ships may be carrying components of weapons of mass destruction or ballistic missiles. Such a provision should extend to all countries, whether or not they sign up to the convention, and particularly to those that sign up, but which are nevertheless in breach. I just put that thought forward, because this is an important area of policy, and I hope that the FCO will take the issue on board.
Lastly, I have a deep feeling of unease about Taiwan and the possibility that at some point down the line, there may arise a potentially catastrophic miscalculation, the same miscalculation that led us into two world wars in the last century, led Galtieri into the Falkland islands and led Saddam Hussein into the invasion of Kuwait; a miscalculation about being able to carry out an invasion and get away with it. I treat with scepticism the Chinese Government’s protestations that they want only a peaceful solution to the Taiwanese issue. All their procurement, defence positioning and training points unmistakeably towards two capabilities. The first is the capability to deliver overwhelming intimidation through force, particularly against the civil infrastructure of Taiwan, sufficient to produce, in effect, a Taiwanese political surrender. The second is a capability designed to delay sufficiently long to get that surrender before major US assets can be committed. Procurement and training for the People’s Liberation Army seems to be moving towards providing that option.
I put it to the Minister that it is of critical importance to security and continuing peace in that part of the world that the British Government, not least in their capacity as a permanent member of the Security Council, along with our United States friends, should continue to make it clear to the Chinese authorities that any contemplation of a military option towards Taiwan will have unacceptable consequences for China.
I am grateful for the opportunity to make some brief remarks, and am pleased to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, South (Mike Gapes) and the right hon. Member for Tonbridge and Malling (Sir John Stanley), who made excellent contributions not only to the debate but to the report on which it focuses.
I associate myself particularly with the right hon. Gentleman’s comments on a robust approach to promoting and defending human rights in other countries. I shall come to that, but I believe that the traditional softly-softly approach has not paid dividends and that we have a right and a responsibility to stand up for the values that we cherish.
We learned many things on our visit to east Asia last year. I have been used to describing the UK as the fourth richest country in the world, and it came as something of a surprise to discover that we are now not the fourth richest but the fifth richest, as defined by gross domestic product. I thought that being fourth was pretty good, and I put that down to a long period of guidance by a benign and wise Chancellor of the Exchequer, but there we are—we have slipped to fifth.
The reason for that is not that we are not performing well, but that another country, China, has overtaken us. To be honest, we should not beat ourselves up about that. China overtook Britain in 2005. It will overtake Germany in 2009, on current trends, and Japan in 2015. At some point in the next 30 years, it will overtake the United States of America. That is the position if one considers only GDP. We might view China’s economy as a matter of its purchasing power parity, which is $8 trillion a year—making it second only to the United States.
China is a rising economic power and a rising military power, as other hon. Members have mentioned. There are ground forces of 2.3 million in the People’s Liberation Army, and 8,000 battle tanks. There are 3,500 aircraft in China’s air force. In some ways, the most worrying development is the fact that China is achieving blue-water-navy status. That is a striking development. When the Foreign Affairs Committee was in India and Pakistan a couple of months ago, we learned that China has negotiated with Pakistan access to Pakistani ports for part of its fleet. That is a quite worrying development. It exponentially increases China’s influence in the Arabian sea and the entrance to the Gulf.
Of even greater concern, as the right hon. Member for Tonbridge and Malling mentioned, is Taiwan. China has developed a sophisticated submarine presence in the strait of Taiwan. It is also developing a fairly sophisticated anti-submarine presence to deter the American navy in that area. When we were in Beijing, we were left in no doubt by officials of the Communist party who were responsible for relations with Taiwan, and in our talks with the Chinese Foreign Minister, that they were none too keen on the concept of self-determination for the people of Taiwan.
In passing, I want to say that I have been a member of the Foreign Affairs Committee for six years, and have in that time visited a number of countries and met a number of Foreign Ministers. I have never before been treated as we were treated in Beijing. The pressure put on the Committee not to visit Taiwan was intolerable. It is important that, as we have a right of free speech in this country, we should stand up and say that it is not acceptable for free parliamentarians to be treated in that fashion.
It is worth bearing that in mind in the context of the none-too-subtle hints that China made only last year that it had not ruled out the possibility of military intervention in, or even invasion of, Taiwan if the Government of Taiwan continued to take steps towards independence. The United States has traditionally been the guarantor of Taiwan’s freedoms, but the response of the United States army to such pressure from the Chinese was to invite representatives of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army to go on military manoeuvres with the US army in Guam. One need not be a fully paid-up supporter of Taiwanese independence to think that, on balance, that might send the wrong message to the old guard in Beijing.
In addition to China’s approach to Taiwan, other aspects of its foreign policy and its economic policy overseas give great cause for concern. China’s attitude to Africa, as the Chairman of the Committee, my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, South, suggested, is not dissimilar to that of western nations at the height of imperial power, in the scramble for Africa. One aspect of that is the environmental damage that is being caused by the plundering of precious and irreplaceable natural resources in Sudan and other parts of Africa. China’s attitude towards Zimbabwe should also cause concern to people in this country, because it is involved in directly selling arms to the dictator Mugabe.
The picture is not all bad. There are some encouraging signs—welcome signs that the People’s Republic of China is at long last ceasing to see its membership of the UN Security Council solely through the prism of self-interest. We should point out that the People’s Republic has played a good role in seeking to temper North Korea’s nuclear ambitions. As the hon. Member for Banbury (Tony Baldry) mentioned, China’s relations with Iran put it in an almost pivotal position on the UN Security Council, in which it could choose to play a constructive role. Let us hope that it does so. I hope also that the Minister will explain some of the things that Britain is doing in the Security Council to help China to emerge and play such a role.
China is a rising economic power but not yet the leading economic power in the world, and a rising military power but not yet the leading one. However, there is one area in which it is an undisputed world leader, head and shoulders above its nearest competitors. China is far and away the world’s No. 1 abuser of human rights.
Amnesty International estimates that about 3,400 people were executed by the Chinese state in 2004. To put that in context, those executions account for more than 90 per cent. of worldwide judicial executions in 2004. That is if we accept the figure of 3,400. Other people have made different estimates. Chen Zhonglin, a deputy in the National People’s Congress, put the figure at more than 10,000 a year.
As my colleagues have pointed out, it is not only the death penalty that is a cause for concern. There is widespread torture, detention without trial and re-education through labour. There are no meaningful freedoms of speech, association or assembly, and there is little freedom of religion. Culturally, the Foreign Office—I shall try to put this gently—has not been great on this issue. I emphasise that I am not referring to my right hon. Friend the Minister when I say that, because he has an excellent track record. However, even the Foreign Office, which traditionally has not been China’s sternest critic on human rights issues, concluded in its last, and previous, human rights reports that there have been widespread abuses, yet we continue along the path of the human rights dialogue.
We have a bilateral human rights dialogue with China, and the EU has a similar dialogue. Having looked at this issue over time, I have concluded that those dialogues achieve little and, arguably, allow the People’s Republic of China to compartmentalise human rights concerns. China seems to show that it is serious about tackling human rights concerns simply by saying, “We are serious: here is the dialogue; this is what we are doing about it,” while the human rights abuses continue apace.
Internet restrictions have been mentioned. There are also restrictions on broadcasting. When the Committee was in China, there were not a great deal of television channels available in our hotel in Beijing. We were reduced to watching BBC World—not the most reliable provider of information—to get an approximation of what was happening elsewhere in the world. I noticed that when the presenter said that the programme was going over to a BBC correspondent in China, the channel closed down for about 10 minutes until the broadcast had ended. It is startling to see such censorship at first hand, and we are right to speak out against such things.
We ought to change tack with China and how we view its economic rise. Far too often, we say that it impacts badly on Britain and talk about cheap imports and intellectual property rights. We do not spend enough time talking about the opportunities for British business in China. Lots of our businesses are doing well over there, and we have a well-established presence in the banking and financial services sector.
There are lots of other areas in which we could do business with China, but we need to be more robust and aggressive about it. There must be business opportunities for us in a country that is building, on average, one new coal power station a week over 10 years, given that we are a leading developer of green technologies. We discovered from our visit that business people feel that the language training that is meant to enable them to do business better in China is inadequate. Perhaps the Government should consider that.
On Taiwan, I believe that our policy is right. We must continue to encourage China to pursue its objectives by purely peaceful means. A period of prolonged good will on China’s behalf towards Taiwan might produce more dividends in trying to achieve its objectives than the kind of bullying that we have seen. When I was there, I was reminded of other territorial disputes in which a large neighbour has behaved badly, such as that between Spain and Gibraltar. It is not surprising that the people of Gibraltar do not feel as warm as they might towards their Spanish neighbours precisely because of the problems with handling the border and telephones. A lowering of the temperature and a period of good will are generally welcome in such disputes. One thing that the Government of the PRC could do is open up more direct transport links. Many people in Taiwan have family in the PRC, but it is difficult to get from one to the other. Opening up those links might be a step in the right direction.
On human rights, I associate myself with the comments of the right hon. Member for Tonbridge and Malling. We should accept that the dialogues are not working and break them off. They provide a cloak behind which China routinely abuses its citizens’ rights. We should stand up and be proud of our liberal values, and tell the Government of China that their record is not good enough.
One thing that struck me greatly on our visit was how much China desperately wants to be part of the modern world. It wants to be more outward looking and to play a proper role on the UN Security Council. We ought to tell it that we would welcome that, but that if a country wants to be part of the modern world it needs to embrace modern values at its heart. People must have the freedoms of association, of religion and, most importantly, of speech.
We have heard several thoughtful speeches on the Committee’s interesting report. For reasons that I shall make clear in a moment, I intend to speak mostly about Hong Kong. The speeches of the hon. Member for Hyndburn (Mr. Pope) and those who spoke before him flagged up the clear challenge for us all in dealing with China. I say that as an officer of the all-party group on China.
I want to discuss some of the Committee’s conclusions. Conclusion 57 states:
“We conclude that strengthening understanding of China is most important and we recommend that the Government continue its support for the Great Britain China Centre.”
I hope that we all, as democrats, believe it important to engage in dialogue. However, there is a particular conundrum with China, which is clearly demonstrated in two of the Committee’s earlier conclusions. The short, stark conclusion 8 states:
“We conclude that the United Kingdom’s market share in China is lagging behind its competitors, and that the Government must do more to support British business in China.”
That is augmented by the sentence at the end of conclusion 10:
“We recommend that the Government increase the number of high level ministerial visits to China”—
I emphasise the next part—
“in support of British business.”
So, the Committee recommends that high-level Ministers should continue to visit China to promote UK business, but it also recommends, quite rightly:
“We recommend that the Government continue to raise human rights at the highest levels with Chinese counterparts, and do not flinch from making public statements where appropriate.”
The point that I was seeking to put to my right hon. Friend the Member for Tonbridge and Malling (Sir John Stanley)—clearly I did not do so with sufficient eloquence—is that it is incredibly difficult simultaneously to promote trade and unflinchingly to have a crack at one’s counterparts on human rights. Both have to be done, but the situation with China presents whoever is in government with a particularly difficult and complex situation.
That means that we need the strongest possible embassies in Beijing and diplomatic support in China so that we can ensure that Ministers and others in London have the best possible advice on how most effectively to do this. I have been stung into making those comments as a consequence of the debate that has taken place so far.
The Foreign Affairs Committee has done the House a considerable service in producing a cogent and comprehensive report on China. As a footnote, I should point out that it was a slight pity that this debate has been referred to as being on “East Asia”, although there must be some reason for that. When people use Google and so forth, they tend to type in “China” in this regard, and I guess that, had “China” had been on the Order Paper, more right hon. and hon. Members might have been present as there is considerable interest in the House in China.
There is an enormous amount of meat in the report, which covers issues of substance ranging from China’s increasing impact on the world economy and the need for Britain to do more to support British business in China, to the need to ensure that China complies with the universal standards on human rights, to which reference has been made.
I do not, in any way, seek to diminish the importance of the other issues in the report, but I want to focus on one area: Hong Kong. Until the end of the previous Parliament, the House had a separate all-party group on Hong Kong. It was decided in this Parliament that, henceforth, that group would become part of the all-party group on China, of which I am the Conservative vice-chair. The group agreed that I would take the lead on ensuring that it maintained a clear focus on Hong Kong.
There is considerable interest in the House in Hong Kong, although for a number of years there had been little direct contact between it and UK parliamentarians. Last September, with the help and support of the Hong Kong office in London, an all-party group of eight MPs visited Hong Kong for a week. As a result of the success of that visit and the considerable number of parliamentary colleagues who applied to go to Hong Kong, the Hong Kong office in London is this year arranging two further visits, one during the Whitsun recess and the other in the summer recess, each for six Members of the House.
So far, 92 right hon. and hon. Members have asked to be considered for the visits, so unfortunately, but inevitably, a number of colleagues will be disappointed this year. However, I hope that this is a pattern of visits and contacts that we will be able to maintain in future years, so that as many colleagues as possible have the opportunity to visit and experience Hong Kong and so that we collectively have the opportunity of maintaining contact with those involved in politics and democracy there. Such visits will also help to ensure that we collectively maximise the opportunities for UK business in Hong Kong and, through the gateway of Hong Kong, in the rest of China.
I hope that twice-yearly visits by all-party groups of the House will be able to pursue, among other things, the points raised by my right hon. Friend the Member for Tonbridge and Malling on the progress to direct elections to the LegCo. That is part of the ongoing dialogue that we need to have in Hong Kong.
The year 2007 is particularly notable because it is 10 years since Hong Kong returned to China. I should mention in passing that on Sunday 1 July, the Hong Kong community in the UK is holding a day of celebrations to mark the success of Hong Kong over the past 10 years. They will include some dragon boat racing. I believe that the all-party group on China hopes to enter a team. I invite the Minister to join the parliamentary dragon boat team, perhaps as our drummer. Our team may well have 10 drummers and one rower, unlike most dragon boat teams. The fact we have such a dynamic community of Hong Kong origin indicates the vibrancy of London.
Excellent. The Minister always makes a fearful dragon, as I am sure those in the parliamentary Labour party remember from his days as party chairman.
I repeat that 2007 is notable because it is 10 years since Hong Kong returned to China. I cannot resist observing that when history comes to be written, the success of the negotiations on Hong Kong will be recorded as one of the lasting achievements of Margaret Thatcher’s Government and as the personal achievement of, and a tribute to, the painstaking patience of Geoffrey Howe as Foreign Secretary.
The idea of “one country, two systems” was embodied in the first Sino-British joint declaration of 1984, and later in the Chinese Government’s Basic Law, which now forms the constitution of Hong Kong. What was remarkable about the settlement secured with China was the fact that the idea of two systems was allowed to be so far-reaching. As it is put in the joint declaration, Hong Kong enjoys a
“high degree of autonomy, except in Foreign and Defence Affairs”.
In reality, the joint declaration and the Basic Law give Hong Kong phenomenal autonomy. Moreover, there is common consent that the provisions of the joint declaration and the Basic Law have been followed almost comprehensively in substance and in spirit since 1997. The consequence has been that for Hong Kong it has always been very much business as usual, but with the extra bonus, particularly for the United Kingdom, of the opportunities created by the opening up of the Chinese economy.
Hong Kong offers huge opportunities for UK business, both in Hong Kong itself and in the wider region—
Order. May I point out to the hon. Gentleman the fact that the report is specifically concerned with China? Although I am prepared to let the constant reference to Hong Kong go for a short while, I want to draw him back to the point that the report is specifically with regard to China.
It is not for me to challenge the Chair, Mr. Benton, but may I draw your attention to the report? I hope that you have a copy of it. Conclusions 48 to 52 all refer to Hong Kong. While there is no doubt about “one country, two systems”, Hong Kong is now part of China, de jure, and is not a separate de jure entity in its own right.
As you will have heard, the Committee visited Hong Kong as part of its inquiry and took evidence from Hong Kong. My right hon. Friend the Member for Tonbridge and Malling and the hon. Member for Ilford, South (Mike Gapes), the Chair of the Committee, made reference to Hong Kong. So, before I continue, may I ask you to reflect, with the advice of the Clerk, as to whether I am in order in continuing to comment on Hong Kong?
I am unsure whether the hon. Gentleman has a copy, but may I read out a letter from the Chairman of Ways and Means, because it specifically emphasises my point? It states:
“The geographic region ‘East Asia’ includes Mongolia and, arguably, the countries of South-East Asia. However, the scope of the debate is determined by the scope of the Committee’s Report. On a strict interpretation, non-contextual references to countries other than China (including Tibet and Hong Kong), Japan, the Koreas, Taiwan and Asiatic Russia would therefore be out of order.”
I take the point that the hon. Gentleman makes and I am prepared to be as flexible as I can on it, but I must point out that that is the guidance on which I am acting. I ask him only to bear that in mind.
On a point of order, Mr. Benton. I am not sure how the guidance was drawn up. The Select Committee report relates to the whole region. If the ruling is as you suggest, and is in line with the advice that has been given, I, as Minister, could not report back to the House on the issues in the region, as I have been instructed to do. This is concerned with the region as a whole; Hong Kong is part of mainland China. The Committee went to the area to do the report on behalf of the House.
Further to that point of order, Mr. Benton. As the Chairman of the Committee and the person who managed to get the Liaison Committee to agree that this slot should be for our report, I had always understood that the debate would be on the whole report. It includes a significant section on Hong Kong as part of China. The Committee visited Hong Kong not once but twice—we went in and out on our way to and from Taiwan. It would therefore be unfortunate if it were made difficult for Members to comment on aspects relating to Hong Kong, and similarly to Korea and other parts of the region that are referred to in the report.
I give the hon. Gentleman an absolute assurance that it is not my intention to make things difficult for any hon. Member. Bearing that in mind, there is clearly a conflict of interpretation. I am being guided by one set of guidance and I do not doubt for a moment that the hon. Member for Banbury (Tony Baldry) believes he is acting properly. So that we can make some progress, I propose that we carry on, but I ask the hon. Gentleman to bear my remarks in mind.
I will of course bear your remarks in mind, Mr. Benton, but I make this observation, which needs to go on the record: having chaired the International Development Committee in the previous Parliament, I had always understood that in debates on Select Committee reports, anything in the report was within order and relevant. I have to say that, having fortunately taken part in many such debates in Westminster Hall, I have never hitherto heard of the Chairman of Ways and Means seeking to prescribe what can take place. If that does happen, his advice ought to be shared with the House before the debate takes place. If it had happened, I would have raised the matter as a point of order with Mr. Speaker this afternoon after business questions.
This is not a criticism of you, Mr. Benton, but it would be ludicrous and give grave offence to the people of both Hong Kong and China if, on the 10th anniversary of the sovereignty of Hong Kong passing to China, the House were to assert that discussion on Hong Kong was out of order in a debate on China. I can see that leading to considerable misunderstanding in both Hong Kong and Beijing. I cannot believe, on reflection, that that was what the Chairman of Ways and Means intended to indicate.
Hong Kong is in the wonderful position of having access to the opportunities in the rest of China while possessing the institutional, infrastructural and, importantly, legal arrangements to take advantage of them. We should never underestimate the potential for UK business in Hong Kong. First, there is the widespread use of the English language, which alone makes Hong Kong a convenient place in which to do business. Then there is the security of the rule of law, and I do not believe that there is any dispute that Hong Kong has an effective legal system with a competent and impartial judiciary. A number of senior judges from other common-law jurisdictions serve on the Court of Final Appeal, including a former Lord Chief Justice of England, a former Chief Justice of the High Court of Australia and two former presidents of the Court of Appeal of New Zealand.
In one of the earlier conclusions in the report, on the People’s Republic of China, the Committee observed:
“We further conclude that the protection of intellectual property rights is essential for the effective functioning of a creative, innovative economy. Unless the Chinese government takes greater steps to establish secure intellectual property rights, tensions between China and its trading partners will grow and domestic innovation will suffer.”
Hong Kong already has in place such protection. Intellectual property rights, including rights on trade marks, patents, copyrights and designs, are protected in Hong Kong, as are brand names, logos on clothes, layout designs of integrated circuits and plant varieties. Under articles 139 and 140 of the Basic Law, Hong Kong has the exclusive right to determine its own law in those areas. It has signed up to international conventions such as the Berne convention, which, as the House will know, systemises international copyright for commission.
It is always worth commenting on the fact that one of the more notable features of the business environment in Hong Kong is the strength and breadth of its legal protection of intellectual property and other such rights. Indeed, Hong Kong trade mark law protects foreign-registered trade marks, even though a trade mark is usually solely a national right so that it cannot be copied in the country where it is registered. Hong Kong offers protection to foreign trade mark owners.
The Committee rightly concluded that
“despite some concerns, overall Hong Kong remains a vibrant, dynamic, open and liberal society with a generally free press and an independent judiciary, subject to the rule of law.”
We should focus a lot more attention on how, collectively, the UK Government and other agencies can maximise the potential for British business that Hong Kong offers.
UK exports to Hong Kong exceed those to mainland China, which is obviously partly because of the distinctive British legacy in Hong Kong. British business, financial and cultural interests there remain extensive. There is considerable good will towards Britain and businesses of British origin, but it goes much wider than that.
The rapid growth of the Chinese economy is concentrated in three regions: the Bohai rim around Beijing, the Yangtze river delta around Shanghai and, significantly, the Pearl river delta. As the Committee reports, the closer economic partnership arrangement signed in 2003 allows Hong Kong products to be exported tariff-free to the mainland and gives preferential treatment to Hong Kong-based service providers. That agreement has given considerable impetus to the integration of the pan-Pearl river delta economic area, and, as the British Chambers of Commerce told the Committee, that integration has created a Pearl river delta common market. Indeed, there are now an estimated 60,000 Hong Kong-owned businesses in the delta, employing 11 million people—more than three times the work force of Hong Kong itself.
Hong Kong has provided about 70 per cent. of foreign direct investment in the Pearl river delta region over the past 20 years. That has led to the creation of further enterprise in Hong Kong with the expertise needed to establish and manage manufacturing opportunities in mainland China and co-ordinate Chinese exports to the rest of the world. Hong Kong therefore has the best of both worlds: an economically privileged relationship with mainland China and the resources, both human and capital, to exploit it to the full. It has the opportunity to benefit enormously from the rapid growth of China.
A couple of years ago, I spent some time in the Pearl river delta on business, seeking to negotiate joint ventures for a plastics company called 3DM plc, in which I am still a shareholder. It is only by going to the provinces of the Pearl river delta that one can get a proper impression of the scale and speed of development there. Cities of which we have never heard, larger than Coventry, seemingly grow up overnight and compete with the rest of the world.
Understandably, we need to do more in mainland China. I repeat that the Committee notes, in a single, stark, two-line sentence:
“We conclude that the United Kingdom’s market share in China is lagging behind its competitors, and that the Government must do more to support British business in China.”
However, the House should note that, if one sets aside the curious quirk of the sizeable quantity of British investments in Hong Kong that are held through special financial institutions in the Netherlands because of tax and administrative advantages that I do not pretend fully to understand, the UK is undoubtedly the largest European investor in Hong Kong. British investments there are very large indeed—in the order of £18 billion—which represents a strength that we should be spending every effort to build on.
Understandably, the Committee recommends in its report that
“the Government ensure that its strategy on China recognises the continuing economic importance of Hong Kong in its own right, and its role as a gateway to China. We recommend that the Government work with business organisations to identify priority sectors which could benefit from opportunities in Hong Kong, and to offer assistance in delivering market research and trade promotion.”
We have the Asia Task Force and the China Task Force, as well as a UK trade and investment strategy. I would like the Minister to explain how those task forces and strategies will focus on maximising UK business opportunities in Hong Kong and, through Hong Kong, in the rest of China. Even Hong Kong’s challenges, such as poor air quality, lack of space and local landfills, present obvious opportunities for British companies that are skilled in renewable energy and recyclables.
The forthcoming six-monthly visits to Hong Kong by an all-party group will, I hope, enable Members of Parliament to, maintain among other things, a focus on Hong Kong’s potential and on what the UK Government and UK plc can do together to maximise that potential.
I am glad to follow the hon. Member for Banbury (Tony Baldry). Those six-monthly visits to Hong Kong offer the most extraordinary advertisement for the virtues of Hong Kong, but I hope that he will speak with equal vigour about business in Banbury if he expects businesses to invest there. I also hope that those visiting parliamentarians continue to press on human rights.
I first visited China in 1980, when I had the thankless task of trying to convince the Chinese Government to sign up to an international copyright agency. At that time, I might as well have asked them to walk to the moon. The country’s technology and economy have changed immensely, but its respect for human rights has not. The most startling conversations I had were about organ donation. They simply could not understand why we thought that harvesting organs from people who had been executed and had not given their consent to donation was unacceptable.
I must take issue vigorously with the notion that business is conducted whether the other Government are nice people or not. China will buy from British business when what British business wants to sell to China is what the Chinese want to buy, not because we are shilly-shallying over human rights. Our biggest opportunity is the forthcoming Olympics in Beijing. During that period, the International Olympic Committee will take over the functions of the nation state at Olympic venues, so it will have huge powers. There will also be a massive influx of western journalists, and it will be an opportunity for further work. I simply do not accept the argument that human rights and trade do not go well together. I thought that we had buried it 10 or 15 years ago.
The hon. Lady either deliberately or—I am quite sure—accidentally misunderstands my point. I shall try again for the third time, because clearly, I have not made it very well.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Tonbridge and Malling (Sir John Stanley) was critical of Ministers. I simply sought to point out to the House that Ministers, other parliamentarians and everyone who seeks to engage with China has a particularly difficult challenge. The Committee’s report exhorts the Government to do more simultaneously on trade and on human rights, but doing both simultaneously is difficult. That was my point—not that we should not lobby the Chinese Government on human rights. I agree with everything that the Committee says about human rights. It is, however, difficult to do the two—trade and human rights—simultaneously. China presents a particular challenge that we do not encounter anywhere else in the world.
I just do not accept that argument. One can do both, and what is more, one must find a way of doing both.
That brings me to the arms embargo. At one stage we seriously considered lifting it, and that was simply wrong. Although I understand the point made by one witness who told us that it was symbolic, I accept the logical argument that the new European Union code would have been stronger. We must be careful when we deal with a country that takes symbolism and pride seriously, because we would have sent out the wrong message. I shall not repeat what other Members have said. I agree with almost everything that has been said, although I am not quite as pessimistic about Taiwan.
I should like the Minister to think about four areas. First, the Shanghai Co-operation Organisation is mentioned in the Committee’s report, and its membership is interesting. It comprises China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, and India, Mongolia and Pakistan have observer status. The United States, and Japan at some stage, sought observer status, but it was denied them.
I am not entirely convinced that we are paying sufficient attention to an organisation about which I have questions as I have travelled the world in the past four years. It was only during my last visit to Beijing that I thought that the pieces of the jigsaw came together. The organisation has a dual function: to deal with potential terrorists and secessionists, particularly Islamic secessionists, and to ensure the security of the energy supply. A brief look at the map and at the amount of money that China is prepared to put into that organisation shows that it is far more important than we accept.
Secondly, Tibet was on one level very much what I expected. However, the biggest danger to Tibet is that China will undertake a simple cultural takeover in two ways: through population movement and ideology. The most telling anecdote we heard was when we visited a monastery. The monastery’s head spent two years training in Beijing—so, a Tibetan Buddhist monk went to train in Beijing. When I asked whether anybody from the rest of the China ever went to Tibet to receive training in Buddhism, we were told, “No.” That very simply shows the flow of information. The new railway will also bring fundamental change. We did not in Tibet see anything that we were not meant to see; we were somewhat sheltered by not seeing the large areas where the Chinese army is housed.
I also find troubling the tree-planting schemes in Tibet. Although something needs to be done about the desertification of the mountain ranges, on seeing valleys where there are suddenly millions of willow trees, I was slightly worried about whether anybody had thought through the environmental impact of such large-scale reafforestation with a single crop. In other areas of China, dam building is an environmental disaster waiting to happen, because the undertaking is somewhat untested.
Thirdly, Taiwan was a most pleasant surprise. I had no idea what to expect, but I found three things incredibly encouraging. The country has now passed my test of democracy: it functions not with the first election, but when one removes a Government for the first time via the ballot box. We met a bunch of politicians who were arguing fiercely with one another, they had an extraordinary sense of humour, and I thought, “They are there.”
If the Minister has not visited Taiwan, I recommend that he does, because it has extraordinarily good food. I had not realised that in the Tai history of Taiwan, Taiwan had only ever been under full Chinese occupation for 40 years. Before that, it was Portuguese. There has been huge global influence, and there is a vibrancy to it.
The reason why I am less pessimistic about Taiwan is because of two statistics. First, the Taiwanese claim that one in 10 manufacturing jobs in mainland China depends on Taiwanese investment. Secondly, a common currency is being tested in parts of Taiwan, so that everything is in place for the peaceful flow of people from Taiwan to the mainland. The Beijing Government still have much to do on direct access and on flights, however. The question struck me about whether the British Government are doing enough work on university exchanges with the young people of Taiwan. What can we do through universities?
We focus so much on China and perceive Taiwan as being a problem all the time, but we may need to do more on that. I know that this is not within the Minister’s bailiwick but, for the record, I hope that the Vatican does not withdraw its representation from Taiwan in favour of basing it in Beijing. That would be very bad.
Finally, the most lasting lesson I got from my visit, having revisited certain places, is that we ought to throw away the maps of the world we are used to—the ones with Europe in the centre—and acquire maps with India and China in the centre. We shall then begin to see the way the world will go in the 21st century. It will not be a battle between the United States and Europe. The best that Europe can hope for will be to be a bit-part player among the huge emerging economic forces in that part of the world. I very much hope that China moves the way India has and becomes a true democracy through that process.
May I say what a pleasure it is to contribute to this important debate under your chairmanship, Mr. Benton? I begin by congratulating the chairman and members of the Foreign Affairs Committee on the prodigious job that they have done in producing the report, and I thank the Government for their response to it. The Chairman of the Committee, the hon. Member for Ilford, South (Mike Gapes), gave a very thoughtful speech in opening the debate.
The debate is particularly timely, not only because of the publication of the Foreign Affairs Committee report on east Asia, which we are here to discuss, but because of the upcoming Beijing Olympic games in 2008, to which several hon. Members have referred. The games will focus international attention on China and is symbolic of China’s emergence from its long period of relative isolation. I think that we all welcome the fact the China is engaging more with the international community.
We are especially pleased that China is involving itself more in the World Trade Organisation: its acceptance of a rules-based system for trade is an important step forward. It is playing an increasingly active and important role in helping to encourage stability in North Korea. We know and are pleased that those roles, as well as its position as a permanent member of the UN Security Council, and its rapprochement with Japan, will continue to develop further in the years to come. However, with the influence and benefits that come from China’s further involvement in international affairs, comes the responsibility to ensure that its behaviour in the international arena and in the area of human rights is appropriate, and is set within both the letter and spirit of international law.
One such issue that needs to be addressed is China’s involvement with the foreign regimes on which it is becoming more and more dependent for resources. Paragraph 92 of the report states that in 2005 China accounted for 31 per cent. of world oil demand, and such dependence on natural resources has led to questionable relationships with, and in some cases the support of, abusive regimes. Dr Philip Andrews-Speed of Dundee University described China’s
“willingness… to do business with ‘states of concern’”.
In that list he included Iran, Myanmar and Venezuela. One of China’s most concerning relationships is with Sudan, from which it receives 5 per cent. of its oil imports and in whose oil industry it has invested $3 billion.
China still displays isolationist tendencies in its attitude to human rights abuses in other countries. While we are pleased that the EU-China summit went ahead and that the Chinese agreed to develop a structured dialogue on Africa, we are worried that, as Professor Wall of the centre for Chinese studies stated in paragraph 97 of the report, the Chinese
“have continued to block discussions of the problems in Sudan on the grounds that they have business interests in Sudan and… ‘Business is business’.”
That special relationship with Africa was consolidated in November at a China-Africa summit where new deals worth $1.9 billion were signed and China announced that it expected trade with Africa to increase to $100 billion by 2020. That was further supported by an announcement on Monday that the Chinese Government would provide the continent with $3 billion in preferential credit in the next three years, regardless of the human rights and good governance records of some of the Governments involved. I agree with the Select Committee’s recommendation on that matter. China’s close relationship with such regimes supports behaviour that damages efforts to uphold international standards in human rights and good governance.
Given China's investment in Sudan, it is uniquely positioned to take the lead in persuading President al-Bashir to co-operate in implementing the UN’s Security Council resolution 1706: a mandate for a UN peacekeeping mission in the Sudan. Similarly, China’s relationship with Zimbabwe is closer than that of the west, and it could play a greater role in encouraging President Mugabe to abide by international law. China’s investment in the region means that it is in its best interests to have a stable and well governed Africa. I would be interested to know—perhaps the Minister will address this in his remarks—whether discussions on Sudan and Zimbabwe were part of the September meetings between the Prime Minister and Premier Wen, and the Foreign Secretary and the Chinese Foreign Minister, which were mentioned in the Government’s reply. If so, were there any reportable outcomes of those discussions and has China indicated that it will encourage the Sudanese Government to co-operate with the UN on resolution 1706?
Another issue that I hope the Government will confirm was discussed is mentioned in paragraph 97 of the Committee’s report. It states, very worryingly, that Beijing has, according to some sources, placed non-uniformed forces in Sudan to protect its interests there. Will the Minister say what, if anything, the Government are doing to substantiate and check out the rumours of Chinese troops in the Sudan, and what they are doing to negotiate their withdrawal?
We are extremely concerned about the current situation in Tibet. The European Parliament’s July report stated there were
“continuing serious human rights abuses … including torture, arbitrary arrest … repression of religious freedom”.
Deep concern was expressed about
“the so-called ‘patriotic education’ campaign in Tibet’s monasteries and nunneries”.
After the Committee's report was published, an incident occurred in Tibet that brings home the gravity of the situation there, and the need for pressing action. On 30 September, unarmed Tibetan refugees attempting to leave China were fired on with live ammunition: seven were killed and 32 were detained. Their whereabouts are still unknown. Will the Minister state whether the Government will press for an investigation into this action, whether it was broached with Chinese officials in September and what the results of any such discussion were?
While we welcome China’s actions to strengthen the rule of law, there are still significant obstacles. Courts in China are still dependent on local government and are therefore subject to political pressures, and according to Human Rights Watch there have been a spate of recent arrests of prominent lawyers such as Gao Zhisheng, a outspoken critic of the Government’s violations and abuses of power. A letter by Human Rights Watch to the Prime Minister of Finland and EU members in September stated that there has been a “sharp deterioration” in the human rights situation in China. Since the transfer of power to President Hu Jintao, many political freedoms in China have been curtailed in a bid to silence critics, both Chinese and foreign, and get controversial arrests out of the way before the Olympic games brings international attention to Beijing.
The Chinese Government have established strict content controls on journalists, website editors and bloggers, and there is still no guarantee that the Chinese and international public will get unrestricted and impartial coverage of the games. We join the Committee in urging the Government do more to encourage China to ratify the international covenant on civil and political rights. I should be grateful if the Minister commented on what progress is being made on that matter and on the protection of civil and political rights and, in particular, say what the outcome of the talks last September were.
In December 2005, the UN special rapporteur Manfred Nowak detailed allegations of consistent and systematic patterns of
“torture related to ethnic minorities … political dissidents, human rights defenders, practitioners of Falun Gong, and members of house-church groups.”
We are pleased to see that the Chinese are admitting that there is a problem, but we have not seen any improvement on the issue. In fact, the pressure group Human Rights in China reports that the authorities have increased the use of re-education through labour—a programme allowing individuals to be forced into labour camps without judicial process—from 10,000 individuals in 1957 to 310,000 in 1999. The camps contain political dissidents, Falun Gong practitioners, religious dissidents and other critics of the regime.
I raised the issue of human rights in connection with the practitioners of Falun Gong at business questions in July last year. I received an assurance from the Leader of the House that the Government would continue to raise the issue. Will the Minister clarify what the Government are doing to combat the increasing level of human rights violations in China? Will he say whether he feels the Government are making any headway in encouraging the introduction of legislation both to prohibit the use of evidence from torture in court and to prohibit the re-education through labour programme?
The latest round of the UK-China human rights dialogue in July 2006 showed that there had been almost no movement by the Chinese Government on human rights. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s human rights annual report of 2006 admitted that
“in most areas progress is either slow or non-existent.”
China would not commit to a timetable for the reform of administrative detention measures, and no progress was made on prisoners’ fundamental rights, respect for freedom of religion and belief, human rights in Tibet, China’s population policy—including its one-child policy—and the blocking of World Service broadcasts and the BBC website. As the current round of diplomacy and negotiations seem to have been of only limited success, will the Minister state what further actions the Government are preparing to take, and whether they are willing to be more vocal and use public statements in condemning Chinese human rights violations?
Finally, we had hoped that with the upcoming Olympic games pressure could be put on the Chinese Government to redress some of their human rights violations and that they could be encouraged to persuade their international partners to improve their human rights records. The UK, as an advocate of international human rights, should not flinch from taking a stronger stance on the issue. We should not place our trade interests above the moral obligation to guarantee human rights both in China and elsewhere. Can the Minister please assure us that that will continue to be the case as far as the Government are concerned?
I congratulate the hon. Member for Ilford, South (Mike Gapes) and his Committee on a comprehensive report. Indeed, it is so comprehensive that only bits of it have been covered in this debate. I intend to cover some bits, but I obviously cannot cover all of it.
I was a little confused by the title of the report, “East Asia”, which I take to mean the 10 countries in the Association of South East Asian Nations, plus China, Japan, the two Koreas and Hong Kong. Perhaps a direction should be given to all Select Committees to state their terms of reference at the beginning of each report. I respectfully suggest that that would solve the sort of problem that arose in our discussion about Hong Kong, because we would then all know precisely what we were discussing.
May I also respectfully suggest to the Committee that although about 80 per cent. of the report covers China, the figures for trade with the UK show that those ASEAN countries, plus Japan and the Koreas are far more significant in terms of trade than the whole of China? The figures for China, including Hong Kong, show that it exports roughly £6 billion and imports about £19.5 billion, whereas the other group that I mentioned imports £22.5 billion and exports £10 billion. Incidentally, the trade gap with those other countries is less than it is with China. The trade gap with China is something that we should be concerned about, principally in terms of the amount of exports that we make to China.
Before I get into the meat of my speech, I should like to deal with a relatively minor matter. Paragraph 423 of the report says:
“We conclude that the Government’s decision to increase the numbers of its personnel”—
that is, FCO personnel—
“in China is welcome, but we recommend that the Government consider establishing smaller posts or nodes for diplomatic activity in other parts of China”.
The stark fact that the table in the report shows is that we have only five embassies and consuls in the whole of China, whereas we have 30 in the whole of the United States, yet the US has about one quarter of the population of China. The Foreign Office will need to address that fact very carefully indeed if we are to increase our diplomatic and cultural efforts and our humanitarian and trade lobbying in China.
As the report makes clear, we all support the idea of free trade, but we particularly support the successful conclusion of the Doha round. I am sure that China, as a new member of the World Trade Organisation, supports that successful conclusion. Will the Minister say what he has done to lobby Commissioner Mandelson to ensure that we secure a successful conclusion? The fast-track negotiating facility in the United States is fast running out and we must now be at the 99th hour of securing a successful conclusion.
Starting at paragraph 65, the report makes it clear that our trade effort with China is not good enough. As one witness said:
“Whilst Germany has a positive trading balance (with China) the UK is in deficit in a ratio of approximately 4:1 in visible trade and is underperforming even on invisible trade”—
that is, financial services, the so-called strength of our country. The witness continued:
“Over the past five years the UK has underperformed in both goods and services. Only 1.25 per cent. of UK total exports are to China and what is more the UK share of the … total market has fallen”
As Lord Powell said, in paragraph 66:
“Our market share is 1.3 per cent., which is obviously inadequate—China is Britain’s sixteenth export market. Here is the world’s fastest growing economy on course to be the third largest before very long and it is our sixteenth market.”
The figure for our balance of trade in November was one of the widest ever, at £7.2 billion. That is a significant figure that ought to be of concern to the Government. Although I am pleased to observe that UK exports to China grew at a healthy rate of 16 per cent. last year, there is still considerable ground to make up on many of our international competitors, notably the French. The French Government and French firms have been particularly successful in gaining access to Chinese markets. Stephen Phillips of the China-Britain Business Council told me that one of the reasons for that was that French top officials visit and liaise with their Chinese counterparts better. Indeed, President Chirac has visited China several times and is reported to have built a strong relationship with Chinese officials, which has helped to secure substantial market access for France in China.
In comparison, the British Government have unfortunately been far slower to realise the benefits of regular high-profile visits to China, and have therefore secured considerably fewer benefits for British business and trade. I hope that the Minister will tell the Chancellor that it is high time he made high-profile visit to China, having just made an important visit to one of the UK’s other most important trading partners. Paragraph 70 quotes a witness as saying:
“There is no Whitehall China trade strategy.”
We need to sort out our act—at the top of Government.
As was mentioned in the written answer quoted by the hon. Member for Ilford, South, we were far too late in taking up the Chinese invitation to take part in the 2010 Chinese world trade expo. It was not until considerable probing from me that the Government eventually decided that they would take part. In a written answer to me on 26 January, the Minister announced that £3.5 million would be given to the project. It will be the largest expo in the world. As I said, it will involve 20 million people, more than the number going to the Olympics. That is a considerable and prestigious world trade window, and we ought to have been in at the ground floor.
We have an arbitrary strategy towards our trade relations. Investment and trade are generally governed by several regions—not one or two, but all of them, in conjunction with the UKTI—so there can never be a joined-up strategy on our trading relations. I hope that the Minister will reassure us that he will take action to avoid such damaging, duplicating efforts towards our trade in China. Starting from a base of almost nothing five years ago, the value of Indo-China trade is now bigger than the UK’s entire trade with China.
I certainly endorse the Committee’s view that the Government must take action in future to ensure that all Departments recognise the importance of such events to British industry and seize the opportunities. Why did the Minister and his Government colleagues leave the organisation of our role in the expo episode so late? In paragraph 80, we see all too clearly that the Government have no clue about what business wants. From her words in that paragraph, it seems that the Foreign Secretary is not living in the same world as the rest of us. As the report states,
“one consequence of this system is that businesses operating in China have to join several organisations, adding costs and complexities to their efforts to enter the Chinese market.”
We should bear in mind that face-to-face relationships with China are crucial as a mode of business; the duplication only adds further complication.
The report goes on to state:
“The presence of the United Kingdom’s Regional Development Agencies adds to the confusion. Yet the Foreign Secretary defended the arrangement when we asked her about it. She said:
‘I can understand … in the business community there is a tendency to want … one kind of simple channel, but China, as you have seen for yourselves, is a large and very complex place and what we have at present is not a plethora of bodies but we have a number of different bodies, each of whom play a role which is slightly distinct … It appears to me … there is a quite good working, constructive relationship. They are not competing with each other.’”
With respect to the Foreign Secretary, I have yet to understand the difference between a “plethora” and a “number” of different bodies. What does she imagine the UKTI and regional development agencies want to do? They want to encourage business for the UK. If businesses would prefer one channel to pursue their operations, why does she not let them have it? Why complicate the issue? Again, if she believes that the RDAs do not compete against each other for Chinese contracts, she genuinely needs to meet the staff on the ground involved with China to see what they want.
I wholeheartedly agree with the following statement in paragraph 10:
“the Government must seek to ensure that lines of responsibility between UK Trade and Investment, the China–Britain Business Council, the British Chambers of Commerce and Regional Development Agencies are clear and that there is no duplication of work, so that smaller businesses seeking to ‘take the China challenge’ do not face duplication of costs and services provided by the range of organisations.”
I suggest to the Minister that he should consider contracting out all the work done by the UKTI in China to the China-British Business Council and put the savings back into that council. The UKTI could then be the funnel to the regions in this country—if, indeed, the Government wish to continue to use the fragmentary arrangements of the regions to try to encourage inward investment into this country.
I must move on, as time is passing rapidly and I want to give the Minister time to reply. I should like to mention a lot of other issues mentioned in the report. I wholeheartedly endorse the Committee’s views on education in respect of good will, foreign relations and doing more trade with China. It is essential that we encourage as many Chinese students as possible to be educated in this country. I ask the Minister to consider what is often cited to me: the cost of British universities and UK visas, which is a deterrent to ordinary families in China.
Many Members have mentioned Chinese foreign policy in respect of trade, and I also mentioned it in my intervention. In doing trade, China does not help the human rights situations of various countries. Zimbabwe is mentioned, for example, in paragraph 97; paragraph 98 quotes the Foreign Secretary as saying that
“there has been a…recognition by the international community that it is not in anybody’s interests…to see this appalling governance”
go on. Sudan has been mentioned, and the Chinese do business with other countries such as the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Iran, Venezuela and Myanmar that have appalling records.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Tonbridge and Malling (Sir John Stanley) mentioned the DPRK and the six-party talks. He declared his visit to that country, as I do mine, and I join him in welcoming the resumption of the six-party talks later this month. I have no doubt that in that instance the Chinese are playing a positive role, and that is to be warmly welcomed.
Nobody in this debate has mentioned Japan. Our relations and trade with that country are extremely important, although often not mentioned or not mentioned enough. We should strengthen those relations. I slightly disagree with the report in this respect, because my understanding is that, particularly since the election of Prime Minister Abe, relations between Japan and China are improving. For example, the war graves issue has now been dropped. I note what the report says about the disputed islands—that dispute still goes on, and we will surely do all we can to encourage both countries to resolve it—but I welcome the general improvement of relations between China and Japan.
My right hon. Friend also mentioned Taiwan. Paragraph 114 states that Chinese military expenditure is increasing by 10 per cent. a year. That figure is probably dwarfed by the military expenditure not included in the official figures, as the report makes clear in paragraph 115. The issue is not often talked about; one wonders why the Chinese need that huge build-up of military expenditure and whether the recent destruction of a communications satellite by a Chinese rocket was a little more significant than they would have us believe.
We need continually to monitor China’s build-up of military expenditure in future, particularly in respect of Taiwan. I note the report’s conclusion in paragraph 173, which states that the Chinese military build-up across the Taiwan straits has altered the military balance between those two countries. Again, I urge both Taiwan and China to concentrate on what builds good relations—travel, cultural exchanges, trade—and try to reduce the tensions, and I am sure that the Government would urge the same. It would be a tragedy for all involved if the relationship were to spin out of control, as has been posited by some.
I shall conclude, as I want to give the Minister plenty of time to respond. The Committee has done an excellent job in pointing out one of the parts of the world to which we need to pay ever-greater attention in respect of trade, diplomatic relations, human rights and cultural exchanges between our two countries. The more that we can understand about China, the less suspicious it will become of us and the better it will be for both countries.
For the record, I declare an interest, in that my wife works for you, Mr. Benton, and has, I believe, for 17 years. I do not know how she manages it.
First, I thank the Select Committee members, not just for their work on this report but for the productive working relationship that I have had with them since I became the Minister responsible for this and other areas following last spring’s reshuffle. I hope that that relationship will continue. We are not in each other’s pockets, but we want to co-operate and be as effective as we can in our work on the countries and regions that we visit in our different roles.
In that regard, rather than give the speech that I prepared for this debate, I shall use some of its opening remarks and then systematically go through the issues that have been raised by right hon. and hon. Members. I shall try to give a flavour of what we are doing, and also give accurate, open and transparent answers to questions. I apologise if some questions are not answered by the end of the sitting. I shall check Hansard and write to the Committee about any issues that I inadvertently leave out or do not cover because, to be honest, more and better information can be made available in writing. I hope that hon. Members will accept that.
Hon. Members may be aware that yesterday the European Standing Committee had a very lengthy debate on EU-China relations and a question and answer session of more than an hour as part of the scrutiny process. That, added to today’s debate, means that I have had a marathon session this week, and rightly so; not just on China but on other countries that make up an important, dynamic region of the world.
I have visited the region since my appointment, and I shall be going back later this year. I have put in place a system whereby I will offer an opportunity to businesses, non-governmental organisations and the Select Committee to meet me, in advance of my visits to regions or countries, to discuss what they think the objectives and priorities of the visit should be. I shall work our discussions into the programme and report to those organisations when I come back in a transparent way on the information and responses that I have gathered.
In addition, we will put in place a work programme after the visit so that there is sustainable follow-up on the issues that have been raised with me. I have had put in place across Whitehall a committee to engage with all Ministers and senior officials on my visits from now on, not just in respect of China and India but across all areas of interest, to ensure that there is clarity about the objectives of the visits and transparency on their outcomes, and to ensure that Ministers and senior officials, whatever Department they work for, are able to take matters forward on a sustained basis. That is very important.
Many of the issues that have been raised by Members today cannot be resolved in a single meeting, whether of Ministers, Prime Ministers or Presidents. Much of the work that colleagues have spoken about, which I shall go into in detail, is the result of years of activity, but such activity can be improved if there is better co-ordination and sustainability of the intellectual, organisational and political investment put in by the Government, whether at ministerial or senior ministerial level. If in the future the members of the Select Committee want to consider any of the areas and countries that I visit, I would be more than happy to meet them to discuss the work programme and the objectives that I would like to set for the visit, and to report to them on my return.
My visit gave me a useful opportunity to represent the concerns not just of the Government but of UK business in areas such as intellectual property rights enforcement, local customs and tax arrangements. I underlined the importance that the UK Government attach to sustainable development and climate change in my meetings with Ministers in China—I shall deal with that later in more detail—and I was able to facilitate the sharing of experiences in those areas, and to stress the need for urgent action.
In talks with Chinese Vice-Foreign Minister Zhang Yesui, I expressed a desire to enhance our bilateral dialogue on human rights, and to develop our dialogue on Africa. I stressed the need to ensure that aid to Africa is spent in a co-ordinated way and in line with the Gleneagles objectives, and we agreed to increase co-operation in that area. Again, I shall discuss that later.
I was also able to take forward work on the UK-China strategic dialogue that took place in September between the two Prime Ministers, at which energy and climate change working groups were established. A work programme is now under way. I have regular discussions with the Chinese ambassador to London, Mr. Zha, in which we cover the full range of issues in our bilateral relations. I shall meet him this weekend in advance of the human rights dialogue meetings that will take place on Monday, and the visits to Belfast by the Chinese dialogue team on Tuesday and Wednesday.
The Government welcome the detailed work undertaken by the Foreign Affairs Committee, and its scrutiny of the Government’s work to engage with and promote UK interests in east Asia. The focus of the report was, understandably, on the impact that the rise of China is having in the region, more of which later. However, it is fitting that the Committee has not ignored the importance of the region as a whole to our international priorities.
Alongside our EU partners, the UK has direct interests at stake in promoting harmonious and co-operative relations among the key players in the region. Specific areas of focus include the full and verifiable dismantling of the North Korean nuclear programme through the six-party talks process. When I was in China, I had discussions about those talks and attended a meeting at the site where the talks will continue next week. We have been encouraging both sides to work towards the peaceful resolution of the dispute about the Taiwan strait. I shall say more about that later.
In an initiative begun under the UK presidency, we are working closely with EU member states to develop a more co-ordinated and coherent approach to emerging security challenges in east Asia. That work is informed by the EU’s dialogue with key regional partners. The Government’s regular high-level exchanges and dialogues with key players in the region include discussion of regional security issues, and they are complementary to the EU process.
Both Japan and South Korea are central to our efforts to deliver regional security, not least as participants in the six-party talks. We enjoy close trade, investment, and science and technology relationships with Japan and the Republic of Korea. They are underscored by our shared democratic values and supported through regular high-level exchanges, and visits at all levels.
The Deputy Prime Minister made a timely visit to the region in October, travelling to Beijing, Tokyo and Seoul. That visit provided a useful opportunity to discuss regional security in the light of the North Korean nuclear test earlier that month, and to take forward the work of the UK and Chinese taskforces. We look forward to working closely with Japan during its 2008 presidency of the G8, during which the Japanese will receive the report from the Gleneagles dialogue on climate change, clean energy and sustainable development.
The recent UK-Japanese co-operation on military and logistics work in southern Iraq has been a great success. We look forward to further work alongside Japan in the international sphere, and we shall continue to support reform of the UN Security Council to include Japan as a permanent member.
The Hong Kong special administrative region continues to be a major UK business partner, and UK Trade and Investment maintains a strong programme of sectoral activity there. I visited Hong Kong as part of my process of engagement. We enjoy a positive, forward-looking relationship with the region, continue to take seriously our ongoing responsibilities towards its people, and attach great importance to its autonomy and prosperity, and the rights and freedoms of its people.
At my suggestion, the Westminster Foundation for Democracy has begun to consider practical ways of working with Hong Kong’s political parties to support their development. We believe that the best way to safeguard Hong Kong’s success is for it to advance to a system of universal suffrage as soon as possible. We are concerned about the current stalemate and hope that the Hong Kong and mainland Chinese Governments can make early and substantial progress towards universal suffrage in Hong Kong. I made other remarks about that issue in the European Standing Committee yesterday—perhaps hon. Members would like to put them together with these comments—and expressed my concerns and worries. In my view, the political parties in Hong Kong are unable to engage effectively with the citizens about the importance of their rights in a universal suffrage system, or to organise political activities around the issues that are relevant to their day-to-day working lives. They need to be more proactive in such areas.
The Minister might like to know that one of the comments that parliamentary colleagues from all parties who visited Hong Kong in September came back with was how disappointed they had been with the calibre of the local politicians. The Minister’s comments reinforce the need to help to strengthen that capacity.
That is why we should do that in a practical way rather than merely criticising. It is difficult when people are isolated. People criticise politicians like us, but we have had 1,000 years of democracy to try to get it right and we are still working at it. I do not mean this as a negative criticism, but there is a worry that if we are to have that dialogue, there has to be the capacity for effective dialogue not only with the mainland Administration and those who effectively run the administration of Hong Kong, but with the general population.
It is clear that the future success and stability of east Asia will have a significant impact on UK interests. It is crucial that we continue our work to enhance the relationships across the region. However China, perhaps more than any other country, is driving the dynamic pace of change in east Asia and its economic and political re-emergence on the world stage is dramatically changing the dynamics of international, economic and political relationships.
I stress the need to ensure that aid to Africa is spent in a co-ordinated way in line with the Gleneagles objectives and co-operation in that area has been agreed to. I was also able to take forward preparations for other work, which I will now come to in response to the debate that has been so eloquent and well put by hon. Members. I will not do so in a partisan political way, although the hon. Member for Cotswold (Mr. Clifton-Brown) made my hair stand up on a number of occasions. I hope that when I respond he will see that some of his comments and perceptions about our activities are rather misplaced—that is the best way for a diplomat to put it.
I shall go through the issues as I think that they were raised. I will go about a bit, but I shall try to co-ordinate it. If any hon. Member has any sense that I am going to miss something out, they should intervene.
On the subject of the WTO obligations, it is vitally important that we work with China and ensure that its membership of the WTO is seen as its being a responsible member of the international community, and that we support its closer integration into the international system, including multilateral institutions. That is critical in its dialogue about opening up and transparency in trade. That applies not only to Doha, but in terms of gaining an effective ability for the rest of the trading world to work closely with a trading system where China’s investment and trade strategies are recognisable for their multilateral approach to countries and regions where it wants to trade significantly and effectively and where it wants to make investments, whether in economic or social structures or in support and opportunities for energy security. That is important. We need regularly to raise at our UK-China summits and discuss with our EU partners the framework of China’s role and how we work with China and its WTO obligations.
We were disappointed by the dispute on Chinese auto-parts that took place last year between China, the EU and five other members of the WTO—Australia, Canada, Japan, Mexico and the US. That dispute has failed to be resolved and with UK support the EU has launched a formal request to the WTO to establish a dispute settlement panel to investigate the Chinese measures. We believe that those measures are in breach of China’s WTO commitments, and the dispute settlement panel is therefore an appropriate forum for the dispute to be resolved.
I hope that that answers one of the points made by the hon. Member for Cotswold. It is not merely a matter of getting China to join. With a right comes responsibility, and although we support China against unfair measures from the EU or against anti-dumping measures, we are consistent that when a measure clearly puts up a trade barrier and is unacceptable we are prepared to support international action under WTO rules. That is also true in terms of other trade disputes.
Although I fully accept that we do not want to see dumping in the EU, does the Minister agree that accusations of dumping have to be well and truly proven before the EU takes unilateral action to impose tariffs on China? Otherwise, and if unilateral action is taken, consumers will pay more for shoes, for example, than they need to. Will the Government press the EU harder not to adopt such protectionism and to get a successful conclusion to the Doha round?
On textiles and shoes, we have been the leading opponent to attempts by other countries in the EU to use the anti-dumping legislation to prevent continued access from not only China but Vietnam. We have been successful in trying to prevent anti-dumping measures against our colleagues in South Korea. We have a consistent view on that, and as a consequence of our taking that view we sometimes face hostile criticism from some of our colleagues, who then try to take compensatory measures against us—on Scottish salmon, for example. Rest assured, I am not behind the door on that. We are consistent about such matters.
We are not only intellectually consistent, but we are consistent in the politics of negotiation in such matters. I have the scars on my back from the past few months of that. The interesting thing about globalisation, of course, is that if those attempts to restrict access for textiles and especially for shoes had succeeded, we would have damaged legitimate British inward investment in Vietnam and China, which is important to the global survival of some of our most important companies. When people say, “This is a measure against Vietnam or China”, if we look below the surface it is an attempt to interrupt legitimate British business interests that export back into the EU. There can be complex discussions and negotiations but hon. Members can rest assured that we are vigilant on such matters and upfront when it comes to successful discussion, debate and negotiation on what we sometimes see as unfair efforts. When there is a need to take measures under WTO rules, the EU should do so to defend business in the EU, which sometimes means business interests in mainland Europe and sometimes those in the UK. We take that balanced view.
China has been pressing for some time for our support for its market economy status, and that is increasingly important following the succession of Russia to such status. Discussions and debates are taking place—we have helped China—with the EU about the best way in which China can proceed to ensure that it follows the rules, agrees rules and makes changes that will allow the EU to award it market economy status. We have been supportive and helpful, and have also supported China with practical works to undertake economic reforms to allow it to get over the technical barriers that prevent the EU from allowing it that status. The status is important to China, not only because of the privileges that it brings but in political terms because of how people in the EU see China when it comes to trade and its political relationships with the EU. We have been proactive in practically assessing that to establish China’s ability to gain market economy status.
I reassure hon. Members that there has not been a delay in our engagement in Shanghai 2010. I do not see it as a defensive measure, but perhaps we should have made it more clear at the time. We were always going to participate. We had meetings at an official level and, once I was appointed, at a political level with the embassy in the UK, with the Government in China and with the vice-mayor of Shanghai, who has been appointed to run the programme up to 2010. As part of the process a number of things happened. First, before the announcement was made, we were able successfully to get major British interests involved not only in the design and construction of the expo site but in a range of contracts for the infrastructure leading to and from the site based on the work to be done on the Yangtze river, including the creation of their first eco-friendly city. That will be the first city and will be followed by two others. With our work we have established the British company, Arup, as a key player in that.
During our discussions, and before an announcement, we consulted British industry, the regional development agencies and relevant bodies in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland over the structure of the project we are putting together, its themes and what the private and public sectors want to achieve in the run-up to, and during the project, as well as a possible legacy.
I had responsibility for the management and structure of the Commonwealth games, which were criticised right up to their opening. People said, “There is not enough involvement” and, “It is not going to happen; it is going to be a disaster”. I assure hon. Members that the same things will be said about this project. I am happy to come back to the Committee and give it a detailed report on the progress of the project. For example, the Committee might want to participate in the design competition that we will be announcing soon. That has involved months of negotiations behind the scenes with a range of sectors about how to run and manage that competition.
Negotiations are ongoing with Departments, regional organisations and the private sector about the funding mechanisms that will ensure that, from the spring of next year, we will have a flow of capital resources for the design and construction of the site in Shanghai. We have agreed on the location of the site—it is one of the prime sites—and it is likely that we will be one of the few countries invited afterwards to sustain a structure on or near the site. That will be critically important. Under the expo rules, most of the sites have to be demolished—believe it or not. However, China has a concession that enables it to maintain a number of the pavilions either on or close to the site. If we have that opportunity, we will have to design a pavilion not just to showcase British skills, knowledge, architecture, and new sustainable technologies, but to construct a building with the capacity to be used after the event. That could be a huge asset.
I can assure hon. Members that the Government intend—as do I, given my responsibilities—this project to last not just for a few months. In the run-up, we will showcase British skills and knowledge, as well as our companies, and public and private sectors. We will discuss with those cities that have a relationship with China our educational and environmental input. It will not just be a one-stop shop. On our site, we will have a traditional exhibition larger than a football pitch. That has never been done before. It will be a business Olympics.
We are in competition not just with our European counterparts, but with other major countries. This is a serious project that we must get right. To do that we have to put in time and effort with our partners in order to come to an agreement on our objectives, on who is going to help to pay for, manage and work within it, and on which companies will act as partners not just for the few months that the expo is on, but afterwards.
I welcome the Minister’s remarks. When we were in Shanghai, we saw the potential of that site and discussed with those there the possible development of a permanent British facility, which would, of course, deal with some of the problems with the existing facilities for our representation in Shanghai. I hope that the Committee will be able to receive regular updates from the Minister on that.
I am very happy to do that. When I was working on the Commonwealth games, I came to the Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport on three occasions. The process was accountable throughout. I shared with that Committee the strengths and weaknesses of what we were attempting to do. In a project such as the one we are discussing, each phase will need new human skills and financial resources, so it is really important that from the outset we have everybody on board and that we are certain about the outcomes of each of the phases. I think that it is a very exciting project. Given what colleagues have said, I shall write to the Committee about the process so far and outline the timetable for the next few months. I shall also detail potential partners as well as public and private-sector investment and involvement in the design and use of the pavilion.
Colleagues raised near-zero-emission coal projects. I was able to negotiate with my counterparts in China a memorandum of understanding and agreement to bring forward the project from 2015 to 2012. We are the leading investor in that project, which will provide a near-zero-emission coal power plant for carbon capture and storage. We want to persuade our European Union colleagues to take forward and accelerate its deployment. The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs recently announced an invitation to tender for the contract for phase 1 of that project—the feasibility and costing study. We believe that the project will cost some €400 million to €500 million.
We must take a lead in that because China is putting on stream a coal-fired power station every five days. The lifespan of each of those is a minimum of 40 years. As the months and years go by we must develop our capacity to share technology. There is no point in doing this work in Europe and thinking that we can save the planet, if India, and China in particular, have the capacity every week to wipe out any gains that we make because we have failed to transfer technology and work co-operatively. The deployment of this project is really important.
When I was in China, I learned that there is a growing awareness, at every level, of the need to do something about the environment as the country advances socially—its working, built-up, transport and structural environment, and that of its natural resources. There was a great willingness on the part of everyone that I met to co-operate and get involved with ourselves and the European Union to tackle project work and to put together a constructive process for environmental sustainability that will enable them to expand their economy in a non-dangerous way.
We cannot have a discussion with China or the wider world on sustainable global security and emissions, if we simply say at the outset, “Stop using coal”. Too many countries will walk away. So we must see coal as an integrated part of our global energy strategy, but attached to new technologies, so that it can be burnt safely. I believe that, if we can do that, China, India, Australia, the United States and other countries that do not have the incentive now, will come on board quickly. That will not just benefit our planet: this country will be well-placed in terms of research and development, and investment, which will enable us to promote our business and commercial interests over the next few years in a sustainable way that sees us as a leader in this field.
Britain has taken a lead in clean-coal technology. The Minister mentioned the admirable efforts that the Government are making in China in that respect. He also mentioned that India is opening a large number of coal-fired power stations—as are other Asian countries covered by the report. As Minister for Trade, will he assure me that he will promote clean-coal technology to all countries contemplating building coal-fired power stations?
Yes, and not just to those building coal-fired power stations. On every visit I make, I meet Ministers and business communities. In some instances, where we can, we make a link-up between the business community here—which has the knowledge and technology arrangements—and potential partners in the countries that I am visiting. Consequently, there are a number of new initiatives that have been launched in Australia and New Zealand at governmental and business-led level following my visits. The same is true in Korea and I have made similar offers to India, Russia and, of course, to China. Such initiatives are a core part of my activities in the Foreign Office, and since her appointment, my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary has placed those issues at the heart of her diplomatic and business activities. Indeed, I am appearing before the Foreign Affairs Committee next week or the week after to share the work of the FCO in those areas. I am happy to share any information that I provide here with the Committee.
Many points were made about our investment in business support in China. I will deal with that generally and then talk specifically about the new facilities that we are putting into China. Hon. Members made an important point: China is not just the eastern seaboard, the Pearl delta or Hong Kong. As I said yesterday in Committee, I have visited parts of China that have a population the size of Germany and a land mass the size of France. There are cities that people have never heard of that have international airports and infrastructure projects larger than anything in Europe; and they are getting bigger. There is a thirst for research and development, for education and educational activity at college level and at the level of higher and further education. There is also a thirst for the skills that people need to deliver economic advancements.
China does not simply want to make cuddly teddy bears. It is a complete misconception to think that China’s only ambition is to make the toys of the world. Clearly, its ambition is to go upmarket and it can and is doing that. One of the biggest chances for investment that we will have over the next few years will stem from China’s recognition of our universities as world leaders and of our capacity for investment. China will recognise that we have already moved upmarket because of the pressure on us from globalisation. We have the capacity for manufacturing and new technology bases. In partnership, we can work with China on research and development and get into different market places.
There are huge opportunities for us in China, but we have to recognise something else about globalisation: Government structures cannot be kept as they were five years ago, never mind 10 years ago. UKTI is a good organisation as it was when I was responsible for it following when the original body was set up by Michael Heseltine, which was when I came in as a Minister after the 1997 election. UKTI’s strengths and challenges then are nothing compared with what they are now. That is not just because of new and emerging markets. The traditional markets of Europe and north America are changing because of globalisation. To put resources in the north-east of the United States misses an important factor: that new technologies and economies in the United States have moved to the west coast, the south-west coast and the southern belt. When we reorganise the UKTI in the areas that we have indicated, we must take account of the changing nature of the markets that we need to work in—whether it is a traditional market or an emerging market. We need to recognise who we are trying to help on the ground in terms of being entrepreneurial and giving tailored support services to individual companies or sectors. We also need to provide after-care and to use our diplomatic skills to advance our economic interests. The skill mix of people working in the UKTI and the Foreign Office must change. We have to multitask and multiskill our staff, have more people working in partnerships, and more people with the relevant knowledge based inside a particular country working for us and our interests.
We are making a big change around, but it is better to change now, when we have the strength to do so and a really good organisation to help make that change, than to wait five years and see that, through globalisation, markets have changed dramatically and that our people and our resources are in the wrong place.
On single gateway access, in some instances that is the right approach and the right market, but the resources have to reflect the nature of the market. Simply having lots of people in Beijing, which is four hours away from the most improving market in China is missing a trick. We have to get into those markets effectively and it is important that we have a hub-and-spoke strategy. We have a clear presence in Beijing and Shanghai, but we should work in partnership in other key areas that see us as partners. There are powerful regions in China that are bigger than most of the economies in the world and will continue to be so and there are people who want to be respected in the business and political community. Therefore we must treat the situation seriously. That is why the changes in UKTI have been made—skill changes, deployment changes and structure changes.
Over the next few years, whenever someone visits a British embassy or high commission they will see that the staff have all or part of the skills to deliver services to our business community. We must consider what value other organisations across the public and private sector would add to the activities of the UKTI. There must be better co-ordination and ways of ensuring that other organisations accept the business objectives we are trying to achieve and will work with us in the role that we are playing in those markets. We are improving services not just for large companies, but for small and medium-sized companies—they have to go global quicker than ever before. We must tailor services and support for small and medium-sized enterprises as well as the big boys such as BP or British Gas. The changes that we are making in UKTI are important and I hope that I have explained the reasons for them.
The consultations that we had with British business before we made changes suggested that those changes were appreciated. There is commonality and support for the changes that have taken place. Consequently, over the next few years, despite the challenges, I hope that UKTI will do its best by British business and will be successful with British business. As I have not yet made the announcement I will not mention it now to be fair to the company and the country concerned, but only yesterday, because of almost a year of UKTI activity in a major marketplace and work by people on the ground, at the embassy, with the company, with me, in the UK, in the country concerned and with the Chinese Trade Minister, we have for the first time secured a $2.8 billion infrastructure project. There is the potential for further projects down the line. That did not take place at a single meeting; we had to have the skills and the knowledge base at post. The company had to have someone in post who knew the industry, the sector and had the skills and knowledge to negotiate on behalf of the company. That is that kind of tailored business support service that we need more of. Business diplomacy is as important as defence diplomacy in a globalised world.
I am sure that a big multilateral company with that size of contract was well able to summon the resources of UKTI and, indeed, the resources of the Minister. However, there may well be and indeed are many other cases concerning much smaller contracts where the present structural system results in duplication and confusion in China between the different bodies involved. That means that while the UK competes with the other bodies involved, other countries go out and do the business.
That is not true. I will take the hon. Gentleman to a pile of small to medium-sized enterprises that we have helped to get business or have got business themselves in China. I can take the hon. Gentleman to a small to medium-sized enterprise near my constituency which has become one of the largest producers in China. Big companies in China sell their cottons, floor-wear and furniture-wear to it. Large British companies are opening up stores and facilities in China for the emerging working and middle classes. The company in my constituency has seen a niche market and has gone there. It is a small business set up by a small entrepreneur, which is 10 minutes away from my constituency. In fact, the manager lives around the corner from me.
In China, the company has been a massive success story in three years; it was a small to medium-sized enterprise that understood globalisation, how it works and what it needed to do to benefit from it. Its R and D is here. Its financial services are here. Its design is here. Its productive capacity has moved to the new marketplace and it is delivering in a new marketplace for UK inward investors. It has increased its employment base in the UK at the same time. That is not a large company; it is a small company that is growing because we have been able to give that company, near my constituency—I am saying this as a Minister, by the way; it has nothing to do with me personally—a tailored service. That is what we want to do, can do and are doing increasingly, not only for large companies but for small companies.
Something else should be remembered. Every large UK company has, in my view, significant opportunities, when it wins contracts, to ensure that other British companies are in the supply chain. When we consider some of the construction projects and environmental projects that we are getting involved in across the globe, we see that very innovative small and medium-sized enterprises can take part in large projects and strategies. A great deal of effort is being made by me and by UKTI, with the small and medium-sized enterprises sector, to develop strategic approaches to individual markets for individual companies to gain access to them and to help them to sustain their business when they are there.
Hon. Members referred to Africa. The relevant issues are stability, peace and good governance. I think that China recognises or needs to recognise that as far as a long-term strategy for its engagement in Africa is concerned, it has to support the international community on those three pillars, because energy security and supply cannot be provided for in an unstable, ungovernable world of conflict. It is not possible to invest in the infrastructure—social, industrial, educational and health—if the region is ungovernable and unstable. Therefore, I welcome China’s engagement in Africa, but in welcoming that, we want to ensure that there is transparency and a dovetailing of international efforts in Africa.
In a short period, we have come a long way with Africa. The debt mountain has gone. We do not want a second, new debt mountain because of the ways in which loans are being offered. We do not want, in the new round of the World Trade Organisation talks, any attempt by ourselves and the European Union to give to the least developed economies of Africa effective access to our home markets to be undermined by trade agreements that are not WTO-compliant and that can lead to the undermining of indigenous employment, say in southern Africa.
We do not want a situation in which the Chinese do not play their full part in peacekeeping, conflict prevention and dealing with the issues that arise when conflict happens. I feel optimistic, at this point at least, that China is recognising that. I am thinking of the participation that there has been in the work on the millennium goals that we set and other work that we have done on Africa. What we need to do and what we are trying to do now between the European Union and ourselves, bilaterally and multilaterally, is to engage in a series of transparent working groups with China on how we can engage effectively for the long-term stability of Africa—its economic and social stability.
Africa needs to and can play a part in that, and I think that it needs to play a better part than it has played so far. I am not talking only about good governance. In the medium to long term, Africa cannot win the type of relationship that it wants and that is in its own interests if it does not help to reinforce good governance, stability and good economic management—it cannot and it will not. Failed states do exactly that—they fail. It is not possible, in a corrupt system, to have proper, transparent trading arrangements; the corruption wins out. Nor is it possible to build infrastructure in the way we need to internationally to help to build the capacity of African countries and the African people themselves if we do not act on a co-operative international basis.
Yes. An example is the extractive industries transparency initiative. The Chinese are already showing signs of being able to engage on that, which is very important. It should be remembered that minerals and oil are one of the main reasons why China has trade agreements in Africa. Those are some of the most difficult areas in African trade arrangements. Therefore, that initiative internationally is very important. The fact that China is now prepared at least to engage on it and would be interested in co-operating on it is important.
Another example is the infrastructure consortium for Africa. Again, that was set up to provide greater transparency on infrastructure plans and co-ordination with donors. China sent a delegation, for the first time, to the last meeting in Berlin, which was only a few days ago. That is a sign of the growing need and interest. With a step-by-step approach, we will ensure such engagement. The FCO and DFID are working together on the Africa conflict prevention pool, security sector reform, peacekeeping training, post-conflict reconstruction and the African peace and security architecture. Those are all working areas that we have with the Chinese at the moment, and we want to bring them to very good conclusions for the sake of Africa’s future.
On human rights, I will write to the Committee after the human rights dialogue this coming week, but not only about that dialogue; I need to give the Committee a complete, comprehensive note on all the human rights discussions that I have been having in the different parts of the region that we are discussing. It is important to give this commitment: I do not do any visit where human rights are not a major part of the visit, by common agreement in the discussions and debates, even where that is very difficult. Human rights are not a subject that many countries like to discuss. To be honest, we have to find a way with each individual country to bring it to that discussion. How human rights are discussed with Pakistan is somewhat different from how they are discussed with China or South Korea. Cultural as well as political issues are involved, but I have, and will continue to have, a clear strategic approach not only to discussing human rights during a visit, but to the follow-up work. That is why I hope that the Committee sticks by the commitment that we have made to continue the dialogue with China. Difficult as the issue is, human rights requires a long-term dialogue. To give up that dialogue would be not only to give up on the Chinese people, but to make things easier for those who do not want the dialogue in the first place.
It has come as a relief, after listening in detail to the Minister’s comprehensive response to the debate, to hear him touch on human rights, not least because virtually every hon. Member who has spoken dwelt in some depth on that precise issue. I just want to check that when the Minister says that he will reply in writing to members of the Committee, he does not mean only members of the Select Committee, but all hon. Members present at the debate today. There were a number of specific questions on the very important matter of human rights, on which it would be interesting to see his response.
Hon. Members can rest assured that I will write to everyone who has been here; that is a policy that I follow. I think that my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, South (Mike Gapes), for example, raised the international covenant on civil and political rights, which is very important. China committed itself to ratifying that, and it is a priority area for work with us. We regularly ask that the Chinese commit themselves to a timetable for ratification. We are working with them on that, bilaterally and with the European Union, and my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary raised it with her Chinese Foreign Minister counterpart when they last met. We have offered resources to the global opportunities fund to help it to put in place the changes that need to be made in, for example, complex areas relating to death penalty reform and fair trial provisions. Indeed, when I was in China recently, I met the Chinese officials and those who are operating the fund for us, who are working with the Chinese on the training of, access to and protection of defenders and on the death penalty and reforms relating to better access to support at trials. We are not just doing the policy big thing; we are also doing the practical thing.
On arms exports and the arms embargo, I spent a great deal of time on that in the European Standing Committee yesterday. I set out fully the relevant issues. That will have appeared in Hansard, so I have not dodged the question. The same question was asked yesterday, and answers to some of the follow-up questions are set out in detail in the record of that Committee, which I will send to my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, South.
Tibet was spoken about by the right hon. Member for Tonbridge and Malling (Sir John Stanley)—I call him my right hon. Friend; we have worked closely for many years. Can my right hon. Friend come and see me?
I want to talk to my right hon. Friend about Tibet and there are a number of other issues on which, to be honest, I have only a general knowledge and it would be very helpful to me to sit down with him to talk through what he thinks are the important areas. Tibet is one of the issues that we do discuss, official to official and Minister to Minister, and it is important, in doing that—
It being half-past Five o’clock, the motion for the Adjournment of the sitting lapsed, without Question put.