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UK-China Relations

Volume 488: debated on Tuesday 24 February 2009

I launched the UK-China framework last month because the Government believe that positive engagement with China is essential to achieving our wider international objectives and to addressing the major global challenges, including the current economic crisis. We welcome the positive response from the Chinese Government to this strategy, we will monitor progress against its detailed objectives, and we will welcome the views of Members and others.

Given my right hon. Friend’s rather special relationship with the US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, can he comment on the US’s new approach to China and inform the House whether that new approach will impact in any way on the policies of the United Kingdom?

My hon. Friend will be pleased to hear that I spoke to my new friend in advance of her trip to China. I think that the messages she gave to the Chinese about the determination of the whole of the American Government to engage with China in a new way is wholly welcome. There was, I think, in Secretary Clinton’s remarks in Beijing an important recognition of the changed balance of power in the world and of China’s centrality to addressing many of the big global problems we face—not least economic and environmental problems and nuclear proliferation.

If we are ever to secure peace in Afghanistan, we are going to have to engage all the countries in the wider region, including China, especially if we are going to seek a final solution in that area. What discussions have the Government had with China about engaging with Iran to provide that solution?

I agree with the hon. Gentleman. We obviously talked about Afghanistan during the visit of Premier Wen and Foreign Minister Yang at the beginning of this month. I was in Afghanistan last week. I believe that the important regional approach taken by the new envoy, Ambassador Holbrooke, is wholly welcome.

As literally millions and millions of Chinese people lose their jobs with the Chinese economy going into even freer fall than the European and American economies, there are political consequences. In my right hon. Friend’s talks with the Chinese, will he gently suggest that the next economic paradigm has to be based on workers being able to earn enough to buy what they produce and to have social and other networks of support? Will he further bring into play the International Labour Organisation to urge the Chinese to develop a much fairer social and wage system in their country?

I think that my right hon. Friend will recognise the irony of China riding to the rescue of international capitalism at this time, but his points about the balance of economic and social stability in China are very well made. Our human rights dialogue certainly provides one opportunity to raise a whole range of social issues with the Chinese Government.

Is the Secretary of State aware that when North Koreans try to leave that dictatorship, they often cross into China, where they are rounded up and sent back to North Korea in defiance of all China’s obligations as a signatory to the UN refugee convention? The fate of these returnees to North Korea is extremely gruesome, so will the Secretary of State ensure that his new love-in with China—whether via Mrs. Clinton or anyone else—does not prevent him and the Government from raising this issue with the Chinese Government as a matter of urgency, or does he think that China is too important and large to merit such criticism?

The right hon. Gentleman raises an important point, which is one that we have raised with the Chinese. I think I should write to him with a report on how those discussions have gone and what the latest stage is. The importance of our engagement with China is precisely that, because we engage with the Chinese, we are able to raise all issues, including human rights issues, openly and frankly. That spirit of candour has been developed over the past few years in our relationship with China. Respect for China does not mean the relegation of our concerns to a subsidiary role. In fact, I would argue that the respect that is afforded to China is the basis for proper engagement on issues that concern us.