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Volume 495: debated on Tuesday 30 June 2009

4. What recent discussions he has had with his Chinese counterpart to seek to achieve progress towards Tibetan autonomy within an overall China. (282690)

The Foreign Secretary last raised the status of Tibet with Chinese Foreign Minister Yang during his visit to the UK in February during the UK-China summit. He called for substantive dialogue between the Chinese authorities and the Dalai Lama’s representatives to address the underlying issues in Tibet.

Will the Minister urge his Chinese counterpart to end the outdated rhetoric of hostility towards the Dalai Lama and his Tibetan supporters? Will he tell him that that autonomy is a genuine and workable concept within an overall China, that it is not independence, as the hardliners pretend, and that it can help to provide an important degree of self-determination and can protect the unique Tibetan culture? Will the Minister take practical steps, such as offering to mediate, to help resolve this long-standing injustice?

First, may I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for his long-standing interest and commitment on this very important issue? It is possibly early days for me to start mediating in such an historic dispute, but it is absolutely clear that we believe that the only way forward is for the Chinese authorities to resume bilateral discussions with the Dalai Lama’s envoys. It is worth noting that it has always been the Dalai Lama’s position not to advocate independence but to advocate autonomy. We believe that that is now consistent with the British position and that this window of opportunity should be used for the benefit of Tibet.

The UK Government have rightly promoted the idea of dialogue, as the Minister has just set out. Is not the reality that over many years the Chinese have engaged in dialogue but have never given any ground, even of a limited nature? What action are the Government taking to co-ordinate a response with other European Union countries, the United States and other allies to put pressure on the Chinese authorities to be a little less intransigent and to recognise the basic human rights of Tibet?

Our position has recently become aligned, for the first time, with that of the European Union. There is a clear, strong and united position, and the European Union uses its dialogue with China constantly to raise the question of Tibet. For example, during the last round of our bilateral human rights dialogue we called for due process in Tibet and full transparency to allow unhindered access for diplomats and journalists. We also called for reform of the use of the death penalty to limit the scope of its application. Now that our position, for the first time, is aligned with that of the European Union, I believe that we have the best possible opportunity to influence the Chinese to do the right thing by Tibet.