Motion made and Question proposed, That the sitting be now adjourned.—[Helen Jones.]
Somewhere in my scrapbook is a photo of my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Norfolk (Mr. Simpson), who is responding to this debate on behalf of the Official Opposition, me and a number of other members of the great and good, including Andrew Neil, outside NATO headquarters in the early 1970s on a student study tour. My hair was somewhat longer and my hon. Friend’s moustache was somewhat fuller, but otherwise we are fully recognisable. That demonstrates that we, and indeed all hon. Members in this Chamber, grew up in a world of two superpowers—the United States and the Soviet Union—although throughout the cold war the United States economy was far more advanced than and twice as large as that of the Soviet Union.
The collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 greatly enhanced the pre-eminent position of the United States and, by implication, the west. Terms such as unipolarity and phrases like “the end of history” sought to describe what appeared to be a unique situation. Those of us living in the United Kingdom and Europe, whose nation states had been the pre-eminent powers from the start of the industrial revolution until the mid-20th century, accepted as a given the west’s ability to shape global history. Well, all of us are now going to have to adapt to a new reality, as are our children and succeeding generations. We are witnessing a significant change, which, although it is still in its early days, will transform the world: the rise of China.
Global Insight, a US economics consultancy, expects China to overtake the United States as the world’s largest manufacturer by 2020. An article demonstrating that in the Financial Times in May 2007 was entitled, “US to lose role as world’s top manufacturer by 2020.” Goldman Sachs estimates that by 2025 the United States and China will have similar-sized economies, but by 2050 China will be the largest economy, followed some way behind by America and India. Incidentally, only two European countries are predicted to be in the top 10 by 2050: this country and Germany, in ninth and 10th positions respectively.
China is a country where gross domestic product grew 30 per cent. from 2004 to 2006, investment since 2000 has tripled and exports have quadrupled. China has getting on for a quarter of the world’s population. Last week it was announced that China has overtaken the US to become the biggest car market in the world—more than 13.5 million vehicles were sold in China last year—and, interestingly, for four out of every five Chinese customers that car is the first they have driven.
My hon. Friend is painting a full picture of what China is today. Of course, it was not always so. At times China was clearly a closed society, and British businesses did not trade there as they do now. Will he pay tribute to the British businessmen who, with entrepreneurial wit and wisdom—some in the 48 Group and those known as the icebreakers—went into China and started trading with it in the early days when it was not fashionable to do so?
Those in the 48 Group are much to be commended, as are those in the China-Britain Business Council, who continue to work hard to promote trade between the UK and China.
This week it was announced that China is now the world’s largest exporter, with an economy on track to grow by 9.5 per cent. in 2010. If our economy were likely to grow anything like that we would all collectively be singing the hallelujah chorus. But China’s growth is in large part a testament to the fusing of foreign capital and Chinese hard work in that country.
During the next four decades the world will become a different place. The future will be different from the past and anything other than a policy of fully engaging and seeking the best possible mutual understanding with China is simply not an option. A part of the challenge for all of us in the UK will involve visualising a world that will look different in 10, 20 or 30 years, particularly our relationship with China. Western dependency on Chinese products will grow, especially as we need to keep interest rates down.
An element of the challenge of our relationship with China is that, as a country, China is somewhat sui generis, as one of our colleagues, George Walden, observed in his book, “China: A Wolf in the World?” I quote from certain books, Mr. Fraser, because I do not want to give the impression that the only person in the Conservative party who reads books is my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Norfolk. I want it to be understood that some of the rest of us read books as well. [Interruption.] I should say to the Minister that that is an in-joke.
In his excellent book, “China: A Wolf in the World?”, George Walden, who was a young diplomat in Beijing for many years, wrote:
“Which other country with a billion plus population—a five thousand year old civilisation who from its own perspective has always seen itself as the centre of the world—which has been catapulted from extreme left-wing totalitarianism to a headlong rush to consumerism and the outward signs of capitalism in just three decades—whilst at the same time maintaining a Communist political structure”.
That quote demonstrates that China is a unique country. Understanding China will be one of the great challenges of the 21st century.
China sees itself as a civilisation state of understandable antiquity. We all see ourselves from our own perspective. Emperor Qianlong’s comments to George III’s petition are probably almost as relevant today:
“I have perused your memorial. The earnest terms in which it is couched reveal a respectful humility on your part, which is highly praiseworthy…My capital is the hub and centre about which all quarters of the globe revolve…I do not forget the lonely remoteness of your island, cut off from the world by intervening wastes of sea…Our dynasty, swaying the myriad races of the globe, extends the same benevolence towards all.”
I suspect that quite a number in Beijing, in slightly different terms, still perceive us slightly in that way today.
As Martin Jacques observes in his recent book, “When China Rules the World”, China
“still has almost the same borders that it acquired at the maximum extent of the Qing empire in the late eighteenth century. The state remains as pivotal in society and as sacrosanct as it was in imperial times. Confucius, its great architect, is in the process of experiencing a revival and his precepts still, in important measure, inform the way China thinks and behaves.”
He went on to say, perhaps more contentiously:
“The legitimacy of the Chinese state, profound and deeply rooted, does not depend on an electoral mandate; indeed, even if universal suffrage was to be introduced, the taproots of the state’s legitimacy would still lie in the country’s millennial foundations. The Chinese state remains a highly competent institution, probably superior to any other state-tradition in the world and likely to exercise a powerful influence on the rest of the world in the future.”
My concern, and the reason why I sought this debate, is that during the end of last year and the start of this year three things happened, which, in different ways, show that China and this country need to make much greater efforts to understand each other. None of us wants a situation in which we kowtow to China’s increasing economic influence, and China will not listen if we give the impression of hectoring. Engagement must be on the basis of mutual respect, and we should endeavour to understand each other.
In the case of the Copenhagen conference on climate change, the bottom line was that China did not want a bottom line. As one Danish official observed, “China doesn’t do numbers”. China was not even willing for developed countries to set out their own CO2 reduction targets. One can understand that China—the largest CO2 emitter in the world—still sees itself as a developing nation, and would be wary of any target that might be set. However, one is inclined to ask: where were the sherpas? Why had China not communicated its misgivings much earlier, and how was it that others, such as ourselves and our colleagues in the United States, had not picked up on those concerns? Why was it left until the last two days of the conference?
I was not at Copenhagen—I do not think that any hon. Members present were—but Mark Lynas, a writer for The Guardian, was attached to one of the delegations. In an article written immediately after the events, when matters were fresh in his mind, he observed:
“The truth is this: China wrecked the talks, intentionally humiliated Barack Obama, and insisted on an awful ‘deal’ so western leaders would walk away carrying the blame. How do I know this? Because I was in the room and saw it happen. China’s strategy was simple: block the open negotiations for two weeks, and then ensure that the closed-door deal made it look as if the west had failed the world’s poor once again. And sure enough, the aid agencies, civil society movements and environmental groups all took the bait… All very predictable, but the complete opposite of the truth...China gutted the deal behind the scenes, and then left its proxies to savage it in public…it was China’s representative who insisted that industrialised country targets, previously agreed as an 80 per cent. cut by 2050, be taken out of the deal.”
The suggestion is that the whole Copenhagen conference and the accord were effectively undermined and sabotaged by Chinese mendacity—that is how Lynas puts it.
I believe that it is unlikely that China deliberately intended to ruin the Copenhagen conference, or that it wanted to be accused of systematically wrecking the accord. It is interesting that almost immediately after the conference, a senior member of the Chinese negotiating team at Copenhagen was shifted. The media have been speculating that that was punishment for the debacle of the climate change talks. He Yafei, who was at the forefront of the negotiations, was removed as Vice-Foreign Minister, and it is suggested that he was removed for failing to ensure smooth relations between China, the US and Europe.
In advance of what was clearly a major world conference, why did China and the rest of the world not have better established negotiating positions and work out where the red lines were going to be? There was the bizarre situation of Barack Obama having to burst into the room on practically the last day of the conference, find a seat, and help to guide the negotiations to the Copenhagen accord. I hope that the UK, those in the embassy in Beijing and representatives of the European Union mission, are talking to their counterparts in Beijing to seek to better understand whether China meant to wreck the talks, or whether there was a tragic failure of understanding. If China did mean to wreck the talks, that is a serious matter. China takes on the rotating presidency of the UN Security Council this month, and it cannot afford misunderstandings any more than we can.
I attended the Copenhagen conference for one of the days, although I was not privy to that particular meeting. Like my hon. Friend, I would be amazed if China had gone wilfully to try to sabotage the talks. Does my hon. Friend agree that in the past, Hu Jintao has said supportive things about wanting to tackle climate change, and that we must work closely with other countries to ensure that China has nothing to fear from coming to an agreement about what action needs to be taken? Vast tracts of China are developing but are impoverished. China must have no fear of working with the west, so that we can reach an agreement that will not prevent the developing parts of China from progressing into the 21st century.
My hon. Friend uses an extremely good phrase—we must convince China that it has nothing to fear. It must have nothing to fear from being part of the international community, from moving towards more democratic processes or from opening up society. Today, we have the bizarre situation that Google is threatening to pull out of China altogether. However, it is difficult to see how the world’s largest exporter, and a country whose economy is growing exponentially, will manage if internet providers start shutting down services. There could be a collision between the concerns of the Chinese Communist party and Government, who on the one hand want to maintain party control, but on the other hand want economic expansion. We must help China to recognise that it has nothing to fear.
Something else that happened while the House was in recess was the conviction of Liu Xiaobo for supposedly subverting state power. His trial lasted just two hours, and resulted in an 11-year sentence of imprisonment for doing no more than seeking to promote democracy. He simply said that China should have a more democratic system—something that many people have said.
Zhao Ziyang was the general secretary of the Chinese Communist party at the time of the Tiananmen square massacre. As hon. Members will recall, he intervened with the students and tried to get the demonstration called off. For his pains, he was sacked as general secretary, and spent the rest of his life under house arrest. He managed to record his memoirs on a children’s tape recorder, and after he died, what was in effect his autobiography was discovered and published.
Zhao Ziyang quotes his predecessor, Hu Yaobang, general secretary until 1987, who stated:
“In the history of mankind, in the struggle of the newly emerged bourgeoisie and the working class against feudal dictatorship, the formation of the ideas of democracy, freedom, equality, and fraternity greatly liberated the human spirit. The most important lessons learned during the development of socialism were: first, neglecting development of the economy, and second, failing to build real democratic politics.”
Therefore, two successive general secretaries of the Chinese Communist party recognised that it will be difficult to build China without having some regard to enhancing democracy. It is tragic that someone who did no more than promote Charter 08, which calls for a constitution guaranteeing human rights, should be serving 11 years of imprisonment.
That is not an isolated case. Last July, the Chinese Government suddenly detained the famous lawyer Dr. Xu Zhiyong, who is an activist renowned for his work on behalf of China’s most disadvantaged, and for his commitment to advancing the rule of law in China. He is not an extremist; he is a mainstream lawyer. He had a clear record of support for incremental reform in his litigation, which was aimed at the enforcement of guarantees already enumerated in the Chinese constitution, and he had won a seat on his local people’s congress in a district of Beijing. However, he was detained on what clearly, as I think everyone recognised, were somewhat trumped-up charges in respect of “suspicion of evading taxes”.
Last year’s Amnesty International report on China makes dismal reading. It states:
“Individuals who peacefully exercised their rights to freedom of expression, assembly and association remained at high risk of harassment, house arrest, arbitrary detention, and torture and other ill-treatment. Family members of human rights activists, including children, were increasingly targeted by the authorities, including being subjected to long-term house arrest and harassment by security forces. Lawyers who took on sensitive cases were also at risk; several had their licences suspended, and others lost their jobs. Some lawyers were specifically warned by the authorities not to take on sensitive cases”.
The reality is that the conviction and extremely harsh sentencing of Liu Xiaobo mark a further severe restriction on the scope of freedom of expression in China. It is a system that still massively restricts freedom of opinion and is very suspicious of anyone who organises, but just as we must seek to understand China and the Chinese position, so too must they understand that, for us, human rights are universal. That is the whole point about the universal declaration of human rights. If we as individuals and parliamentarians in this country regularly raise issues about human rights, it is not because we wish to be antagonistic or hostile or to appear hectoring, but because we believe that we have an innate duty as world citizens to seek to defend human rights irrespective of borders.
Lastly, there was the case of Akmal Shaikh, which resulted in the Prime Minister saying that he was “appalled” and a spokesperson for the Chinese Government retorting:
“We urge the British side to mend its errors and avoid damaging China-British relations.”
I cannot recall when the Prime Minister and Ministers were exhorted by an official spokesperson of the Chinese Government to “mend their errors”. That is going back almost to the days of the cultural revolution.
Clearly, the case of Akmal Shaikh was very sad. It is difficult to know whether Akmal Shaikh was so mentally ill as to be unfit to plead, but it was very sad that the Chinese authorities did not feel able to spend sufficient time making those inquiries. It is fair to say that the House is now collectively opposed to the death penalty anywhere in the world.
There seems to have been a breakdown of communication between us and the Chinese Government. There must have been, because the fact that the Prime Minister used a word such as “appalled” about the action of the Chinese Government and that the Chinese Government responded with a phrase such as “mend our errors” suggests that there had clearly been an expectation on the part of our embassy in Beijing and the Government and the Foreign Office that pleas of mitigation on behalf of Akmal Shaikh would succeed. On the part of the Chinese Government, there was clearly frustration that they were being misunderstood and it looked as though we were trying to interfere publicly in their administration of justice. The point I am making is that we both need to make far better attempts to understand each other and what we are really saying to each other, so that we do not end up with a public spat of that kind. It was hardly a good way to end one decade of Anglo-Chinese relationships and start another.
Of course, there is an enormous amount for us to celebrate with China. As my hon. Friend the Member for Ribble Valley (Mr. Evans) said, we increasingly see trade expanding between the UK and China, which is very good news. This year, we shall have the Shanghai expo. I understand that the UK national day at the Shanghai expo is 8 September 2010—that is 8.9.10, which must be extremely good feng shui. We are about to start the year of the tiger. We are delighted to see ever increasing numbers of Chinese students coming to the United Kingdom, which is testament to China’s belief in education and the belief that students will receive a good education in the United Kingdom. That is also to be celebrated. Considerable numbers of Chinese tourists come to the UK. Indeed, the largest single destination for Chinese tourists in the UK is Bicester Village in my constituency—I exhort any officials in the Foreign Office who have not yet been to Bicester Village to ensure that the Minister visits it.
I met a group of young people from China who came to the House when visiting the United Kingdom. They met representatives of the British Youth Council, of which I am an honorary president. Does my hon. Friend believe that the bonds can be cemented most effectively by young people from China visiting the United Kingdom and vice versa? When the young people I referred to were talking together in the Jubilee Room, not far from this Chamber, one could tell that the interests of the young people from both countries were very much in common.
Of course. That is absolutely right. My daughter was fortunate enough to learn Mandarin at school and spent a large part of her gap year in Beijing, which substantially enhanced her insight into China and the younger generation of Chinese citizens. Young people from the two countries communicate at a perfectly good level, and that is all good strengthening stuff.
We must all accept that in the 21st century we live in a world where China is becoming an increasingly powerful nation. It is a civilisation state. It is increasingly powerful economically and in terms of global politics. It therefore behoves both the Chinese and ourselves to understand much better what the other is saying. It is not for us to tell China what form of democracy—what form of government—it should have. I hope that China would see that it is in its own interest to have the greatest possible access to information and that censorship is eventually self-defeating. I hope that China will come to realise sooner rather than later that bearing down on individuals’ human rights is also self-defeating because ultimately, as we have seen in the Soviet bloc and elsewhere, the human spirit will eventually overcome such restrictions.
However, it behoves us to make every effort better to understand China’s position and it behoves China to seek to understand our position. That is also important in ensuring that the Foreign Office and the Treasury recognise that the Foreign Office must have the resources necessary to ensure that the embassy in Beijing and consulates elsewhere can have the resource to communicate with their opposite numbers, and that we have information and decent informed discussion with the Chinese. Otherwise, we shall have future tragedies of failed international conferences such as Copenhagen, and the world—the future of civilisation—simply cannot afford other failed Copenhagens.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Banbury (Tony Baldry) on introducing what is yet another debate about China. It always grieves me that these debates have to be in Westminster Hall. Yesterday we had a debate about the Goldstone report—a really critical debate about Palestine. Where was it? It was in Westminster Hall. There were so many hon. Members here that not everyone could be called to speak. I ask that the Government sometimes rethink their priorities on foreign affairs.
Let me make a couple of points in response to the hon. Gentleman’s speech, much of which I agree with. He did not say much about the World Bank or the International Monetary Fund, but we need to move faster on China’s membership of both bodies. After all, Belgium and Luxembourg have more votes than China on both, and we know their GDP is much bigger than China’s—[Laughter.] If we do not move faster, the time will come when America and the rest of the world want the dollars that are in Beijing and Shanghai, but China will say, “Do you know what? We don’t like your banking systems. We don’t like your IMF and World Bank. We’ll set up our own system.” We should not think that they will not do that.
One of the big issues that we misunderstand is that the Chinese—much like Israel—do not need the western world as much as the western world thinks that it needs them. If the Foreign Office misunderstands that, the consequences will be very serious. One way in which we could be more proactive is by saying that although it might have been right in 1945 for the World Bank, the IMF and the United Nations to be in Washington and New York, it is not right today. One thing that we could do is move one of those organisations to China. If China is to be the world’s leading economic power by 2020, it is incumbent on us to help it with its political understanding of the world, and moving an international organisation there will move Chinese diplomacy on light years.
I make that point in the light of discussions about Google last night and this morning. When Google went into China, it agreed to censorship rules that went against America’s first amendment, which is a completely back-to-front philosophy for Google’s owners to adopt, given where they come from, their background and the fact that the company’s chief executive is a Republican. In any case, Baidu, the Chinese search engine, is much bigger in China than Google, so perhaps this is not about the number of attacks on Google. After all, Google is the greatest technology company in the world and should be able to handle such attacks, which happen to every company. I think that there are between 5,000 and 10,000 a day—I would love to see the figures—but that, in a sense, is an aside.
On Akmal Shaikh, the real issue was that the trial lasted for just half a day. In relation to China’s human rights and the style of its legal system, we are asking the Chinese whether such trials, which create tension between countries, could be open not only to the Chinese public, but to non-Chinese, so that we can see that justice is done. That is the crux of the issue in such cases.
I turn now to my own thoughts about China. I place on record my thanks to the Industry and Parliament Trust, which took me to Shanghai in 2008. In September last year, I also went on an amazing visit to Beijing with the all-party group on China. We made the 25-hour train journey to Tibet, where I learned a good deal more about Tibet. Those who have not understood what is going on in China should consider the fact that Russia and Canada, where the temperature can be minus 20° C, have had trains for considerably longer than China has. However, although the temperature on the railway that we used is sometimes minus 35° C—it goes up to 15,000 feet—the service has not missed a single day, while the services in Canada and Russia both have. In other words, the technology in China is the finest in the world, and we misunderstand how fast things are progressing.
To give another example, more university papers were published in China in the past year than in the whole British university system. If we use such figures for university research to judge universities, China is already ahead of us. The pace of change is substantial, but that change is not just economic; it is fundamental and it is taking place at every level.
In addition to those two visits, I have been to Hong Kong, where I was brought up as a child. Although I am not writing my autobiography, I am working on a major work called “The Foreign Office: A Disaster Abroad in the Twentieth Century”. Everywhere I have looked, the Foreign Office has been pretty disastrous. We got the middle east, Africa and India wrong, and if we are not careful we will get China wrong, too. That is partly because the Foreign Office is independent inside Whitehall. If we are to change in the 21st century and hang on to the title of “Great Britain”, the Foreign Office will have to grow up and come into the system that exists in this country.
I say that because I have spent a huge part of my life abroad and visited many places. I was a member of the African National Congress. I care enormously about how Britain is perceived abroad. In that respect, I have spoken to our new ambassador in Beijing. As I said in Shanghai, the quality of our people under ambassadorship in China—I will not say that I am deeply distressed about it, because that is the wrong word—needs a fundamental rethink. How can it be right that we have fewer people in the largest country in the world than we do in America? We need to reshape our thinking; we need more consulates in China than in Europe and America. We have said that many times before in this place, but nothing actually changes.
In that respect, the issue of Copenhagen is interesting. The hon. Member for Banbury asked why we had not picked up the feelers and realised how China felt about Copenhagen. Why did we not do that? Is our regime in Beijing big enough? Is it intelligent enough? Did we not meet the Americans and other Europeans in Beijing to discuss China? Did we never have a discussion in Beijing, with our opposition, about Copenhagen? Where were we? Why was the issue allowed to fester? What has changed? We have not had that debate here. We have not asked how China went to Copenhagen without our having used all the soft diplomacy skills that we are supposed to have. Perhaps the Minister can enlighten us on what happened.
On Tibet, I have written to the Speaker, and I have not yet had an answer, although my letter was sent in October. We fundamentally changed our policy on Tibet, as a result not of a debate or a vote in the House, but of a statement. That is not how a democratic Government go about changing policy: if we want to change policy, we have a debate so that those who do not feel comfortable have a chance to put their feelings on the record. In future, I hope that we will not change policy on any part of foreign affairs as a result of just a statement. I say that irrespective of which party forms the next Government.
We have talked about the economic power that China will enjoy by 2020. I have also said that we are pretty under-represented in our foreign embassies and consulates in China. Now, however, I want to come to the issue that is really gnawing at me following my trip to Tibet. On her first official visit after she was nominated, Hillary Clinton said that she and America were downgrading—she did not quite put it like that, but the meaning was clear—America’s resolve on human rights in China. That approach is wrong, but it has washed over the rest of the western world. People are thinking, “Okay. If that’s America’s attitude because they need the trade, maybe we’ll follow suit.” That is a very dangerous way to go. As the hon. Gentleman said, we are talking about universal rights, and we should stand up for them. He mentioned Russia, but I could also point out how Poland changed because of one person. These things happen, and we need think only of Solzhenitsyn and his books in Russia. The individual matters, and universal rights are just that—universal.
The issue that concerns me most, however, is Tibet. Lords Steel and Alton have put forward some rather clever ideas about how to cope with Lhasa and the Dalai Lama. If the Dalai Lama dies before the issues of Lhasa and Tibet are resolved, he will die a hero, which will cause even more problems for the Chinese. Italy reached a solution on a similar issue when the Catholic Church was given independence within the state. Lord Alton has proposed that the small part of Lhasa where the two main temples are situated should be the equivalent of the Vatican for the Buddhist faith. I ask the Government to start making representations about resolving the issue, which will fester if we do not resolve it.
We had discussions in Beijing, and I should mention the Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, my hon. Friend the Member for Bury, South (Mr. Lewis), who he is not here today, although he is absent for good reason. In the Northern Ireland context the Americans always talked to both sides; in the Sri Lankan Tamil context Archbishop Tutu was talking in Dubai; in the Palestinian and Israeli context the Norwegians were talking for nine months, without anyone knowing. There are ways of coming to resolutions. I ask the Minister to ponder whether President Clinton and former Prime Minister Blair could not be asked to go to Beijing to talk through the matter, given the middle east and Northern Ireland peace talks in which they were involved. When I raised that in Beijing, the official view of the Chinese Communist party officials was that it would be a sign of weakness to involve a third party in their problem. I said that it was a sign of maturity in a growing power if it asked an outsider for help. After all, those meetings are held in deep confidence. I said it would be seen as a strength. I think that we are between two positions: China says Tibet is theirs, and we say it is theirs, but that it belongs to the rest of the world too.
The hon. Member for Banbury mentioned Expo 2010. In some ways, hard diplomacy failed in the last part of the 20th century. We need only look at Iraq and Afghanistan to see that. Even if we were to win in Afghanistan, which seems highly unlikely, what have we left, and how much damage has been done in the region? In the same way, America went into Vietnam. Macmillan’s advice was by all means to go in, but to remember that we had the same situation in the Sudan; it cost us £1 million a week and in 1920 we gave it back. He saw that that was exactly what would happen in Vietnam. What will happen in Afghanistan? Exactly the same. We will have spent millions of pounds protecting something that, in the end, will go back to what it was. That is the history of Afghanistan.
My point is that in the 21st century hard diplomacy should be secondary to soft diplomacy. What we have not understood about Joseph Nye’s work—and I am pleased that the British Council has invited him here next Wednesday for a major lecture; after all, he wrote “Soft Power” in 1994—is that we have astonishingly good soft power people working for us. They are perhaps the best in the world: BBC radio and television overseas, the British Council and the Open university. The British Museum is advising museum staff in Beijing. It is in Shanghai and has a major exhibition there and a major part of our Expo exhibition. The British Council is everywhere. However, we ask both those bodies to do more and more for less and less. We have not produced—but I should love the Foreign Office to publish it—a strategy for soft power in the world. We should build on the three British bodies that I have mentioned, which are outstanding in the world—and we have many others—to create the best diplomacy, which is soft diplomacy.
I want to conclude with a few words about the Chinese Ambassador Madam Fu Ying, who is leaving shortly. I have got to know her incredibly well. She is by some way the best ambassador that China has had in the 12 years I have been in Parliament. I have even taken her to Twickenham; show me a Chinese woman who will say “Yes, I’ll come to Twickenham”—but then she went to watch rugby union in Australia, too, when she was there. She understands not just hard power but soft power, and has been outstanding, even if we have had our differences on Tibet and human rights. We shall miss her, and we wish her well. Other hon. Members want to speak, but I want to give the message to the Foreign Office to rethink its overall strategy on China.
It behoves me too to thank the hon. Member for Banbury (Tony Baldry) for securing the debate, which comes at a crucial time. I am humbled to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Sittingbourne and Sheppey (Derek Wyatt), who always speaks with such authority and wisdom. He showed us the point we have reached—when we need to think and to re-examine our relationship with China. It is imperative that we recognise that China has made a strategic shift in the world, and that we must make that shift too.
The hon. Member for Banbury said several times that the Chinese must understand that they have nothing to fear. I would say it is we who must understand and it is we who have things to fear, if we do not recognise the shift in relationships across the world because of the new China, and its position in and view of the world. It is time for us to stop talking to China from the point of view of a parent-child relationship, and to move to an adult to adult relationship, in which rather than telling the Chinese things, we listen actively. I have all too often seen us go into meetings with the Chinese saying we are there to converse, when really we are there to tell.
One clear example of the change that has taken place is China’s influence in Africa, which we ignore at our peril. Its influence in countries where it has invested a lot of money, and where it is trading and taking many of the raw resources that it needs to help its economy grow, will clearly have effects in the world in the short and long terms.
The hon. Gentleman is right. There has been a further arrogance in our thinking. We have assumed that we could allow China to move into Africa and that we could watch and almost tolerate its frequent pillaging of natural resources there, particularly its destruction of rain forests and removal of trees, but that China would eventually begin to see the error of its ways and would think and operate according to the tenets of the west. That is not going to happen. It is time we recognised that and saw the need to form a new relationship and dialogue with China.
There was an excellent article in The Guardian yesterday by Simon Tisdall, and I urge hon. Members who have not read it to do so, because he sets out how relationships with China are turning chilly. There is a huge risk that we shall expect China to work on the same basis of compromise and consensus on which the west has for so long operated, and that we shall fail to see that China does not recognise the need to work on that basis. My hon. Friend the Member for Sittingbourne and Sheppey talked about Madam Fu Ying, and I endorse every word he said about how she epitomises China’s use of soft power. It is virtually impossible to pick a fight with her. She has charm and is calm, amusing and witty, but has a core of absolute strength and an unbiddable determination to have her own way. The velvet glove masks a solid, hard power. The fact is that she will listen, nod and smile, but she will not move. That is what we need to understand. We need to develop a new relationship with China.
There is a saying that “You never want a serious crisis to go to waste”. We have had a crisis with Copenhagen; and we have had a crisis with the cancellation of the UK-China human rights dialogue. Let us use those crises, recognising that it is time for us to make a strategic shift from the global dominance of the west. We must find new ways of accommodating the world that is emerging.
Societies are inherently linked to their past, and China is no different. Imperial China depended upon a vastly powerful and infallible centre, as communist China still does. In neither system have human rights, constitutional checks and balances or any form of democracy figured prominently.
China sees the execution of Akmal Shaikh as part of its way of operating. It does not see the need to move into a world of negotiation on human rights matters. There are times when we have to talk differently with China about the place it wants in the world. Part of the problem is that we in Europe are used to consensus. To become a member state of the European Union, there is a set of rules that have to be complied with; those standards have to be met to be a member of the EU. To become a leading power in the United Nations, however, countries do not have to fit in with any rules. They can become leading members, powerful members, of the UN and still ignore human rights. They can ignore consensus. They can go their own way.
We are moving into a new world, which has a new level of sophistication in dialogue. I believe that the Foreign Office can deal with that, but it is time to step up and time to grow. China is understandably very confident about its recent success, but we need to understand how China works. Its leaders are effective technocrats; they are managers, they are pragmatic. They are deliberately uncharismatic compared to some of their predecessors. China has grown fast, and its leaders have been thrust on to the world stage.
Foreign policy did not previously register high on the Chinese Government’s agenda, which was to move its economic development forward. Its global mission was to improve its economic position in the world. It has succeeded, and can now afford to grow its internal markets and put less emphasis on its world markets. China therefore has less need to consider how it is viewed by the west. Economically, it is extremely powerful. It holds the world’s financial system in its hands. We need to engage with that new China.
I have found a keenness to improve bilateral understanding between the two countries. The UK-China leadership forum of which I have been privileged to be part for the past few years, held its third meeting at Ditchley park in September last year. The forum brings together political figures and policy makers from both sides to explore an understanding of our respective positions on the key issues of the day. That form of dialogue is immensely valuable, and I hope it will continue and flourish. I hope that those from the top of both Governments will find a new way of talking and communicating to increase understanding on both sides. It is no longer a case of explaining the west to China. China has to take the proactive step of explaining its views to the west and how it sees the relationship with the west.
China is realistic about Copenhagen. It has the greatest problem in the world on climate change. The pace of desertification in China has doubled over the past 20 years; 25 per cent. of the land area is already desert, and air pollution is prematurely killing 400,000 people a year. The country is not unaware of the dangers and risks of climate change.
I said that China’s foreign policy is driven by its need for economic development. It is also driven by an appetite for oil. We need to work with China and talk with China about a path for greater resource efficiency and a low-carbon future. We need to support that with shared science and technology, finding new ways of solving the problem together.
Questions have been asked about why we did not understand what China’s position would be at Copenhagen. I suggest that it was the usual problem—that we were telling China. We were not listening; we were not being responsive or aware of what it was saying. The balance in the world has changed. It has moved from the G8 to the G20. We need to be aware that China has an increasing level of support in the G20, and that the balance is moving.
China has joined the World Trade Organisation and is a judicious member of the United Nations Security Council, but we need to be aware too of the Shanghai co-operation agreement and its impact on China’s relationships with many other countries. That relationship is one in which countries do not interfere in each other’s affairs, do not set standards for behaviour and do not demand human rights. However, they offer mutual support, defence and trade. I do not suggest that it is a route that we in the west should follow, but we need to understand the implications for relationships around the world, especially for countries that have joined the Shanghai co-operation agreement.
It has been said that we need to consider our future in Afghanistan. It is something on which we have the opportunity for a new dialogue with China. Instability in China is seen as a high risk, and Afghanistan and Pakistan could create huge problems for it. So far, China has on the whole sat back and ignored that risk. It is time to engage with China, telling it that it has responsibilities and listening to the response in order to try a new kind of dialogue.
China is softening its borders with the spread of its own people—to Russia and Mongolia, and to central Asia, Burma and Laos. I believe that its mantra of non-intervention will gradually soften, but we need to be in dialogue with China to ensure that it happens. We must consult China on international issues, especially in relation to Iran, Darfur, Kosovo, Burma, the middle east and Africa. Let us have a new dialogue.
As the hon. Member for Banbury said, many Chinese students come to this country every year and there is a huge opportunity to develop a mutual understanding. It is a way of forming a new relationship. Let us move forward into that new relationship and take the opportunities to forge closer links with China on a new transnational agenda, which covers issues such as energy, the environment, climate change and overseas investment, in a way that respects Chinese interests. Let us find a new, safer world in which we have nothing to fear because we have found a way of talking and understanding.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Banbury (Tony Baldry) on securing the debate. Three months ago, we had a debate in this Chamber on the implications for UK policy of relations between China and the west, which was called by the hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Mr. Field). During the debate, we touched on economic and trade issues, security, human rights and Tibet. Rather than going back over those issues, I will try to focus on developments since then. As China is a rising superpower, it is important that we return to the subject of China with some regularity because much has happened over the past three months.
As was mentioned by the hon. Member for Sittingbourne and Sheppey (Derek Wyatt), we have had the positive news that Google will no longer be censoring its search results in China. Indeed, the lack of media freedom was an issue that we discussed during that last debate. The news from Google is very welcome to those of us who have been incredibly uncomfortable with Google’s capitulation to China’s demand for restriction of the media and control of what can be viewed on the internet. Such behaviour is in total opposition to the freedom of information that we have come to associate with the internet and, in some ways, to the very principles and mantras that a company such as Google stands for, particularly with its slogan, “Don’t be evil”. It will be interesting to see how China responds to Google’s move, whether Google will be able to continue to operate in China and how the Chinese public, who are used to using Google, will react. We will follow developments on that front very carefully.
However, it has not all been such good news. The three issues on which I should like to focus are the tragic execution of Akmal Shaikh, the Copenhagen conference and the deterioration of the situation in Sudan.
Tragically, on 29 December, Akmal Shaikh was executed. The death penalty itself is abhorrent, as we discussed in a recent debate in this Chamber. The lack of due process and the mental health problems of Akmal Shaikh made his a particularly difficult case.
The secrecy of the Chinese judicial system was also very evident. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office was not told that the death penalty had been handed down until months after the sentence was passed. Clive Stafford Smith from Reprieve said:
“Despite having flown to China to be with him, Shaikh’s family were not told of his death until he was already apparently buried in the frozen soil of Urumqi. Nobody told the family how or where he would be killed. No family member or independent observer was allowed to witness his death, view his body or verify his burial. We have only the word of a press release that he was even killed.”
We can only imagine what it is like to be in the shoes of the family in such a situation. As I said, the death penalty in itself is abhorrent enough quite apart from the lack of the proper process and dignity that should go alongside any judicial decision. I understand that Akmal’s family have written to the Foreign Secretary to ask for an inquest into his death to be held in the UK, which could provide much needed closure to the grieving family, and I hope that the Government will honour the request.
I understand that both the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary made representations to the Chinese calling for clemency. My hon. Friend the Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Carmichael), who followed the case closely, exchanged correspondence with the Government on it and concluded that the Government did everything they could for Akmal Shaikh. Given that they were not successful, will the Minister tell us whether he thinks that a different strategy could have yielded a different outcome so that we can avoid further tragedies?
Turning to Copenhagen, I, like other hon. Members, read the article by Mark Lynas and was shocked by the representations that were given. The image of our Prime Minister, President Obama and Ban Ki-moon sitting in a room while a second-ranking Chinese official ran in and out with the political negotiation equivalent of, “Computer says no” just seems a ridiculous way to conduct negotiations on one of the biggest threats that the world faces.
Two years ago, the Environmental Audit Committee visited China as part of an investigation into the international response to climate change. I was impressed on that visit by how seriously the Chinese were taking the issue, particularly with regard to carbon intensity reduction—if not absolute carbon reduction itself. Their technological advances seemed to be far ahead of the game; the hon. Member for Sittingbourne and Sheppey called them impressive. Therefore, the Chinese recognise the severe threat posed by climate change, and with a huge number of their population still living in poverty, reliant on melt water from the Himalayas and facing the risk of desertification and other such challenges, one would have expected a different response from them in the international negotiations. Will the Minister tell us what strategy the Government will adopt to bring China back on track? Obviously, securing a transition to a low-carbon world is one of the FCO’s key priorities.
Presumably, an investigation is under way into how the problems at Copenhagen could have been averted. Other hon. Members have already asked how it was that we did not recognise the extent of the difficulties that China would pose. I appreciate that such an investigation is not just for the UK, because many other countries around the world had a huge stake in ensuring success as well. None the less, we have to ask the questions and find the answers if we are to move forward and reach a meaningful global deal.
On 5 January, the Climate Change Secretary told the House:
“The conference was held up by disagreements over procedure…Those disputes about process meant that it was not until 3 am on Friday, the last day of a two-week conference, that substantive negotiations began on what became the Copenhagen accord.”—[Official Report, 5 January 2010; Vol. 503, c. 43.]
I wonder whether the procedural issues should have been resolved in the weeks before the conference. However, it is not clear whether there were actually procedural issues, or whether countries that did not want an agreement put forward the procedural issues as a blocking move. If there truly were procedural issues, they should have been resolved before the conference began.
My hon. Friend the Member for North Southwark and Bermondsey (Simon Hughes) has said that just as the UN Security Council sits in permanent session, so, too, should a UN climate council. The Climate Change Secretary has said that such an option should be considered, so I am interested to know whether the FCO will take that suggestion to the UN. It would be interesting to know what strategy the FCO is adopting, given that we are hoping for a global climate deal from the Bonn conference in June.
I know from conversations with FCO officials in posts in various countries that climate change is not just a departmental priority written on a piece of paper, but something to which individuals have a great deal of personal commitment. That is a huge asset that we must use. Moreover, we must assess where our policy is not working, particularly in respect of the Copenhagen conference.
Let me briefly touch on Sudan, particularly in relation to the report that was released last week, “Rescuing the Peace in Southern Sudan”, by a coalition of non-governmental organisations. The report described the continuing violence in southern Sudan, with 2,500 people killed in 2009 and 350,000 fleeing their homes. National elections are to be held in April and a referendum in 2011.
I am coming to the point that is relevant to this debate but I thank you, Mr. Fraser, for that advice.
Basically, I wanted to ask the Minister for his assessment of the attention the Chinese Government are paying to the situation in southern Sudan, given that China has such important trade relations with that area and that China’s involvement is crucial to finding a global resolution to what is going on there, which could end up becoming a very dangerous situation.
I appreciate the opportunity created by the hon. Member for Banbury in securing this debate, which has allowed us to raise a set of issues relating to China, and I look forward to hearing the Minister’s response.
It is a pleasure, Mr. Fraser, to be under your chairmanship today. I too congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Tony Baldry) on introducing this very timely debate.
As was said by the hon. Member for East Dunbartonshire (Jo Swinson), who speaks for the Liberal Democrats, we were debating a similar subject in Westminster Hall on 13 October 2009—the implications for UK policy of relations between China and the west. That debate had a somewhat broader remit and it was, of course, introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Mr. Field). In passing, I want to say to the hon. Member for Sittingbourne and Sheppey (Derek Wyatt), who I do not think was able to attend the debate in October, that quite a bit of it was about the economic and business aspects of the relationship between China and the west.
I do not intend to reprise what I said or to comment on things that were said by others during that debate. As far as this debate is concerned, the crucial point relates to the three specific issues that my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury flagged up and which were important at the end of 2009 and the start of 2010. The first issue was why the Copenhagen climate change discussions failed and who was to blame, if I can put it crudely. The second issue was the conviction and persecution of a number of dissidents in China; that is a continuing issue, but it appears that there have been two or three high-profile cases recently. The third issue, which a number of hon. Members have already commented on, was the execution of Akmal Shaikh.
The crucial point is whether those issues represent a blip in our relations with China. The Foreign Office called in Ambassador Fu Ying for an interview without mao-tai to express our displeasure at what had happened to Akmal Shaikh. There was then an incredibly critical verbal reply from the Chinese. Is that a blip or is there a longer trend?
Having listened to the comments of a number of hon. Members, my personal view is that we have ended up having a rather simplistic debate. The idea that China has never been interested in foreign policy was mentioned. Foreign policy has always been subsumed into domestic policy, but the Chinese have an incredible interest in foreign policy, which has grown not only because of their need to protect their strategic homeland but because of their ability to have access to economic resources.
There was also the idea that, somehow or other, the Chinese have only just become involved in Africa. As most hon. Members know, the Chinese were becoming involved in Africa from the late 1950s and early 1960s.
It seems to me that the key issue in how the UK relates to China is the fact that China has a world view, which is based, as senior Chinese officials keep saying in all the conversations that I have had with them, upon achieving harmony; that is harmony from a Chinese point of view. Consequently, as far as China is concerned there is a raft of issues, most of which relate to Chinese internal affairs, that are not to be discussed. They are certainly not to be discussed in public, and the fact is that individuals or countries that raise them in public, even if they are raised in a moderate way, are likely to produce the grave displeasure of the Chinese Government.
Furthermore, China has gained access to resources in the world, which they believe is perfectly legitimate. The Chinese would turn to us and say, “Well, after all”—I am using shorthand—“you westerners pillaged the resources of the world from about the 16th century onwards. All we are doing is offering good trade relations with many developing countries, but we do not attach any form of moral politics to that. We are not interested in relating that to human rights in one form or another”.
I want to turn the debate around. It is not just a question of the United Kingdom being—quite rightly—sensitive to Chinese culture and history, and of our trade and business relationships with China. The hon. Member for Sittingbourne and Sheppey is absolutely right; the balance of power has changed in the world. Once again, I do not think there is anybody who does not accept that. The balance of power in the world has changed not only because of the growth and power of China but because of the growth and power of many other countries, including India and Brazil. That complicates matters not just for us but for the Chinese, who I believe are driven by fears of instability. Those fears drive China more than anything else.
As I was saying, it is not just a question of our being sensitive. The Chinese will have to recognise that they must take into account the policies and opinions of many other countries. It will be increasingly difficult for them to operate in a world at a very narrow economic level without realising that if they are to achieve membership of the World Bank and participate in many other things—they are already finding it difficult enough in the United Nations—they will have to take a position on certain things. They will have to be involved in the give and take of politics.
What are we to do about that? First, we should continue to say, very politely, to China that there are certain issues that we regard as important, not only as parliamentarians but as a British Government and Opposition, and that we will continue to raise those issues with the Chinese, not confrontationally but in a way that reflects our values and is not an insult to China.
Secondly, we must recognise that there are actually many areas where China and the United Kingdom have mutual interests. We are an entrepreneurial nation, keen on developing technology and education. Those links are very strong indeed. There are even areas in terms of security where China is co-operating with Britain and the west. Recently, the Chinese navy has been co-operating on anti-piracy patrols in the Indian ocean. That is all to be welcomed.
However, when we talk about the relations between the UK and China, we should not constantly place the emphasis on always trying to consider things from the Chinese perspective. It is equally important that we are very clear what UK national interests are and we should spell those interests out, forcefully but not rudely, to the Chinese.
Actually, I think the Chinese Government realise that. Their formidable ambassador, Madam Fu Ying, also realises it. I emphasise all the things that have been said about her; she has gone out of her way to improve British-Chinese relations, although I would put in a caveat—however good an ambassador is, they have riding instructions from their Foreign Office and we should recognise that. Ambassadors are not independent actors.
I welcome the debate. As I said, the real question is whether the issues raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury are a blip or represent a trend. What is the perspective of Foreign Office officials and of the Minister? Although, like many colleagues, I have in the past been critical of the Foreign Office and its officials at times, I do not think those officials are as inadequate, or that the Foreign Office is as poor, as the hon. Member for Sittingbourne and Sheppey may have been suggesting in some of his comments.
I take that last comment by the hon. Member for Mid-Norfolk (Mr. Simpson) as a ringing endorsement, not of me personally, obviously, but of the Foreign Office.
It is a delight to serve under your chairmanship, Mr. Fraser. Whenever the general election is, it is a shame that you will not still be gracing these corridors afterwards.
This debate is very timely and I congratulate the hon. Member for Banbury (Tony Baldry) on securing it. He gave us a tantalising mental image of himself and the hon. Member for Mid-Norfolk in the 1970s with longer hair. However, I just wonder what their foreign policy was at that time, for example on Pinochet’s Chile and particularly on South Africa and apartheid. However, that is obviously not a matter for today’s debate.
It has been an entirely sensible one all my life.
The hon. Member for Banbury said that he too reads books. I see that some additional books have been brought in for him during the debate. That is a great delight, as I thought that I might have to recite to him some words from Pope—
“A little learning is a dangerous thing;
Drink deep, or taste not the Pierian spring:
There shallow draughts intoxicate the brain”—
but obviously he has plenty to keep him reading.
On serious matters, I will say three general things before I come to Members’ specific questions. One statistic that exemplifies the issue for all of us is that in 2005, the UK’s GDP and China’s were roughly equal, at $2.24 trillion for China and $2.25 trillion for the UK. It is almost certain that the final figure for China in 2009 will be double the UK’s. With regard to economic might, we must be absolutely clear-sighted about the issue before us. It is compounded by the fact that China, unlike Japan, is a permanent member of the Security Council, so its role in international affairs is significant.
One thing that has struck me forcibly in this debate is that many people have referred to China’s growing power and the possibility of a bipolar world in which the United States of America and China are the two world powers. To me, that points clearly not just to the role of the G20 and so on but to our role within the European Union. One frustration for the Chinese is that they end up doing different deals with 27 countries within the EU and that Europe cannot manage to get its act together effectively in its relations with China. We can be much more effective on many issues by having a shared foreign policy within the European Union in relation to China.
The hon. Member for Mid-Norfolk said that it is sometimes difficult to say things in public because it offends Chinese sensibilities. I am sure that he was not suggesting that we therefore should not say them.
I understand that. However, it is often easier for us to say things jointly, as the whole European Union. That has far more effect without affecting bilateral relations directly. In relation to some of the issues that we have discussed today, the fact that the EU has been able to engage concretely as a whole, making representations on our behalf as well as on that of other member states, has mitigated some potential problems with bilateral relationships.
The creation of a much more rationalised External Action Service within the European Union and its presence in China will be vital to UK interests in the years to come. We must ensure that good British diplomats are deployed in the External Action Service in China, and we must ensure that the EAS is effective. Given how Cathy Ashton presented her case to the European Parliament on Monday, I am sure that she is focused on that.
We need to address crucial international affairs issues, such as Iran’s growing nuclear ambitions, and China will be key to that. Several hon. Members referred to trade issues. One area in which we need to move forward significantly is achieving market economy status within the European Union for China. That can happen only when China is prepared to make effective concessions on some of its anti-competitive practices.
The hon. Member for Banbury started by referring to Copenhagen. Several hon. Members, including my hon. Friend the Member for Sittingbourne and Sheppey (Derek Wyatt), suggested that there might have been a complete failure on the British part and that we somehow did not know what the Chinese were thinking. We certainly did. On many occasions last year, Ministers here expressed our profound concern about the direction in which China was moving in relation to climate change. Many of us tried to put the argument to China that the threat to it from climate change is significant in terms of internal migration and migration from low-lying areas around the world, and that it is in China’s interest to get it right.
The hon. Member for Mid-Norfolk said that ambassadors sometimes do not have much wriggle room; that is also true of Chinese delegations. Perhaps if there had been more wriggle room in Copenhagen, we would have got closer to a better and stronger set of agreements. I know that many more vulnerable nations were upset that the equity argument about climate change—namely, that the poorest people in the world will be most dramatically affected by it, whether in Bangladesh or on islands in the Pacific that are likely to disappear under the ocean—did not carry as much weight with China as it perhaps should have done, especially in light of the argument that China wants a harmonious world according to its own understanding.
We look forward to Mexico and hope that we will be able to secure a better agreement. I am convinced that the Chinese position will move; I am sure that the equity argument will carry more weight. It was good that China moved substantially last year from the position that it held at the beginning of the year to the position that it adopted in Copenhagen. It was a significant change. China now accepts the need for measurement and verification.
Several hon. Members asked whether we have the right architecture for such discussions. That is almost certainly not the case; the difficulty is whether we should first address the architecture arguments or the substance. That is one complication of all United Nations bodies. We need to find an architecture that better embraces the changing power blocs that several hon. Members have mentioned, not least Brazil, India and Mexico.
The hon. Member for Mid-Norfolk discussed the execution of Akmal Shaikh, and the hon. Member for East Dunbartonshire (Jo Swinson) referred to her hon. Friend the Member. for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Carmichael), who has done a great deal of work on the issue of the death penalty around the world. We debated the issue before Christmas—I answered for the Government. He has said, I think, that we did everything that we thought possible. The Prime Minister, the Foreign Secretary and I, as well as the embassy in Beijing, did everything that we could to ensure that our concerns about the nature of the trial, the secrecy that surrounded it and the issues relating to mental health were understood. It is worth saying that mental health is viewed very differently in China and that the amount of drugs involved was 80 times the amount that would normally lead to an execution there.
We wholeheartedly deprecate the use of the death penalty in any country. The fact that China, and Chinese public opinion, has a completely different attitude towards such matters is undoubtedly a problem for us. We understand the family’s need for a proper sense of closure, and we will respond in a way that I hope can provide it; I am not yet sure precisely how we will go about it.
The hon. Member for Banbury mentioned the number of Chinese students who come to the UK. My hon. Friend the Member for Sittingbourne and Sheppey—incidentally, I should say that it is also a great sadness that he will not be here after the general election either, as he will not be standing; I have had the great pleasure of rowing and agreeing with him over the years—mentioned soft diplomacy. The number of Chinese students who come to the UK is an important part of that, which is why I would not change the student visa regime in the way suggested by the Conservative party. The more Chinese students who come to the UK, the better. In relation to soft diplomacy, the BBC World Service, the British Council and the Chevening scholarships are all important elements of how we do business around the world.
Several hon. Members raised the issue of dissidents being treated aggressively by the Chinese courts recently. We wholeheartedly deprecate and are concerned by the verdict and sentence pronounced against the prominent human rights defender Liu Xiaobo. It is the most substantial sentence given for many years—