Welcome to Westminster Hall. If hon. Members will bear with me, I have to read the pre-flight briefing. I remind Members that there have been some changes to normal practice to support the new call list system and to ensure that social distancing can be respected. Members should sanitise their microphones before they use them and respect the one-way system around the room. Members should speak only from the horseshoe. Members can speak only if they are on the call lists. This applies even if debates are undersubscribed. Members cannot join the debate if they are not on the call list.
I beg to move,
That this House has considered reports of China’s rapid expansion of the labour programme in Tibet co-published by the Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China.
It is a great pleasure to see you in the Chair, Mr Hollobone. Having wiped my microphone, I feel like I am ready to go. Today’s debate is about the recent report on China’s rapid expansion of mass labour programmes in Tibet. This paper was co-published by a leading human rights adviser and scholar, Adrian Zenz, with a group that I am a member of called IPAC—the Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China—and there are others in the room who are also part of that group. It includes both left and right parliamentarians in 17 countries who are concerned about the behaviour of China across a range of issues. As I say, Adrian Zenz is a scholar in this area, and he has previously published a paper with IPAC on the forced sterilisation of Uyghur women, and I will touch on that issue shortly.
Adrian Zenz has uncovered this material through existing Government papers. That is the interesting thing: none of this is secret. In a sense, it is quite open, and these Government papers spell out exactly what has been going on. The findings are shocking, although it is important to note that, with all the other debates about China, which I will touch on in my conclusion, Tibet has, funnily enough, been rather forgotten. It has been an issue for a while, and then it has disappeared, and nobody seems to talk about it. What this paper has done is reminded us that, over a longer period than for anything else, the Chinese authorities have been bearing down on the human rights of the indigenous population in Tibet.
The findings of the report are particularly interesting, because they show that there has been mandatory—I use this term advisedly—vocational training, which basically means driving out the sense of identity of the people in Tibet. Alongside these programmes, there are forcible labour transfer schemes. Those are slightly gentle words, but what they mean is that people are being taken from one place and put into camps, a bit like—well, a lot like—the Uyghurs we uncovered, who are forced to do hard labour in all sorts of areas and without proper pay or support.
Over half a million labourers were collected together into these camps in the first seven months of 2020. Local government officials are required by the Government to meet quotas for what they term recruitment to the scheme—it is nothing like any concept of recruitment that we might understand. It basically means that they have to get people in certain categories into those camps as quickly as they can. This process is overseen by strict military management, which includes enforced indoctrination and intrusive surveillance of participants. Labourers may also be forcibly transferred from their homes to work all over China. In other words, this is not just about camps in Tibet; people are being moved around to fulfil requirements elsewhere. Of course, this process has close similarities with the training and labour transfer in the Xinjiang Uyghur autonomous region, which I will touch on.
The Government’s attempts to dilute Tibetan identity are really critical. That is being done through forced cultural assimilation, and the same pattern is going on in a number of areas. Interestingly, the Government documents state that these programmes aim to reform Tibetan cultural “backwardness”. That is an interesting concept and a relative concept, and of course its relativity is defined by those in power, which is to say the Communist party of China. That aim is achieved by the Government enforcing the learning of Mandarin and weakening, however they can, the religious influence that exists among those who claim to be indigenously Tibetan.
This is not an isolated incident. We have seen this pattern of eradication—or attempted eradication—of ethnicity across China. We know from the parallel report that was published a little earlier on the Uyghurs that at least 1 million Uyghurs are in mass arbitrary detention in Xinjiang. There are almost 400 prison camps in the region, with more still under development. It is disgraceful, but we understand that western fashion brands use supply chains where forced labour is prevalent. I am sure that will apply in due course, if not already, in Tibet. The Government-sponsored forced sterilisation and birth suppression in the Uyghur populations, which we believe do exist, would meet the genocide criteria—we have yet to get the UN to even look at that, but it is the key. Civil servants are also placed in Uyghur homes to monitor behaviour, and children whose parents are detained are being taken from their families and placed in state facilities.
But it is not just the Tibetans and the Uyghurs; it is now also the Christians. Party members who profess a faith are now subject to disciplinary procedures, with the arrest and detention of Christian leaders such as Pastor Wang Yi of the Early Rain Church, who was detained in December 2018 and sentenced to nine years in prison for
“incitement to subvert state power”.
These acts of repression never happen all at once. It is never a single thing that happens immediately. Does the right hon. Gentleman share my concern about reports that we are now hearing from southern Mongolia about the start of the same process of cultural and linguistic oppression of the local population? If we do not call it out, we will probably see the same thing happen there.
It is a pleasure to give way to the right hon. Gentleman, who came early to this issue. He has been calling it out for some time, and I congratulate him on that. I agree with him. We have to look at the starting point. People took their eyes off Tibet, but we can see now what is happening. People did not want to talk about the Uyghurs, but we have advanced. Repression is happening everywhere.
My point about the Christians is that it has been going on for a long time. There are threats, for example, to withhold state support from low-income Christian families who do not give up their religious belief, and there is a similar experience among Catholic churches. It is not only about churches that the Government do not consider to be registered; it is also even churches that they might consider to be registered.
The Falun Gong has experienced the most appalling behaviour. The 610 Office is the security agency charged with solely persecuting the Falun Gong. If detainees do not renounce Falun Gong beliefs, they are subject to re-education through labour. There are reports of beatings, solitary confinement, 24-hour monitoring, rack torture, tiger bench torture, water torture, stress position torture, forced feeding for those on hunger strike and forced injections of unknown drugs, and now, most shockingly of all, there are confirmed stories of organ harvesting from those who have been incarcerated.
Liu Guifu, a Falun Gong practitioner from Beijing, was twice sent to RTL camps—retraining camps—in Beijing. She reports being deprived of sleep, not allowed to use a bathroom or drink water. She was forced to consume faeces and toilet water, and was given unidentifiable drugs to make her lose consciousness. I urge the Government to call that out.
I also urge the Government to do a series of things so that the UK becomes a lead advocate in all of this. First, we need to look at mandatory sanctions with regard to global human rights abuses: sanctions such as travel bans or asset freezes. The officials responsible should have Magnitsky arrangements applied to them for the use of forced compulsory labour in Tibet and in other areas, too. The Government should also open a way for similar judgments to be issued on cases regarding abuses against Xinjiang’s Uyghurs and other minorities in China that I have touched on.
I urge the Government to support amendment 68 to the Trade Bill in the Lords to nullify trade arrangements past and future if the High Court makes a preliminary determination that a proposed trade partner has perpetrated genocide. I can tell the Government now that, should such a new clause come to the Commons, I will absolutely support it. I also urge the Government to consider that, to meet GDP targets. China’s economy needs to grow by some 7.5% a year. Under the cover of that, China is being given the capacity to behave in the way it does by western companies and Governments, which are turning a blind eye.
It is worth reminding ourselves that, beyond even the human rights abuses, China is now in breach of World Trade Organisation rules endlessly across the piece. It incentivises companies through illegal discounts, tax breaks and subsidies. Even Volkswagen reported that it had to buy a quota of components from local Chinese suppliers or pay more than double the standard import tax on such parts, which violates the WTO rules that everybody else is meant to obey. China favours exporting finished products, which means that it basically forces companies to manufacture and produce.
The supply chain risk profiles are all in the report, and they are there for us as well. The supply chains in Tibet, Xinjiang and other regions are linked to forced labour, and the Government have to make it clear to British business that it is unacceptable to be in the slightest bit involved with those chains. I also ask the Government to demand reciprocal access to Tibet and other regions, such as Xinjiang, in order to allow for independent international investigation into the reports of forced labour, and to call for a UN special rapporteur on Tibet.
The peculiarity of the situation is that if China were any other country in the world, every Government would call it out. They would demand change. Imagine if it were a country in Europe, Africa or anywhere else—there would immediately be demands and debates in the UN. That does not happen. Far too much of what we think and do about China is now influenced massively by the concern about getting goods, manufacturers, investment and so on organised.
China is involved in occupying the South China sea. The UN has said that China has no right to it at all, yet it is demanding and controlling whole areas. It has been involved in border disputes—aggressive behaviour—recently with India, in which Indian soldiers have been killed.
Then there is the situation in Hong Kong. How much more can we say about Hong Kong? China is abusing what is going on and has dismissed an international agreement with regards to the legalities, leading to the incarceration of many peaceful protestors and their shipment to China for prosecution, where they will certainly not get a fair trial. By the way, I asked the Government what they think of British judges being employed still on the bench in Hong Kong. Surely it is time that we said, “Enough!” They can no longer give cover to what is going on in Hong Kong. It has to stop, for goodness’ sake.
There is one other action that the Government can take. The winter Olympics are planned to be in China. Many of us believe that, if it were any other country, there would now be calls for the Olympics to be moved. I simply say to the Government that they will have to take a stance on this issue pretty soon.
Overall, we are dealing now with a country that appears to have bullied and threatened its way through all of this. It is imposing the most dreadful and terrible things on many of its people, it is abusing human rights, and many people now believe that it might even be guilty of a form of genocide. I simply say to my Government that it is time for them to stand up. It is time for this Government to lead, and it is time for this Government to act.
The debate can last until 11 o’clock. I am obliged to start calling the Front-Bench spokespeople no later than 10.27 am. The guideline limits are 10 minutes for the Scottish National party, 10 minutes for Her Majesty’s Opposition and 10 minutes for the Minister, and Sir Iain Duncan Smith will have three minutes at the end to wind up the debate. Five very distinguished Back Benchers are seeking to contribute, and we have 42 minutes of Back-Bench time before the Front Benchers come in.
I thank the right hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Sir Iain Duncan Smith) for bringing this debate to Westminster Hall today. I echo what has been said about human rights abuses in Tibet and in the People’s Republic of China in general. It is shocking that in the 21st century we are still having to speak out against the barbaric acts of a totalitarian regime. The basic rights enshrined in documents such as the universal declaration of human rights and the international covenant on civil and political rights are the foundation stone on which human life can be lived in dignity. We have a duty to stand up for those rights on behalf of not only persecuted people inside China but all people, not least because the Chinese Communist party is seeking to expand its influence around the world.
I would like to speak more specifically about the recent report by Adrian Zenz on militarised vocational training in Tibet and to place that in the context of the CCP’s long-term strategy in Tibet. First, it is important to note that the report refers mainly to what is happening in the so-called Tibet autonomous region, which is only one part of Tibet. The vast areas of eastern Tibet are contained within the provinces of Sichuan, Qinghai, Gansu and Yunnan. We must be careful not to overlook the Tibetan people in those regions.
About 6 million Tibetans live under Chinese rule. Although exact numbers are hard to ascertain, it has been estimated that, until recently, there have been roughly 2 million Tibetans whose lifestyle can be described as nomadic or pastoralist. They graze their herds on the high pastures, as their ancestors did for generations. Their way of life is fine-tuned to the harsh climate. The CCP has long sought to undermine that traditional lifestyle. The fundamental reason for that is that the pastoralist way of life perpetuates the distinctive Tibetan identity and culture. Together with the Tibetan language and Tibetan Buddhism, it is one of the pillars on which that distinctive identity and culture rest. The CCP has for decades seen the Tibetan’s distinctive identity and free spirit as a threat to its authoritarian rule. Just as the CCP wishes to cripple the Tibetan language through Mandarin education, as we have heard, and to cripple Tibetan Buddhism through the demolition of monasteries such as Larung Gar, so it is trying to undermine the pastoralist lifestyle.
That is the context for this report. The CCP’s pretext for its action is framed in terms of economic development. The pastoralist lifestyle is characterised as backward, and pastoralists are treated as surplus labourers who are lazy. Using a combination of superficial incentives and punitive force, the CCP has long been driving pastoralists off their ancestral lands and into towns, where they are expected to engage in the Chinese economy. The forced vocational training courses described in the report are nominally to give them skills that they can use in the towns. It must be affirmed, however, that that is a pretext. Considerable evidence amassed by Tibetans suggests that the lifestyle of pastoralists who are driven into towns is deeply degrading.
Once in the towns, the Tibetan people are much more easily controlled within the horrifying systems of surveillance, such as the grid management and double-linked household system described in the report. To reaffirm the key point, the CCP’s framing of its policies in Tibet in terms of economic development is spurious. The issue here is deliberate cultural destruction. In that sense, there are many similarities between the CCP strategy in Tibet and the horrific cultural genocide taking place in Xinjiang. I stress, however, how important it is to take the situations in Tibet and in Xinjiang on their own separate terms. We must be careful not to blur the important difference between the two cases, as that would only help to let the CCP off the hook for its specific abuses against Tibet.
Therefore, I call on the Government to bring Magnitsky sanctions against those members of the CCP involved in perpetuating human rights abuses in Tibet, as we have heard. I also call on them to adopt the private Member’s Bill from the hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton) on reciprocal access to Tibet, which would make it harder for the CCP to continue to hide its abuses in Tibet from journalists, diplomats and independent travellers.
Finally—this is important and has not been mentioned yet—I call on the Government to publish their formal strategy for when the current Dalai Lama, the spiritual leader of the Tibetan people, dies. It is very likely that the CCP will try to use that moment to further undermine the Tibetan identity by appointing its own stooge Dalai Lama. We should be ready to stand in defence of the Tibetan people if and when that moment comes.
I thank my right hon. Friend the Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Sir Iain Duncan Smith) for bringing this debate today. He started by saying that Tibet is something of a forgotten issue. Over 20 years, as a member of the all-party parliamentary group for Tibet, and as chair and co-chair for the last five years, I have been in this Chamber—a very lonely Chamber—raising the cause of Tibet, so it is good to see many more hon. Members from across the House here in support.
Last year, we marked 60 years since the invasion of Tibet. Since then, more than a million Tibetans have lost their lives at the hands of the Chinese. The regime has brought about the suppression of basic human rights, such as religion, cultural identity, free movement and assembly, as well as subjection to arbitrary arrest, detention, disappearances, torture and racial discrimination. It is also imposing an environmental catastrophe on the world with the degradation of the Tibetan plateau, which is responsible for the water sources that feed or refresh almost 40% of the world’s population. That must not be a forgotten or hidden disaster any more.
China is now widely recognised as a serial abuser of human rights and cultural identity. It has been doing it in Tibet for years, but now because of what is going on in Xinjiang province with the Uyghurs, with the suppression of the Mongolian minorities that we have seen more recently, and, of course, in Hong Kong, this human rights abuse is at last getting the attention that it so rightly deserves.
I am proud to be a member of IPAC, to which my right hon. Friend alluded, and very much welcome this report. A few days ago, when we marked the international global action day on China, I issued a statement on behalf of the all-party parliamentary group on Tibet, which I want to put on the record. I said:
“On the day that the Chinese Communist Party celebrates the National Day of the People’s Republic of China with a characteristic display of military might and global arrogance, we join the great majority of the free world in remembering the victims of Chinese oppression past and present. For over 60 years now, the peace-loving people of Tibet have seen their liberty, their culture and their heritage systematically suppressed and over one million have lost their lives upholding everyday freedoms that we take for granted in the free world. They continue to be persecuted within Tibet and increasingly amongst the widespread communities forced to live outside their homeland.
In the last few years, the suppression of minorities within Chinese borders has taken an even more sinister turn, as we see the latest assault on the liberties of the Uyghur people forced into concentration camps and subject to appalling sterilisation programmes that constitute genocide under UN definitions. In Hong Kong, which has for long been a beacon of freedom and creativity, China has thought nothing of reneging on international agreements to bring that population to heal and we stand shoulder to shoulder with the brave citizens who continue to take a stand against the world’s most oppressive superpower”.
I hope that all hon. Members concur with that.
The report contains the most extraordinary revelations. The labour transfer policy mandates that pastoralists and farmers are to be subjected to centralised, military-style vocational training which aims to reform backward thinking and includes training in work, discipline, law and the Chinese language. I gather that the Chinese authorities ordered Tibetan nomads to wipe out Tibetan goats. The Chinese authorities deemed that the goats were detrimental to the environment, which is rather ironic given the environmental carnage that the Chinese Communist party is waging in that region. Last year, all the goats in western Tibet, especially in the Tingri region, were wiped out. Tibetan nomads and farmers are now being turned into menial labourers and are concerned by the sudden change of their traditional nomadic or farming lives. This is the equivalent of the Westminster Government telling Welsh farmers to kill all their Welsh lambs and retrain as Ikea shop assistants, for example. It is extraordinary. Why can we not call this out for what it is? It is absolutely appalling.
In the last two years, more than 10,000 monks and nuns have forcefully been evicted from hundreds of destroyed monasteries and placed into internment camps for political re-education as part of the Sinicization of Tibetan Buddhism. Retired Tibetans are not allowed to go on pilgrimages to holy shrines. Tibetan children are not allowed to participate in religious activities during vacations. Possession of a photograph of the Dalai Lama is an imprisonable offence. The hon. Member for Bristol East (Kerry McCarthy), the hon. Member for Dundee West (Chris Law)—who, alas, cannot be here today—and I went to Dharamshala and again had the honour of meeting his holiness the Dalai Lama. A more peace-loving group of people could not be found on this planet. The torture and the horrendous suppression that they have been through is quite extraordinary, yet they retain their dignity in the face of such adversity. They have seen their holy sites Disney-fied for Chinese tourists.
A new law passed by the Tibetan People’s Congress in January this year, “Regulations on the Establishment of a Model Area for Ethnic Unity and Progress in the Tibetan Autonomous Region”—I use “autonomous” loosely—is all part of the Sinicization programme, despite Tibet’s constitution supposedly guaranteeing the autonomy and cultural identity of those minorities within the Chinese border. The Tibetan language has been replaced by Mandarin in schools and is banned from being taught in monasteries, and Tibetans certainly have reduced job prospects if they continue to use it. Tibetans have to register and seek permission to travel across the Tibetan autonomous region. In contrast, Han Chinese do not need permits to travel anywhere they like in China or the whole Tibetan autonomous region. There is mass surveillance of the population. We have debated in Parliament what Huawei is up to; it is part of that surveillance, certainly in Xinjiang province and in the monitoring of mobile phones used by Tibetans.
On the minoritisation of Tibetans, we have seen a mass inflow into Tibet of Han Chinese and of Chinese companies that employ only Chinese-speaking migrants; they reluctantly employ Tibetans where they have to, because in the higher parts, only native Tibetans can withstand the altitude. There is no freedom of assembly. Escape routes through Nepal for Tibetans who cannot tolerate the oppression anymore have now been cut off because the communist Government in Nepal have done a deal with the Chinese. There is persecution of the Tibetan diaspora around the world, who live in fear of the long reach of the tentacles of the Chinese Communist party.
China denied what has been going on in Xinjiang province until satellite photographs of the concentration camps caught them out in the end. What should we do? I am pleased that the hon. Member for Bath (Wera Hobhouse) mentioned my Tibet (Reciprocal Access) Bill, which I reintroduced again in this Session. It is based on legislation passed in Congress unanimously, with cross-party support, which has been put into effect. It was backed by Marco Rubio from the Republicans and Jim McGovern from the Democrats, and as a result neither is allowed to go to China—a badge of honour, frankly. The Bill calls for reciprocal sanctions against officials who do not allow representatives of the British Government or others to visit Tibet to see the human rights abuses going on at first hand. We need this law to send out a strong signal from this country that Governments cannot abuse their own people in secret, because we will call it out. Human rights abuses of this magnitude, wherever they happen, must be called out. China has no divine right to immunity.
We need a UN special investigation into genocide and the use of slave labour. We remember the Tesco Christmas card incident last year, when somebody found a message from a slave labourer being used to produce Christmas cards in part of China. We must resist Huawei. We must resist the influence in UK boardrooms, with highly paid British directors taking the Chinese shilling.
Does my hon. Friend not agree that right now there must be a very public statement by the Government saying to those who take money from China and then promptly defend it that that has to cease?
I completely agree, and perhaps we will get it at the end of the debate. We must also call out the Confucius institutes, which wield sinister influence in our universities and increasingly in our school classrooms. They give money supposedly to teach Mandarin, but there is another, subtler agenda going on. As my right hon. Friend said, the Magnitsky legislation is absolutely made for such abuses. We must bring that forward.
Last year, I was at the Riga conference of international parliamentarians with the hon. Member for Dundee West, where we issued the Riga declaration—we all signed up to it—which asked China
“to give unimpeded access to Tibet to foreign journalists, scholars and researchers, diplomats and other foreign citizens, including those of Tibetan origin.”
It called on China to
“cease its policies and practices that harm the natural environment of the Tibetan Plateau and to resume the dialogue with envoys of His Holiness the Dalai Lama without preconditions.”
Let me end by quoting the Global Alliance for Tibet and Persecuted Minorities, which produced some of the information in the report. It said:
“The silence of the world community has emboldened the Chinese aggression and onslaught against Tibetans and Uighurs, who are being stripped of their human rights. Although much damage has already been done, it is high time that the international community should wake up and recognise the threat posed by the Chinese Communist party to peoples living under its role and to those countries which are under the influence of China due to their monetary benefits and the huge debts which they offer. The crimes against the Uighurs and Tibetans should be recognised as genocide according to the International Genocide Convention.”
Hear, hear to that. It is time we vociferously called out the oppressive regime that is the Chinese Communist party.
It is always a pleasure to see you in the Chair, Mr Hollobone. I thank the right hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Sir Iain Duncan Smith) for bringing the report to the House’s attention. A constituent of mine will be particularly grateful that he mentioned the plight of the Falun Gong and concerns about forced organ harvesting, as she has been waging a long campaign to bring that to public attention.
I also congratulate the hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton) on all the work that he has done as co-chair of the all-party group for Tibet and his latest legislative move. A couple of years ago, as a vice-chair of the all-party group for Tibet, I had the pleasure of travelling to Dharamsala with him and the hon. Member for Dundee West (Chris Law), where we met the Tibetan Parliament in exile. Everything he said about the peace-loving, respectful nature of the people we met is absolutely true. We have welcomed Tibetan exiles to Parliament on a number of occasions, from the hugely impressive Lobsang Sangay, the Sikyong—the political leader—of the Government in exile to Buddhist monks. I echo what he said about the humanity of the people and their desire for a peaceful solution to the situation in Tibet, as well as the grave injustice they have suffered over the years.
In Bristol, we have an active local group of people from the Tibetan diaspora, some of whom recently embarked on a walk from Bristol to London to raise awareness of their cause. I was there to see them off at the start of their walk by the plinth where the statue of Edward Colston was recently pulled down by Black Lives Matter campaigners. Obviously that statue marked another great injustice, so it was by fitting that they set off from that site. I know that those local campaigners are grateful that this matter is being discussed in the House today.
The report is worrying, and especially so when put in the context of China’s wider human rights abuses. The coercive training regimes in Tibet are not on the industrial scale of those in in Xinjiang, and is not yet any evidence of extra-judicial internment, but it does bear worrying hallmarks of the treatment of the Uyghur Muslims. The training of surplus labourers to “remove backwards thinking” and to teach Chinese language, work and ethics is the latest chapter in a long-running campaign to dilute Tibetan identity and assimilate Tibet in the Chinese provinces. Some 500,000 Tibetans have been recruited to the programme, which is disturbing when we consider that the population numbers only 3 million. Of the half a million people put into the re-education camps, 10,000 are monks and nuns, as has been mentioned. Conditions in those camps are so harsh that, according to recent reports, one nun was driven to suicide.
Outside the camps, the efforts to sinicize Tibetan Buddhism continue. China has recently demolished two historic Buddhist academic institutions, Larung Gar and Yachen Gar. Tibetans are being detained for sharing photos of the Dalai Lama, sharing books written in Tibetan, and even speaking to relatives about the importance of the Tibetan language. That is a clear, orchestrated attempt to remove Tibetan culture from Tibet.
What is happening in Tibet is reminiscent not only of Xinjiang but of Hong Kong, albeit for different reasons. The 17-point agreement lays out a framework for Tibet not dissimilar to Hong Kong’s one country, two systems rule; but as in Hong Kong, that agreement is being eroded over time.
I want to speak briefly about the brave Tibetans who have spoken up against China’s environmental crimes in the region, and who have faced imprisonment and fines. I was particularly distressed to hear what the hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham said about goats being destroyed. It is obviously wrong, when there are human rights abuses on such a massive scale, to be upset by what is happening to goats, but I think it is symptomatic of the wilful destruction of the Tibetan people’s way of life in the plateau.
The Tibetan plateau is not only a vital geopolitical region; it is home to the world’s largest ice storage outside the north and south poles, yet a quarter of its ice has been lost since 1970. Even if we limit global warming to 1.5°C, up to two thirds of the region’s remaining glaciers will disappear by the end of the century. At the moment the Paris climate accords bind us to 2°C rather than 1.5°C, but we are not even on track for that. Currently, it is very possible that the earth will be 4°C hotter by the end of the century. When we think that the temperature difference between the present day and the last ice age was only 6°C, that puts into context how massive an environmental catastrophe it would be.
It is not just a question of global warming. The Mekong, Yangtze, Ganges and Indus rivers all have their source in Tibet, and 1.6 billion people are supported by the rivers. The melting of the third pole will have a catastrophic effect on those people, and there will be global ramifications. Banks will burst and livelihoods will be destroyed; there will be an unprecedented refugee crisis, but there will also be an effect on geopolitical relations in the regions. Indo-Chinese relations could turn ugly. We need to question the environmental record of the CCP in Tibet, just as we do its human rights record.
A couple of years ago, I was involved in a campaign with Free Tibet. Liverpool football club had entered into a sponsorship deal with Tibet Water Resources, a company that extracted and bottled water from Tibetan glaciers. I think the football club did not have the slightest idea that there was anything wrong. Those involved probably thought it sounded like an incredibly environmentally sound, pure type of project. We drew to their attention the fact that they were facilitating, condoning and in some way complicit in what China was doing in exploiting the natural resources of the region. I am glad to say that after a year that sponsorship deal was dropped.
On the question of the trading relationship with China, it is obviously an incredibly important business partner of ours, but there needs to be a point where we put principles before our own economic interest. From 2011 to 2015 I was in the shadow Foreign Office team for Labour. As well as covering the part of the world that we are talking about, I had the shadow human rights brief. In September 2013, William Hague and Vince Cable launched with great fanfare the business and human rights action plan. We were the first country to present that sort of national action plan to implement the UN guiding principles developed by the former special representative to the UN Secretary-General, John Ruggie. Warm words were spoken—I think that William Hague used a phrase about two beating hearts of UK foreign policy: the business side and the human rights side—but only a couple of months later, in December 2013, David Cameron, the then Prime Minister, led the largest ever trade delegation to China. I asked questions about to what extent this business and human rights action plan in any way influenced that trade mission, and the answer became very clear. I remember a Minister from the Lords coming along to a meeting of the all-party parliamentary China group and saying it was not his job to think about human rights; he was a Trade Minister, and his job was to do the trade side of things.
The same was true for a number of other countries, as well. Nick Clegg went to Colombia, and I asked whether human rights were discussed there; in fact, I ended up making an official complaint because his answers were so hopeless. David Cameron went to Saudi Arabia, and it is quite amusing to look at the answers I got back when I asked if human rights were discussed. I was told, “We discussed a wide range of issues,” so I asked again, and was told that “Nothing was off the table.” There were endless permutations of those sorts of phrases, and it became clear to me that this business and human rights action plan was not worth the paper it was written on. That was very sad, because I think the intention was there to develop a more ethical foreign policy.
To conclude, we cannot allow countries such as China to act in this manner with impunity. The Government need to seriously consider Magnitsky sanctions on officials with ties to the situation in Tibet, as well as to human rights abuses elsewhere in China. We should not pick and choose which human rights abuses we condemn and which by our silence we condone; instead, we should stand up unequivocally for human rights throughout the world.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Sir Iain Duncan Smith) on having secured this debate. I fully support his powerful speech, and thank him for all the work he has done to raise the issue of human rights in China.
I believe that the Government are now actually listening; they are listening more than they did three or four years ago, when the Conservative Party Human Rights Commission, which I chair, published its report “The Darkest Moment: The Crackdown on Human Rights in China, 2013-16”, which can still be found on our website—www.conservativehumanrights.com. We made 22 recommendations in it, some of which have been echoed here today. It is a tragedy that it is four years on, yet we are still asking the same questions.
That report included a whole section on Tibet. We reported on the limited civil and political rights of people in Tibet—that was a quote, and the reason is partly because the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr Carmichael), to whom I also pay tribute for his work on this issue, talked about how there is progression of abuse. As the report said,
“the main causes of the Tibetan people’s grievances are China’s policies of political repression, cultural assimilation, economic marginalisation, social discrimination and environmental destruction in Tibet.”
We also detailed reports and testimonies about the treatment of political prisoners, including beatings by police and other security services during interrogation sessions, mock executions, electric shock treatment, the accused being locked in cells that were pitch black or so small they could not move, torture using iron chairs, and other egregious breaches of human rights, restricting freedom. What we did not report on then, but which we hear about today, is the forced abduction of hundreds—potentially thousands—of Tibetan people and their effective imprisonment elsewhere.
I ask the Minister to look at this report, which we are actively updating now, and at its recommendations. In the time I have left, I also want to suggest four ways in which the UK could effectively respond to these deeply concerning human rights issues in Tibet. The first is global human rights sanctions: I support calls for the Government to consider using the Global Human Rights Sanctions Regulations 2020 to target officials responsible for the use of forced or compulsory labour in Tibet. Names have been given to us; forced or compulsory labour is specified in those regulations as a violation, and under the regulations those sanctioned could face travel bans or asset freezes. We recall that when announcing those measures, the Foreign Secretary commented that the sanctions would be
“the latest next step forward in the long struggle against impunity for the worst human rights violations.”—[Official Report, 6 July 2020; Vol. 678, c. 663-4.]
Will the Government now show that they intend to fulfil the express purpose of those sanctions, and hold to account the perpetrators of the human rights abuses we have heard about today?
Sanctioning officials responsible for human rights abuses in Tibet would send out a clear signal that the UK will stand up for human rights globally, wherever such abuses occur. I hope it would also open the way for similar judgments to be issued on cases regarding abuses against other minorities in China. We have heard about the Falun Gong, the Christians and others today. They were referred to in this report, several years ago.
I am deeply concerned to hear about the similarities between the report we have heard about today and the situation we see in Xinjiang with the Uyghurs. The international community must step up, and the UK must take a global lead and take action to stop Tibetans facing the same fate as the Uyghurs. It might already be too late. Will we follow the lead of the US in sanctioning officials?
Secondly, with regard to modern day slavery in supply chains, will the Government work to ensure due diligence and risk assessments are completed by UK businesses and public bodies with supply chains in Tibet, Xinjiang and other regions in China affected by forced labour? To do so would be in line with the Modern Slavery Act 2015, which requires large organisations to report on efforts to ensure that slavery and human trafficking is not taking place in its supply chains or any part of the business.
A study conducted by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute found that many household brands, such as Apple, BMW, Huawei, Nike, Samsung, Sony and Volkswagen, could be implicated in the use of forced Uyghur labour in the Xinjiang region. There are similar concerns about the fashion industry, with potentially almost a fifth of the world’s cotton supplies originating from Xinjiang. I urge the Government to work with businesses to ensure that supply chains originating from Tibet are not similarly tainted with forced labour. To enforce this, the Government should use their new powers to issue civil penalties for non-compliance with the Modern Slavery Act 2015, which would require large organisations to report on steps they are taking to remove forced labour from supply chains and to demonstrate reasonable practices in their supply chains.
Thirdly, there is the issue of reciprocal access to Tibet. We called for that in our 2016 report and we have heard calls for it today. The Government must now surely ask for reciprocal and unrestricted access so that we can ensure an independent international investigation into reports of forced labour and other human rights abuses in Tibet. The Chinese Government have systematically obstructed travel to the Tibet Autonomous Region and other Tibetan areas by foreign diplomats, officials and journalists. Reciprocal access would ensure that abuses in Tibet do not escape the world’s attention.
Before I close, I pay tribute to the work of my hon. Friend the Member for East Worthing and Shoreham. I support his Bill. He made a most powerful speech, and I thank him for the information that he brought to the Chamber today. Will the Minister look at a further report, which I did not bring today, that our Human Rights Commission has done on the Confucius Institutes, which my hon. Friend also mentioned? It goes into detail about the grave concerns about what is happening through their existence within our UK universities.
Finally, can the Minister update us on the UN’s position regarding the installation of a special rapporteur to investigate forced labour in China? Will he commit to raising this issue at the UN and call on the Secretary General of the UN to install a special rapporteur to investigate forced labour in Tibet? That will provide unbiased and thorough scrutiny of allegations of human rights abuses in Tibet. We need to ensure that the Government do not just listen and speak, but act.
I congratulate the right hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Sir Iain Duncan Smith) on securing this debate. I declare an interest, in that I am also a member of IPAC. I, too, think that IPAC is to be commended for the production of the report that is tagged in the title of the debate.
To pick up on the theme first touched on by the hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton), it is heartening to see the attention that issues such as the oppression of the Uyghur population in Xinjiang province and the situation in Hong Kong are now getting. However, it has not always been thus, and we should acknowledge that there has been a significant attitude change in Governments across the developed world towards China.
By and large I welcome that and I think it a positive change, but I sound a note of caution: when we criticise the regime in Beijing, the Chinese Communist party, we do that because what it does is worthy of criticism. It is not about isolating or demonising China. China has the potential to be a force for good as a massive and growing economy, but when we see that strength in the Chinese economy being used as a malign force in different parts of the world—the way in which China has used its economic influence in Africa, in particular, is worthy of greater consideration—we have not just the right, but the duty to call it out.
It is the case, candidly, as the hon. Member for Bristol East (Kerry McCarthy) touched on, that Governments of all stripes in recent years have been slow to the party on this. I remember the years when visits to this country under the Blair Government saw protesters shielded away from the site to avoid the risk of offending the delegations, and in 2013, Alex Salmond should have met the Dalai Lama when he came to Edinburgh. However, on all those occasions it is fair to say that the risk of upsetting China, getting on the wrong side of it and then being somehow economically disadvantaged, meant that we made the wrong call and took the wrong turns.
I am delighted to see a different approach from this Government and others throughout the western world. It was for that reason that I made the point about southern or, as we often call it, inner Mongolia, because what we are seeing there has disturbing echoes of what we have seen in other semi-autonomous regions in China. It starts with the linguistic and cultural oppression, but it never finishes there, and when we see it starting, that is the point at which we should be calling it out. I know today’s debate is not about southern Mongolia—perhaps we can keep that for other occasions—but I would draw the House and the Minister’s attention to some of the recent work being done by bodies such as Human Rights Watch and the Southern Mongolian Human Rights Information Centre and the reports that they published towards the end of August.
The IPAC report that the right hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green referenced reveals that Tibet now has a significant compulsory vocational training programme and forced labour transfer scheme—straight out of the Xinjiang playbook, we could say. More than 500,000 people have been enlisted by the programme in the first seven months of 2020 alone; 49,900 of them were directly transferred to other parts of the province, while 3,109, according to the report, were transferred out of Tibet. It is easy to talk about the figures, horrific as they are, but it is worth pausing for a second to reflect on what they actually mean.
The figures mean, essentially, that the people of Tibet are seen as tools of the state and are deprived of the right and the opportunity to have any say in how and where they work. They have no freedom to choose how they live their own lives. It is a wilful disregard of human rights and human dignity, and that is why we have a duty to call it out. The report says that the forced labour programme is overseen by “strict military-style management”, which limits the liberty of Tibetans in an attempt to remove their so-called “backwardness”.
There is absolutely no place for such an approach in any working or social environment. We see this obsession with conformity and uniformity time and again in the way in which the Government in Beijing approach their people. There is no place for that in a modern state. The treatment of Tibet is part of the much wider programme that we have seen by the Chinese in other parts of the country.
I have a number of points for the Minister. To pick up on a point made by the hon. Member for Congleton (Fiona Bruce), there is a need to get observers and a human rights taskforce, badged under the United Nations, into Xinjiang province and other areas of concern. There is a need to meaningfully use Magnitsky-type sanctions and to look at whether the supply chains of companies selling and operating in this country have been using forced labour and whether British businesses and public bodies should take that into consideration. The Modern Slavery Act 2015 means that we have legal obligations as well as a moral imperative.
This comes down to the most fundamental human rights imaginable. We should never forget that human rights are universal. If they do not matter in Tibet and Xinjiang, frankly they do not actually matter here either.
We now come to the Front-Bench speeches. I call Patrick Grady for the SNP.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone, and to be back in Westminster Hall. I join others in congratulating the right hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Sir Iain Duncan Smith) on securing the debate and on his incredibly comprehensive opening contribution, which has been followed by equally powerful contributions from Members representing a wide range of parties and the wide range of views within some of those parties. As the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr Carmichael) said, we are identifying a new and increasing consensus about the importance of speaking out about the actions of the Chinese state and, particularly in this debate, its treatment of the Tibetan peoples and other minorities.
The hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton) is right that my hon. Friend the Member for Dundee West (Chris Law) would have been here in other circumstances. He has been a passionate campaigner with his colleagues on the all-party parliamentary group on issues affecting Tibet over the years. He has been on visits, and has met some visitors, as I have had the privilege of meeting, including the Sikyong and others, who have come to address the all-party group.
The report that the debate has highlighted and the efforts of Dr Adrian Zenz have given a new level of coverage to, and awareness of, the tragedies that are unfolding. It is important also to recognise the role of journalists who have picked up on the report, in particular Reuters, which, in the face of the restrictions on journalists that Members have spoken about, has produced a comprehensive piece of coverage and analysis, and attempted to seek a response from the Chinese authorities.
The hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham is right: for many people, the oppression of Tibet and the exile of the Dalai Lama is a kind of static fact of life. However, the report has brought home the chilling reality of all the different horrors—enforced military-style training and education, environmental degradation and what the report calls a coercive lifestyle change for the Tibetan people from nomadism and farming to wage labour, which is the strongest, most clear and targeted attack on traditional Tibetan livelihoods that we have seen since the cultural revolution. As others have said, it is essentially a form of cultural genocide, or indeed worse.
We know that the Chinese regime denies that and says that everything is voluntary and nothing is forced, but that does not match the reality that has been reported and the experience elsewhere. As we have heard, the United Nations estimates that at least a million people in Xinjiang, mostly from the ethnic Uyghur population, are subjected to similar treatment—detained in camps, subjected to ideological education and forced sterilisation, as the hon. Member for Congleton (Fiona Bruce) said, and other horrors—despite Chinese claims that the participants in such camps have “graduated”. The Australian Strategic Policy Institute identified at least 14 detention centres being built this year alone—14 out of 380 that it has identified across the country using its satellite technology and other methods. Speaking up and speaking out has to be an important first step, and global leaders must recognise and respond to the report and other similar analysis.
The right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland was right to say that the global attitude towards China is changing. Throughout Members’ contributions to this debate, we have heard the options that are open to Governments, including the UK Government, be it travel bans for identified officials, Magnitsky sanctions, the implementation and monitoring of the Ruggie principles and the business and human rights action plans that the hon. Member for Bristol East (Kerry McCarthy) spoke of, or questioning the role of specific companies. We have had a lot of debate in the House recently about the role of Huawei and how it is allowed to operate here in the United Kingdom. Most importantly, journalists, academics and international observers should have a right of independent access for monitoring in Tibet and the other regions.
The UK Government have to support all those calls. This is an important moment for the UK. If it wants to emerge now as a new, global Britain, it has to demonstrate that it will have the courage to rise to the challenges. That is why questions around participation in the winter Olympics in 2022 have to be part of that consideration. They have to be part of our use of soft power, how we make our views on these issues felt around the world and how we engage.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that one of the most perilous moments will be when the Dalai Lama dies? It will create an interregnum, and the Chinese Communist party will use that moment to undermine the Buddhist tradition and spiritual leadership. We have to be aware of that.
The hon. Lady is absolutely right, and indeed His Holiness the Dalai Lama has said that he will think about whether or not he wants to be reincarnated. The Chinese Government will have to take that into account. If we are going to talk about religious minorities, a growing number of adherents to the Catholic faith are also concerned about the Vatican’s relationship with China. We must bear that in mind as well.
The right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland spoke about the Scottish Government’s previous relationship with China in the context of how other Governments’ relationships have changed. When the current First Minister visited China, she made a point of speaking out on human rights, equality and women’s rights. She made the point that economic growth and equality have to go hand in hand, because there cannot be successful, sustainable economic growth without respect for equality and human rights. That has to be remembered.
In all of this, we have to think about our individual responsibilities as well. The hon. Member for Bristol East and others spoke about bottled water and supply chains. We all have to think about consumer goods that appear to be too good to be true in terms of price and quality. As the hon. Member for Congleton said, whose hands have made that cheap clothing, cheap electronics or cheap hand sanitiser? Who made our cheap facemasks that have suddenly become ubiquitous? The wipes that we have in the room were made in Turkey—I made a point of checking before I spoke—but it is clear that many of our facemasks were made in China.
The hon. Member for Bristol East spoke of one of her constituents. My constituent Yu Yu Williamson died, sadly, during the summer. She moved to the UK from China as a young woman. When she came here, she was able to have access to free media and understand the truth of the regime that she had been brought up in. From that point, she never stopped campaigning for the rights and freedoms of her people, particularly the rights of the Tibetans to self-determination and religious freedom across the country. She also campaigned on concerns about organ harvesting and the oppression of Falun Gong practitioners. She was an ardent lobbyist. It is possible that Members present met here if they were ever outside in Parliament Square, because she was a regular presence at the Falun Gong protests that took place outside. Her campaigning meant that she was never able to return safely to the country of her birth. I pay tribute to her and send my deepest sympathies and condolences to her family and many friends in Scotland and around the world. I commend the beautiful obituary that appeared in The Herald—perhaps I will send it round to the Members who have taken part in the debate.
We owe it to people such as Yu Yu, countless other campaigners around the world, and the millions who are suffering under oppression in China to continue to challenge and question the actions of the Chines regime. I hope that the Minister will rise to that challenge today.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone.
I pay tribute to the right hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Sir Iain Duncan Smith), who gave a powerful speech listing the issues with the behaviour of the Chinese Communist party, whether in Hong Kong, the Himalayas or the South China sea. That set the stage for what has been an excellent debate.
I also pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol East (Kerry McCarthy), who gave a powerful critique of the human rights action plan. She demonstrated that our values are not for sale and that, when it comes to the constant debate on whether to prioritise trade or human rights, there should be no debate at all, because the priority is to stand up for our values and for human rights. As the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr Carmichael) rightly put it, if human rights do not matter in Tibet, in Xinjiang or in other parts of the world, they end up not mattering here either. This is a universal issue that affects all of us. The hon. Member for Bath (Wera Hobhouse) made that point very clearly with regard to the ethnic and cultural survival of ways of life and diversity across China.
The hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton) has done so much work on the issue of Tibet and has been a leading voice on it for so long. He set out some very tangible and clear recommendations for what we need to do to address these issues. The hon. Member for Congleton (Fiona Bruce) did likewise. Indeed, there were so many other contributions today that unfortunately I do not have enough time to go through them all in detail.
I will say a few words about where my party sits on this issue. It is absolutely clear that we are profoundly concerned by the human rights abuses in Xinjiang against the Uyghur Muslims. We have called repeatedly on the Government to take action and we are deeply troubled to hear that similar abuses of human rights are taking place in Tibet.
The research sets out some very disturbing statistics, including the half a million labourers over the first seven months of 2020. There is strict, military-style management and enforced indoctrination and intrusive surveillance of participants. It is clear that the programme’s aim is to reform Tibetans’ so-called cultural backwardness, through teaching Mandarin, and by weakening the way of life and the religious practices of the Tibetan people.
Before I appeal to the Minister with some specific recommendations, I will say a few words on the wider context of the policies and activities of the Chinese Government. It is becoming increasingly clear that our interaction as a United Kingdom, and the interaction and engagement of the United Kingdom Government—indeed, of successive Governments since 2010—has been characterised, I am afraid to say, by naivety and complacency, both domestically and abroad. Of course, in 2015 David Cameron and George Osborne announced the so-called golden era of Sino-British relations, based on the premise that we would open our markets to China and that the Chinese Government would reciprocate while gradually aligning with the international rules-based order and opening up to trade with the rest of the world. That approach viewed the UK’s relationship with China purely through an economic lens, turning a blind eye to human rights abuses in exchange for the naive and narrow promise of future economic benefit.
The reality is that the benefits of trade have remained largely unbalanced, a process actively encouraged by the Chinese state, which has facilitated the replication of intellectual property and the dumping of heavily subsidised products on European markets, leaving UK firms open to hostile takeovers and driving the UK to a trade deficit with China of around £20 billion a year. Further still, the UK now has 229 supply chains dependent on China, 59 of which relate to our critical national infrastructure.
Moreover, we are increasingly isolated on the global stage. Over the past decade, I am afraid we have gained a global reputation for being alliance breakers, when one of the great strengths of our country has traditionally been our role as alliance makers. The UK’s relative isolation has made it easier for President Xi to press ahead with the imposition of national security legislation in Hong Kong, which has been met with international condemnation; the persecution of the Uyghur and Tibetan minorities; and destabilising actions in the South China Sea, which are a violation of international law. To summarise, our supply chain dependence on China clearly constrains our ability to stand up for our national interest and national security, while this Government’s approach to international relations has hindered our ability to convene and lead an alliance of democracies, to stand up for our values and interests.
The golden era strategy was an unmitigated failure. Britain alone—an agenda that the current Government appear to be pursuing—is not a strategy at all. It is a recipe for disaster. China respects strength, unity and consistency, but we are in a position where we are starting to look weak, divided and inconsistent, and that has to change. We need a fundamental reset in Sino-British relations and, indeed, in relations between China and the rest of the world.
It is against that backdrop that we debate Tibet today. Our central message to the Government is that expressions of outrage are not sufficient. Tangible action is required and we recommend three initial responses. First, the scope of legislation that underpins the so-called Magnitsky sanctions must be broadened. The senior Chinese Communist party and Hong Kong Executive officials, who are clearly responsible for breaches of human rights in Xinjiang, Tibet and Hong Kong, must be added to the list. The rapidity of the Government’s recent decision to add senior Belarusian officials to the Magnitsky list was very welcome. Why, then, are they dragging their feet when it comes to Chinese Government officials?
Secondly, we urge the UK Government to revise their risk advisory for British companies that source goods and services from areas that may involve Tibetan forced labour. The vast majority of British companies want to do the right thing. They want to behave ethically, and the Government must act to support them in doing so.
Thirdly, we support calls for the UK Government to push for the appointment of a UN special rapporteur for the full and transparent investigation of forced labour and ethnic persecution in Xinjiang and Tibet. The issue of genocide has been raised, but in order for that to be classified as genocide, very clear and compelling proof and evidence are required. The way to get that is through international action to get that special rapporteur; otherwise, we cannot move forward with the debate on genocide.
I trust that the Minister has taken note of the strong views expressed by right hon. and hon. Members from across the House. I look forward to his response to the specific points and recommendations.
Could the Minister please conclude his remarks no later than 10.57 am?
Thank you, Mr Hollobone. It is a great pleasure to be back in this Chamber. I start by thanking my right hon. Friend the Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Sir Iain Duncan Smith) for initiating this very important debate. I am also grateful to others for their contributions and strong views, including the hon. Member for Bath (Vera Hobhouse), my hon. Friend the Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton), the hon. Member for Bristol East (Kerry McCarthy), the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr Carmichael), my hon. Friend the Member for Congleton (Fiona Bruce) and the Opposition spokesman, the hon. Member for Aberavon (Stephen Kinnock).
Promoting and protecting human rights are incredibly important to this Government, no matter where those violations and abuses occur. As we heard from my right hon. Friend the Member for Chingford and Woodford Green, on 22 September the Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China published a report alleging that the Chinese Government had expanded a large-scale mandatory vocational training programme in Tibet. The reported nature of this programme is deeply concerning to the UK Government and we take these allegations extremely seriously.
As we have heard, the report alleges coercive vocational training and the transfer of labour. It describes a large-scale campaign to retrain and transfer some rural labourers within Tibet and elsewhere in China. Those allegations bear similarities with the reported system of forced labour in Xinjiang, including the military-style vocational training; a focus, as we have heard today, on Chinese language training; and local middlemen receiving financial incentives to transfer labour throughout Tibet and beyond.
It is worth noting, however, as brought up by the hon. Member for Bristol East, that we do not have clear evidence that the very worst abuses taking place in Xinjiang are being replicated as yet in Tibet. There is no evidence of mass extrajudicial internment or of workers being kept in closed and securitised environments, like in Xinjiang. But of course we are working very closely with the report’s author. We are scrutinising the report, which has been out for two weeks. We are also working with other experts on Tibet and our international partners, so that we can get a clear and thorough understanding of the situation.
As is evident from our track record, we pay very close attention to the human rights situation not only in Tibet but right across China. We have called on the Chinese authorities to lift the severe and unjustified restriction on access for foreigners to Tibet. That has been raised by virtually every right hon. and hon. Member in the Chamber. Our officials at the British embassy in Beijing were last able to visit Lhasa in July 2019. We are consistent in our calls that that access needs to change.
We have consistently urged China to respect all the fundamental rights, in line with its own constitution and the international frameworks to which China is a party. The right to freedom of religion or belief applies to the people of Tibet just as it does to the people of Chingford and Woodford Green and elsewhere in the UK.
His Holiness the Dalai Lama was mentioned by Members, including my hon. Friend the Member for East Worthing and Shoreham. The UK views the Dalai Lama very much as a respected spiritual leader, and as such he has visited the UK on a number of occasions. We continue to do all we can to encourage freedoms for religious and cultural expression in Tibet and across China.
I think that the hon. Member for Bath made the point about the succession. The appointment of a new Dalai Lama is clearly a religious matter, and one for the relevant religious authorities to decide, in line with freedom of religion or belief. It is worth pointing out that we have also raised the case of the Panchen Lama with the Chinese authorities. We have demanded confirmation of his welfare and that he enjoys freedom of movement.
This Government have therefore shown time and again that when allegations are substantiated, we will speak out and act to hold China to account. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs and First Secretary of State, supported by his ministerial team, has repeatedly set out our grave concerns about the human rights violations perpetrated against the people of Hong Kong and against Uyghur Muslims and other minorities in Xinjiang. I have done so myself in many parliamentary debates, the most recent being last month. We have raised those concerns directly with the Foreign Secretary’s counterpart, Wang Yi, on a number of occasions.
We have also played a leading role within the international community to hold China to account, with two unprecedented joint statements at the UN in the past year. Twenty-eight countries joined the UK-led statement at the Human Rights Council in June, and right hon. and hon. Members will have seen that yesterday 39 countries joined a statement at the UN General Assembly in New York expressing our deep concern at the situation in Xinjiang, Hong Kong and Tibet. I believe that that growing coalition reflects UK diplomatic leadership. I have an awful lot of respect for the Opposition spokesman, the hon. Member for Aberavon, but I rather disagree that we have been ineffective in that regard. We have shown diplomatic leadership, as those statements in the UN demonstrate. The personal involvement of the Foreign Secretary is testament to that situation.
At the UN Human Rights Council, we used China’s most recent universal periodic human rights review to challenge its record publicly and encourage improved compliance with all its international human rights commitments. Last month, we dedicated our entire national statement at the council to the human rights violations taking place in China. That is only the second time that the UK has dedicated a national statement to a single country, with the first being in 2018 on Russia, following the poisonings in Salisbury. As the Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary have made clear, we want a positive relationship with China. China is a leading member of the international community with which we want to have a strong and constructive relationship in many areas.
I turn to points raised by right. hon. and hon. Members. My right hon. Friend the Member for Chingford and Woodford Green raised sanctions, as did virtually every other Member. We are carefully considering further designations under our newly introduced sanctions regime. It is essential that sanctions are developed accurately and with the correct evidence. My right hon. Friend will know that it is not appropriate to speculate on who may be designated, but it is absolutely right to say that we are constantly reviewing this within the FCDO.
Members have mentioned supply chains, responsibility and amendment 68 to the Trade Bill. It is crucial that all businesses conduct the appropriate due diligence to ensure that their supply chains are free of forced labour. All Members referenced how there should be reciprocal access, and that is absolutely the Government’s position in terms of unfettered access to these regions. I will come shortly to the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for East Worthing and Shoreham.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Chingford and Woodford Green also referenced judges in Hong Kong. An independent judiciary is a cornerstone of Hong Kong’s economic success and way of life. Sadly, the new national security law provides Hong Kong’s Chief Executive, rather than the Chief Justice, with the power to appoint judges. That risks undermining the independence of Hong Kong’s judiciary. We will monitor that closely, including the implications for the role of UK judges in the Hong Kong justice system.
My right hon. Friend also mentioned the Olympics, which he has also mentioned publicly. As the Foreign Secretary said yesterday, we are focused on working closely with our international partners to hold the Chinese authorities to account. We need to build the evidence base on which future action should be taken. While we have no current plans to boycott the Olympics—that is a matter for the sporting authorities—we have been clear throughout that we will not look the other way when faced with egregious human rights abuses in Xinjiang or violations of the freedoms of the Hong Kong people.
The hon. Member for Bath mentioned the Tibet (Reciprocal Access) Bill, promoted by my hon. Friend the Member for East Worthing and Shoreham. I thank my hon. Friend for his work on the APPG for Tibet and all he has done to bring Parliament’s attention to what is happening in Tibet. We are very much aware of his Bill, which has its Second Reading in March 2021. We will continue to call, at the UN and directly with the Chinese authorities, for unfettered access to the region, and obviously we will work with my hon. Friend and closely monitor his private Member’s Bill.
The right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland raised the issue of Inner Mongolia, which he and I have discussed separately. We will continue to monitor that situation and engage on that. He also referred to unfettered access to those regions, which we will continue to call for; all the Opposition spokesmen also made that point clearly. My hon. Friend the Member for Congleton mentioned, as have others, the call for a UN special rapporteur. We have repeatedly called in the UN for China to allow unfettered access to observers, including the High Commissioner for Human Rights. It is vital that that should include access to Tibet. She also mentioned the work of Confucius institutes. It is simple: any attempt to interfere with academic freedom or freedom of speech will not be tolerated. If any universities or research institutions experience attempts to undermine free debate, we encourage them to come forward and speak to the Government.
I have a few seconds left before I hand back to my right hon. Friend the Member for Chingford and Woodford Green. We will always act to uphold our values, our interests and our national security. We are crystal clear with China when we disagree with its approach. We urge the Chinese Government to respect all fundamental rights across the People’s Republic of China, including in Tibet. We are examining the latest reports of coercive training and transfer of labour in Tibet, and we take them seriously.
I thank my right hon. Friend for bringing this issue to the attention of the House today. We are working to establish a full picture of the situation. We have repeatedly held China to account for its human rights violations, and we will continue to do so. We will continue to stand up for our values and act as a force for good in the world.
I thank my hon. Friend the Minister for his comments at the end of this really powerful debate, featuring many right hon. and hon. Members from both sides of the House. It is clear from the debate that there is now a growing strength and unity of feeling across all parts of the House of Commons that the policy—as referenced by the Opposition spokesman, the hon. Member for Aberavon (Stephen Kinnock)—initiated by the then Chancellor and Prime Minister of a Government in whom I served, which was referred to in turn as “Project Kowtow”, can no longer exist. We now need to bear down on Chinese abuse.
The point of the debate was to highlight the latest abuse in Tibet, but more than that, across the board, I urge my hon. Friend the Minister to take the following points forward. We must make sure that Magnitsky sanctions are applied to those mentioned in the reports, as well reports on Xinjiang and the Uyghurs and all those other areas as well, particularly Hong Kong. It is time now to call them out and put those sanctions in place; we have spent too long thinking about it.
We need to condemn those companies involved with and linked to modern-day slavery and abuse in China. The Government should call out those companies. The way to act here is to agree to amendment 68 to the Trade Bill in the House of Lords, which would immediately stop that activity. I ask my hon. Friend to tell those in the Government that it is time to take a position on the Olympics, no matter what.
I hope that the calling out of those abuses in Tibet for a long time by many of my right hon. and hon. Friends, including my hon. Friend the Minister, will let the Government know that we can no longer just say that we want a good and constructive relationship with China. We want an honest relationship with China—one in which, when something is wrong, we say it is wrong. In this case, if genocide and abuses of human rights are taking place, we now, as a Government and as a people, must call them out and take action.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House has considered reports of China’s rapid expansion of the labour programme in Tibet co-published by the Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China.