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China: Human Rights

Volume 697: debated on Thursday 10 January 2008

asked Her Majesty’s Government what is their assessment of China’s role in promoting and respecting human rights.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, this short debate is taking place in advance of the United Kingdom and China human rights dialogue which will be held in Beijing at the end of this month; and, of course, in the year that China will host the Olympic Games, to be formally opened on 8 August. While welcoming the official dialogue, which commenced in 1997—eight years after the Tiananmen Square massacre—and which seeks to deepen an understanding of human rights issues on both sides, I want to ask the Government what benchmarks they use to assess the success of that approach, and whether they see this year as a unique opportunity to deepen an awareness of the centrality of human rights to China’s relationship with the rest of the world, both in a domestic setting and in the conduct of its foreign policy.

I also want to flag up a number of specific concerns, and I am grateful to all noble Lords who are to speak later and who will enlarge on these points and raise others. Let me begin with the use of the death penalty. It is estimated that each year some 8,000 executions take place in China. Last June, the state media suggested that there had been,

“fewer executions after legal reforms”.

Perhaps the Minister can tell us whether we have been able to assess the veracity of that claim. For instance, are appeals against the death penalty being held in open court and have we made progress in calling for national data on the use of the death penalty to be collated and published?

Disturbingly, the death penalty is used for 68 different offences in China, including non-violent crimes such as embezzlement and drugs-related offences. In July last, Zhang Ning, former chief accountant of the railway bureau in Lanzhou city, Gansu province, was sentenced to death after soliciting bribes and using public funds in failed investments. Later that month, Zheng Xiaoyu, former director of the State Food and Drug Administration, was executed after conviction for accepting bribes.

Other aspects of the judicial system also give cause for concern. Detention without trial and the use of “re-education through labour" is widely used. In the run-up to the Olympics, it is reported that the Beijing city authorities have used a “strike hard” campaign of detention to crack down on groups such as beggars, vagrants and unlawful taxi drivers. “Re-education through labour” and the use of detention as a punishment without trial is a flagrant violation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which China has signed and has declared its intention to ratify.

I hope that the Government will tell us what progress is being made on ratification and on other outstanding undertakings, such as implementation of the United Nations convention against torture and on issues such as freedom of expression.

In 2001, the authorities declared that there would be complete media freedom for the Olympic Games; namely, that 30,000 foreign journalists will be able to report without restriction, which is welcome. But how does that compare with the treatment of China’s own journalists? Amnesty says that one reporter, Lan Chengzhang, was beaten to death last year and journalists who then reported his case in the journal Democracy and Legal Times were dismissed. In July, the China Development Brief was banned.

Meanwhile, internet censorship has intensified, with websites regularly closed down. It is estimated that there could be 187 million internet search users by the close of this year. What a tragedy that Microsoft, Google and Yahoo have all collaborated in the censoring of the web. Microsoft blocks words such as “freedom”, “democracy” and “demonstration”, while Yahoo deplorably decided to provide to the state information about Shi Tao, a journalist with Contemporary Business News in Hunan province. As a result he was jailed for 10 years after he released to foreign-based websites an internal Communist Party document, while a Google search for the banned Falun Gong spiritual movement would direct users to a string of condemnatory articles. The BBC news site is inaccessible and broadcasts are jammed. At least 33 journalists and 50 internet users are currently detained in China.

In June last, three editors from the Chengdu Evening News, in Sichuan province, were dismissed after unwittingly carrying a small advertisement by families asking for justice for those killed in Tiananmen Square. In the long term, trying to erect a great firewall and a great wall of the airwaves will not serve China’s interests. Unsurprisingly, human rights activities fare no better than those of journalists. In July last, the death was reported of Chen Xiaoming, a Shanghai activist, who was reportedly stripped naked, physically abused, held at a secret location, denied family access, and when released was barely alive, dying one month later of a massive haemorrhage.

I have regularly raised the case of Chen Guangchen, a blind self-taught lawyer, imprisoned in Shandong province in 2005 after he exposed the mass forced abortion and sterilisation of thousands of women in Shandong. China is the only country in the world where it is illegal to have a brother or a sister. Female foeticide has led to a population imbalance of 117 men to every 100 women, and that is leading to catastrophic social consequences.

Human Rights Watch said of Chen’s case:

“It was house arrest, physical abuse, and then ‘disappearance’ ... His case is a textbook example of how little the rule of law really means in China”.

When Chen’s wife, Yuan Weijing, recently tried to travel to the Philippines to receive on her husband’s behalf the Magsaysay Award—Asia’s Nobel Prize—she was accosted by 17 men and forcibly returned to Shandong. I wonder what the Minister can tell us about Chen’s current position. I hope that he will also tell the House what proportion of our continued financial support for the United Nations population fund and the International Planned Parenthood Federation is channelled to the Chinese Population Association, the arm of the state responsible for those policies. In 2006-07 DfID gave £25 million to the UNFPA and £7.6 million to the IPPF.

If political rights and human rights are infringed in China, so are religious liberties. In November I raised by way of Written Question the case of the Tibetan nomad, Rongye Adak, who was imprisoned after he called for the return of the Dalai Lama to Tibet. In commenting on his well-being, will the Minister say something about the status and whereabouts of the Panchen Lama and the new 14-part regulations issued by the State Administration for Religious Affairs detailing the Government’s prohibition on any reincarnated lama being identified without Beijing’s approval? Tibetan religion is, of course, the root of Tibetan identity and that is why China wants to destroy it.

Do the Government know whether any progress is being made in the talks between the Dalai Lama’s representatives and the Chinese authorities? There are over 100 million self-described Buddhists in China. They have been shown little tolerance. Nor have the Uighur Muslims, the Falun Gong or Christians.

The Institute on Religion and Public Policy—I serve in an unpaid capacity on its board of advisers—details the harvesting of organs of Falun Gong members, their incarceration in re-education camps, and the use of electro-shock therapy and torture to force adherents to recant their beliefs. Millions of underground Christians, Catholic and Protestant, have also faced persecution for their beliefs. An article in this week’s Tablet says that up to a dozen Catholic bishops remain incarcerated—under house arrest, in police custody or in hiding. Forty of China’s 100 Catholic dioceses have no bishop and the Holy See remains unrecognised. Thousands of members of the underground Catholic Church and members of various illegal Protestant house churches have been arrested and tortured while in detention.

In particular I want to mention Bishop Lin Xili, imprisoned since 1999 and who is elderly and in bad health; Bishop Shi Enxiang, imprisoned since 2001; Bishop Xu Zemin, rearrested in 1997 and who has disappeared; and Bishop Yao Liang, arrested in 2005 and who is in his 80s. In addition, Tian Mingwei and Su Dean, two prominent Protestant leaders of one of China’s largest house church networks, are currently being detained by local police in Jiuquan City, Gansu province, arrested on 20 December 2007. Christian Solidarity Worldwide said in a statement issued yesterday:

“At the beginning of the year of the Beijing Olympics, their treatment highlights the lack of religious freedoms in China. Their arrest comes just two days after President Hu Jintao presented and reiterated a policy of religious freedom at a session of the politburo of the Communist Party focusing on religion. While such statements are welcomed, they must be weighed by the realities experienced on the ground by China’s religious believers”.

We cannot and should not ignore such realities. As China flexes its economic muscle and enjoys unprecedented economic growth, there needs to be a commensurate change in the way it dispenses justice and deals with human rights. Change at home will influence its actions overseas and within the region—in its relations with Tibet and Taiwan, and in the way it deals with issues such as the repatriation of North Korean refugees. I particularly welcome its helpful role, and that of our own Government, in the recent case of Yoo Sang-joon, who was due to be repatriated to North Korea where he would have faced execution. Similarly, China could win widespread acclaim if it used its influence to put pressure on Burma to recognise and free Aung San Suu Kyi.

Elsewhere in the world, China has begun to take more account of international opinion, as its foreign policy in North Korea and Sudan has revealed, and it could also exercise great influence in other parts of Africa, especially Zimbabwe.

In 2001, the then vice-president of the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games bid committee, Liu Jingmin, argued that:

“By allowing Beijing to host the games you will help the development of human rights”.

As the House now debates China’s record on human rights, that is surely the test against which we should judge China’s performance.

My Lords, I warmly congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Alton of Liverpool, on initiating this debate. In a brilliant speech, he has highlighted many of the appalling human rights abuses perpetrated by the People’s Republic of China, and your Lordships will find that there are many more examples described on the Amnesty International website. I intend to concentrate on another aspect of China’s human rights record in my speech—the treatment of the 23 million citizens of its neighbouring country, Taiwan. In doing so, I declare an interest as co-chairman of the British-Taiwanese All-Party Parliamentary Group and as a visitor to that country on a number of occasions.

Taiwanese human rights are being threatened in a number of ways. For example, there are around 1,000 missiles on the coast of China aimed directly at the heart of Taiwan. The Select Committee on Foreign Affairs in another place published an excellent report on east Asia in August 2006 that dealt with this subject. At paragraph 173, the committee said:

“We conclude that the Chinese military build-up across the Taiwan Straits threatens peace and stability in East Asia … We further conclude that the growth of democracy in Taiwan is of the greatest importance, both for the island itself and for the population of greater China, since it demonstrates incontrovertibly that Chinese people can develop democratic institutions and thrive under them”.

The PRC has backed up its threat of force with the passing of a so-called anti-secession law, which purports to give China the right to intervene militarily to force the reunification of Taiwan with the mainland. There are other equally unsubtle attacks on the human rights of the people of Taiwan. China has campaigned, so far successfully, to ensure Taiwan’s exclusion from world bodies such as the United Nations and the World Health Organisation. It demands that other countries deny Taiwan recognition and seeks to humiliate Taiwanese public figures by pressuring Governments around the world not to permit the fundamental rights of travel and free association.

This might not matter so much if China was the only country to behave like that towards Taiwan, but sadly that is not the case, as we all know. Unfortunately, Her Majesty’s Government appear as enthusiastic as any in support of the so-called One China policy. You get the flavour of this when you read the opening words of the FCO’s country brief on Taiwan on its website:

“The United Kingdom acknowledges the position of the Chinese Government that Taiwan is a province of China and recognises the Chinese Government as the sole legal government of China. The United Kingdom does not recognise Taiwan as a state and does not have diplomatic relations with Taiwan”.

The origin of this One China policy lies in the events of the late 1960s and early 1970s, when there were two Governments claiming to be the real Government of the whole of China: the Chinese nationalists, the Kuomintang, who went to Taipei in exile having lost the civil war, and the communist PRC Government of Mao Tse-Tung, who had won it. In terms of human rights, there was little to choose between them. Both operated a one-party dictatorship—parliamentary democracy was non-existent—and both relied heavily on martial law to preserve order. Not much has changed on the mainland since then, but the situation in Taiwan has been transformed. The FCO website describes Taiwan as,

“a multi-party democracy with a directly elected President”.

This weekend there will be a legislative election and in March a new president will be elected.

My noble friend will recall that he and I corresponded in September last year on the subject of Taiwan’s applications to join the United Nations and the World Health Organisation. In his letter to me and to the co-chairman of the all-party Taiwan group, Sir Nicholas Winterton MP, my noble friend described Taiwan as,

“a major Asian economy and vibrant democracy, and an important trade and investment partner for the UK. There are flourishing links in a wide range of areas, including business, education and culture. We wish to see these links continue to develop”.

Unfortunately, the tone of my noble friend’s letter changed as it went on and he finished by saying:

“We do not consider Taiwan’s efforts to join the UN at this time to be helpful or conducive to stability in East Asia”.

A similar, but even harder, line was taken by the Foreign Secretary on 5 December. He told reporters that Britain did not support Taiwan’s proposed referendum on UN membership and that,

“any reckless manoeuvres are to be deplored”.

This is the first time that I have heard a referendum to obtain people’s views on an important issue of policy described as a “reckless manoeuvre”. I hope that the Prime Minister will resist the temptation—and pressure from the Chinese—to follow the same line when he visits Beijing next week.

I compare this with the Government’s position on Kosovo, where they rightly support the Ahtisaari proposals for Kosovan independence from Serbia. President Ahtisaari says that the new Kosovan constitution must be drafted and adopted by Kosovans and that Kosovo must have its own flag, seal and anthem, and the right to negotiate and conclude international agreements, including the right to seek membership of international organisations. My two questions are simple. First, if we are right to support Kosovan independence from Serbia, why do we refuse to support Taiwanese independence from China, based on similar principles? Secondly, what more must Taiwan do to demonstrate its credentials as a democratic state and as a friend of the United Kingdom?

My Lords, I have chosen to speak on the role of China in Africa. I owe to an excellent Fahamu publication on China in Africa the following two quotations. The Sierra Leone ambassador in Beijing says:

“The Chinese are doing more than the G8 in making poverty history. If a G8 country had wanted to rebuild the stadium, we’d still be holding meetings. The Chinese just come and do it. They don’t hold meetings about environmental impact assessment, human rights, bad governance and good governance. I’m not saying it’s right, just the Chinese investment is succeeding because they don’t set high benchmarks”.

My second quotation is from a Kenyan government spokesman, who described China as an easy country to do business with because,

“the Chinese do not peg their economic activity or aid to political conditions ... You never hear the Chinese saying that they will not finish a project because the government has not done enough to tackle corruption. If they are going to build a road, then it will be built”.

Fahamu reports the African view—that of African environmentalists, technicians, political leaders, civil society, economists and human rights activists—on the impact of the Chinese presence in Africa. China never engaged in the slave trade and has no colonial past; on the contrary, it supported liberation movements, if only initially to counter Soviet influence. It has a pragmatic and non-conditional approach to investment and aid on the basis of equal to equal. It does not bother with human rights. African observers such as Moeletsi Mbeki are well aware that China deals with political leaders and is not interested in governance, investing where the need for its expanding industrial power can be met in oil, cobalt, precious metals, woods and other things. It creates some of the infrastructure that many countries need—mines, dams, electrical power—often bringing in Chinese to do the work rather than providing local employment. It accepts and uses the almost universal corruption that obtains among African leaders, and is not unknown in China, and has no tradition of deference to human rights.

Others will speak of the situation in Sudan today, which epitomises China’s policy of dealing with those in power to meet its need for oil and its readiness to sell arms and aircraft for use to subdue Sudan’s own people. In earlier times the Chinese, building the pipeline to the Red Sea, were, like the Sudanese Government, wholly unconcerned by the displacement of thousands. They shared the views of, for instance, the Sudanese Government that any civil resistance to work conditions in Chinese enterprises must expect to be met with force, as it would have been in China. Equally, the threat to the environment from illegal logging and fishing does not concern them; the choice of dam sites on the Zambezi is determined by the economic and not by the environmental or human factors. We should be ready to help to recover for any free Zimbabwe Government that may eventually emerge any major assets that have been arbitrarily ceded to Chinese interests by ZANU-PF Ministers without due process.

We must accept, as realistic African observers do, that, despite the Chinese policy of dealing with leaders who are mostly indifferent to the needs of their people, China is doing something—although in its own interests— for the infrastructure of the continent in dams, electrical projects and skilled people, and the Chinese presence on the ground is growing. The Sino-African partnership in the UN is becoming a powerful factor in determining international policy, not only in Africa. In Sudan, the UN is powerless; its mandate will be, as always, to observe but not to intervene.

China is in Africa to stay and we have to live with that. If we are to help the peoples of Africa to benefit by the Chinese presence and to protect themselves from the onslaught on human rights, we should be doing all that we can to enable civil society to fight its own battles, both in securing good governance from often deplorable rulers and in acquiring the know-how to deal with the Chinese invasion with skill and expertise and to fight for human rights. The trade unions and women’s movements should be strengthened. There should be more and better training in computer skills.

Until China’s record at home improves, it will be a waste of time, at least in the context of Africa, to attack the Chinese record on breaches of human rights, especially for so long as the African Union does not do so. HMG should not be afraid to attack corruption among African leaders, to refuse to support such men with unaccountable budgets from DfID or to allow China’s appalling record to pass unnoticed. Not least, HMG should be restoring our diplomatic presence, which was withdrawn lately from some African countries. Men and women who understand and respect African thinking, including tribalism and African history, are far more valuable conduits to civil society than NGOs, however well meaning, the UN or the World Bank. The Chinese are on the ground and we have to face that. I hope that our people will know enough not to say, “Kenya and Pakistan both have a heritage as British colonies”. Pakistan was created by partition at the behest of Nehru and Jinnah in the last days of the British Raj, which was administered by the Indian Political Service. It was never a colony.

The human rights record of China is awful beyond words, and that must be recognised and fought. I suggest that pragmatically we should be working out ways to enable the peoples—not the Governments—of the African countries to protect themselves, secure their human rights and not allow the Chinese habit of colluding with the Government of the day to use force. That should not pass unnoticed.

I will end with one anecdote. In the last Zambian elections, someone who was canvassing against the Government was rightly extremely angry about the flooding of the country with cheap Chinese goods and much more about the conditions in the copper mines, where people were being brutally treated. When he was enlarging on this, the Chinese ambassador suggested that any more of this and China would withdraw its support if he were to be elected. I suppose that that is a very practical approach, but it is not one that one can regard with any kind of sympathy. I very much hope that HMG will fight in every possible way Chinese breaches of human rights. However, I recognise that China is a large, powerful and great country and we shall have to have very effective means of bringing our own views to bear on it. Personally, I think that China’s own interests will eventually move in that direction, but I think that that will be a long time coming.

My Lords, I, too, congratulate and thank the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for having made this debate possible on a very important subject and at a critical phase. I should say right at the start that my remarks may strike a rather different note from the speeches that preceded mine. That is not because I do not recognise the civil rights and human rights abuses in China—I absolutely do, and I deplore them—but because I think it more important at this juncture to try and focus on the forces and motors for change in China and in Chinese policy and to try and see how those can be usefully assisted from our perspective.

I visited Shanghai for the first time last November. I had been to China a good number of times but never to Shanghai. Like many people, including many noble Lords who have been to Shanghai, I was startled by the city’s exuberance and the sheer momentum of what is going on there. It is very striking. I was, incidentally, pleased to see that the Bund on the riverfront is now protected. It gives the city, despite the skyscrapers, a really important and distinctive visual character. It also says something quite important about the international nature of Shanghai.

I feel that there may be something in the Chinese scene whereby Shanghai plays a role slightly akin to that of St Petersburg in Russia. It is the international opening and a very important city in that context. It is certainly an important prism through which to view some of the issues in this debate on “China’s role in promoting and respecting human rights”. Why? Shanghai demonstrates China’s determination to make capitalism work for it. We may find that a strange and contradictory concept but it is the reality. The Chinese are not playing with capitalism; they want it to work and they believe that it is the essential method by which China’s living standards will be raised. Secondly, it shows China’s clear intention, Shanghai being such an international city, to be massively active as an investor, importer and exporter in global markets.

Why are these factors so crucial for human rights and developments in human rights? It is because they are the motors of change, and change is what we need to see in Chinese civil society. We should never underestimate the rapidity of change. I was in Shanghai to lecture at Shanghai International Studies University, which is one of the focal points in China for the acquisition of foreign languages. I would remind your Lordships that some 300 million people are studying English in China. The reason for that focus on the English language—which of course carries many values of civil society within the language—is their determination to succeed individually and collectively as part of a globalised economy.

As for internal change and human rights in China, I think there has been one reference so far in the debate to China’s membership of the WTO, which started in 2001—not all that long ago. Part of China’s commitment in its acquisition of WTO membership was a commitment to,

“establish a law-based society”.

It is important, in seeing where we go from this point, to understand the extent to which China’s commercial and entrepreneurial ambition has as its concomitant a recognition of the need to create a civil society and a law-based society. I believe that there is clear evidence of recognition of the interconnection between those two things. While it is right that we condemn abuses, it is also important to encourage progress.

Secondly, I believe that the involvement of the Communist Party in China in its entrepreneurial development—contradictory though we may find this—needs to be welcomed. The party congress in 2002 accepted entrepreneurs as party members in mainland China, and this has had a dramatic impact. More recently, we have seen increasing numbers of private companies in China establishing party committees as part of their management structure. We could arrive at a sinister explanation of those developments, but I would rather see the Communist Party of China described, as it was recently in the Financial Times, as the world’s largest holding company than as the dictatorship of the proletariat.

What of China’s influence and role in promoting human rights? The point has already been vividly and powerfully made that China plays an increasingly important role as an investor in construction and an importer of raw materials. The figures are quite extraordinary. China is doubling its imports of minerals, oil and energy year on year. That has a paradoxical impact on us: whereas cheap products from China are, in price terms, deflationary in the West, the import of raw materials by China is now a very important inflationary force within the western economies.

The fact is that China is playing a huge role as an investor and importer. There is great sensitivity in terms of the abuse of human rights—Zimbabwe has already been mentioned, as have Sudan and Darfur. China can and should—and we hope it will—use this influence positively. I sense that the Chinese authorities are aware of the importance of this dimension of foreign policy but they have not yet focused on it. The time has now arrived.

We have seen in North Korea how very beneficial China’s influence can be. Equally, we have been very disappointed by its lack of involvement in Burma.

I end with two questions for the Minister. Will Her Majesty's Government continue to monitor and urge China’s fulfilment of its WTO commitment to a law-based society? Will they make that a regular part of our agenda of dialogue with the Chinese Government? Secondly, will we use our ongoing bilateral and very intense dialogue with China—the forthcoming visit by the Prime Minister is a good example—to urge it, as a matter of its maturity and status in the international community, to use its influence for good where it makes major foreign investments? This will be important to China’s status and credibility in the future.

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for raising this issue at an opportune time. China knows that it has to speak the language of human rights if it is to become an international player.

“The democracy and human rights of the people will be vigorously enhanced and safeguarded”,

are the words of Liu Jingmin of the Beijing Olympics organising committee.

As the noble Lord, Lord Watson, said, respect for human rights is an essential pillar of a free enterprise society, such as large sections of the Chinese population now aspire to, and some would say have always followed. Like individual freedom and the rule of law, it belongs to a process which ensures a healthy global economy. The Chinese leadership are well aware of the wider advantages; it is just that it does not currently suit their internal political ideology. They fear its consequences because any faster transformation to a freer society will require an end to discrimination against minorities, a fairer judicial system and a gradual move towards freedom of expression.

The so-called minorities are in some cases sizeable nations. Tibet remains the outstanding example, but there is another persecuted people: the Uighurs in Xinjiang, western China—a vast Turkic Muslim minority of 10 million who have suffered similar treatment to the Tibetans over many years and are about to be outnumbered by the Han Chinese through colonisation, denying them their fair share of national mineral wealth. The Uighurs have stronger ethnic and historic links with their ex-Soviet neighbours and since 1949 there has been discrimination against them in every sphere: in employment, education, religion, even in marriage. State control of Islam in Xinjiang is well documented. There is a deliberate policy of suppression of religious activity, and mosques and religious practices are strictly controlled. On this test alone I would fail China as a proper host of the Olympic Games.

Since 2001, with some Uighurs inevitably sympathising with Islamism and a few joining the Taliban, it has been easier for the Chinese to brand their more extreme Uighur critics as terrorists instead of separatists or counter-revolutionaries. The Uighur diaspora is now widespread. Many have fled across neighbouring borders, although there have been cases of refugees sent back from Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan. Some migrate as far as Turkey and Saudi Arabia, or seek asylum in Sweden and the US. Twenty-three Uighurs from Pakistan ended up in Guantanamo. Some were moved to a better prison but only five have been released, ending up in an Albanian refugee camp.

The UN Special Rapporteur on Torture in 2006 reported some improvement in methods of treatment in Chinese prisons, but from a very low base. As my noble friend said, detainees are held for long periods without judicial control, which is a clear incentive for interrogators to obtain confessions through ill treatment. There is little external or independent monitoring and sentences, including the death penalty, are among the harshest in the world.

I will quote a few examples which demonstrate China’s paranoia about Uighur intellectuals and campaigners. The arrest of human rights activist Hu Jia in December is the latest sign of a pre-Olympic crackdown. One prominent writer still in prison is Nurmuhemmet Yasin, arrested in 2004. He and Korash Huseyin, editor of the Kashgar Literary Journal, were charged with writing and publishing a short story which was considered a critique of the Government’s presence in Xinjiang. Huseyin was sentenced to three years in prison and is due to be released this year. Yasin, after a closed trial at which he was denied a lawyer, was sentenced to 10 years for, “inciting Uighur separatism”. He is currently being held in Urumqi Jail and has been denied all visitors.

Abdulghani Memetemin, another writer from Xinjiang, was arrested in 2002 after providing information to a pro-independence group abroad. He was convicted in Kashgar and sentenced to nine years. He was reportedly denied legal representation at his trial and has been tortured. I am grateful to International PEN for providing this information. Tao Haidong was arrested in 2002 just for posting articles on the internet and sentenced to seven years. Finally, Tohti Tunyaz is a historian in Urumqi Prison, arrested while working for a PhD in Uighur history and ethnic relations. He was sentenced in 2000 to 11 years for “stealing State secrets”.

Have the Government taken up any of these cases? At least they could inquire after the health of the family of Rebiya Kadeer, who was elected president of the World Uighur Congress last year. She is well known in Xinjiang as a business leader and a campaigner. She has met President Bush and, as the Minister will remember, last October she called at the Foreign Office. In 2000 she was sentenced to eight years for, among other things, sending her husband newspaper cuttings, and she spent five years in prison. She now lives in the US but her son Ablikim Abduriyim, aged 33, is in a serious state in a prison near Urumchi. He was tried in secret and is said to be seriously ill and injured following repeated beatings and ill treatment which many believe is partly in retribution for his mother’s activities. According to Amnesty he has been denied medical treatment. This is surely a case we should be following closely.

On 7 February we will enter the year of the rat. Those born during the year of the rat are said to be adaptable, clever, ambitious and industrious. The rat in the story came along on the back of the ox, jumping ahead at the last minute to win the race.

The UK has been a standard-bearer of human rights and has encouraged free expression in many countries. To some extent, we may be holding back human rights in China in the name of subtle diplomacy. Let us hope we are not applying a different standard to China, as it is now such an important trading partner. We do not want to become spoilsports in the run up to the Olympics. I know that Her Majesty’s Government will make their views felt through the human rights dialogue, but it is ironic that while the Olympic authorities are monitoring air pollution in China—and we must welcome the latest ban on plastic bags—there is, unfortunately, no monitoring of human rights.

My Lords, I too congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Alton of Liverpool, on this very important debate. While we recognise and celebrate the advances that China is making as an economic superpower, we must continue to assess and question China's role in promoting and respecting human rights, which we cannot ignore, even more so in light of its economic success. China has taken some steps in advancing its promotion of human rights, but there is no denying that China needs to go further in this area. I hope that the Minister will answer the question posed by the noble Lord, Lord Alton, on whether the Chinese Government have indicated when they may ratify the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Like my noble friend Lady Park of Monmouth, I would like to direct part of my speech to China's efforts in Africa.

China has been a key supporter of Robert Mugabe, a man who has sparked political fury across the globe with his most questionable leadership in Zimbabwe. It has been only a few months since China dropped assistance to the Mugabe regime, but we are aware that it is still assisting with humanitarian aid, which remains a positive step, especially with China expressing its desire to work more closely with the international community.

It was widely reported that, in the Minister's discussions with China last year, China expressed a wish to work more closely with the international community to bring peace to Darfur, particularly as previously it had been seen not to acknowledge the heartless policies of the Sudanese Government, who had continued to ignore the basic human rights of large parts of the Sudanese population. It appears that China is beginning to take its relationship with the African countries and with the international community more seriously; in particular, China has recognised that Zimbabwe is an out-of-control, failed state. In 2006, the GDP growth for China was 10.7 per cent, which has fuelled a rapid growth in tracking sources of oil in major oil-producing countries which pose high risks to inward investors, particularly when the rest of the world is reluctant to engage in contracts due to the challenging positions facing them when they choose to invest, particularly in Africa.

China's investment in Sudan, Nigeria, Angola and the Republic of Congo, to name but a few, is, as reported, the reason for China’s 40 per cent total growth in the demand for oil, with figures from reports claiming that Chinese companies had invested $175 million in the first 10 months of 2005 in African countries. Figures have suggested that China is taking up to 64 per cent of Sudan’s oil exports, and we must remember that Sudan remains one of the world’s poorest countries. While China continues to export oil out of Africa, the people of Africa remain poor, with the majority of Africans in abject poverty, corruption and suffering severe violations of their human rights.

It is only right that we continue to monitor and assess the role that China is playing in Africa. It has been estimated that by 2045 China will depend on imported oil for 45 per cent of its energy needs. To ease the effect such trading has on Africa, experts have said that China has an aid-for-oil strategy, and with such limited time I feel that this is a debate to be had in its own right.

As we see China striking deals with countries and Governments from across the globe, it is important that as an international leader it is aware of the destruction and violation of the human rights of the people in those countries where arms are traded in exchange for good oil prices. Equipping countries such as the Sudan, Zimbabwe and Nigeria, China is gaining strong political allies, succeeding in fulfilling political goals, but diverting attention from not addressing its own poor human rights record.

China is a leading member of the global community and must be met with the same scrutiny that is given to the rest of the world. Before making some points about China and its people, I shall finish this part of my speech on China’s relationship with Africa, because we must be aware that there have been some reported positive impacts on the economic growth of Africa, but let us not forget that the people who are not in power are the exploited masses in these international deals. The Africans are mainly cut out of jobs as China underbids local firms, but it can be argued that, where most global powers have not taken to being more practical in their help to rebuild many of the African countries, China has cashed in on such opportunities.

The issue of the rights of people in China has been a long-standing debate but, with the successful bidding for the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, the eyes of the world are even more on China. I have recently read that the authorities have given permission to the police to hold and detain dozens of activists, outspoken intellectuals and human rights lawyers, including the arrest of Hu Jia—as mentioned by the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich—reportedly one of the biggest targets for the authorities, as it was said that he had gathered and distributed information on the Government’s human rights abuse. Is the Minister aware of such actions?

When China won the bid to host the Games in 2001, it made a pledge to the world that it would take steps to improve its human rights record. One of the human rights issues that has come to the fore is the abuse of media freedom. On the rebuilding programmes going on in the run-up to the Games, it has been reported and seen that workers are being cheated out of wages and are working under dangerous conditions with no access to medical and accident insurance. With much redevelopment taking place, many local residents have been forced to move from their homes without compensation.

In conclusion, while we see that China is making huge leaps in the global economy and positive impacts in Africa, it is important to assess China’s role in promoting and respecting its own human rights record. With the Olympic Games taking place in Beijing we can see that China must play an active part in aiding its own people and serving them with the freedoms that they should be enjoying while the rest of the world comes to its door to celebrate the Games. Its relationship with Africa may be of economic fruitfulness, but we must not be blinded by the human rights violations that are still taking place within a rapidly expanding power.

My Lords, like other noble Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for raising this subject, both because it is important in its own right and because it helps us to put into context what is happening and to question what we might do positively to help. Coming near the end of the debate, there is no need to raise more individual questions of abuses of human rights in China. There are plenty of examples and I am sure that they are real ones.

It is interesting to realise that recently at the Communist Party Congress at the end of October last year, the President of China, Hu Jintao, said that it was necessary to,

“respect and safeguard human rights”.

One can question what that means in practice, but can one imagine 20 years ago the President of China saying that this should be an objective? Here, surely, is something that we can build on.

The other part of the context, I suggest, is the massive internal development of China. The noble Lord, Lord Watson, referred very movingly to what Shanghai looks like. The same is true of Beijing and Guangzhou, or Canton. There is massive development. What we hear much less about is the enormous disparity of wealth between the countryside and the cities. Something like 50 per cent of China’s wealth is in the control of something like 10 per cent of the population. Virtually all those people live in the cities. The influx of people from the countryside to the cities is absolutely enormous. It is estimated that there are something like 200 million migrant workers in the cities of China at the moment and that they will continue to move into the cities at a rate of 15 million per year, probably for the next 20 years. The conclusion is that governing China is no easy task for anybody.

Other noble Lords have referred to another part of the context: the enormous economic growth of China over the past few years and its impact on China’s role in the world. China is already the fourth largest economy in the world and the figures for 2007 will probably show China overtaking the UK to become the third largest. Inevitably, this dramatically affects China’s position in the world and its relationship with other countries, including the UK. Recently, the very effective Chinese ambassador to London, Madame Fu Ying, came to Cambridge to address members of the university. She made a point of saying that the world tended to see China as an elephant, while those involved in formulating Chinese policies tended to see it as a mouse. The reason for this is that while the world sees China as huge, powerful and significant, the policymakers in China see instead all the problems that they face. I would not dare to pick certain animals from the Chinese zodiac, particularly not the next one on the calendar, which might be misunderstood, but a tiger is a better animal to choose than either an elephant or a mouse.

The really important point is that now, inevitably, China is being drawn into discussion of key world issues in a way that has not been true in the past. Previously, China has been able to say that it does not involve itself in the internal affairs of other countries. That is no longer possible. As other noble Lords have said, China already plays a significant role and, in many places, a very positive role. Examples include North Korea and Iran on nuclear matters, and also Burma, to some extent. There is huge involvement in Africa. It must surely be our objective, picking up on what noble Lords have said, to make that as positive as possible. China is also involved in UN peacekeeping operations.

In this context, we already have a widely based dialogue with China. That is something on which we can build. It is in that forum that one can and should raise the question of human rights as something that is important for its own sake and important for the economic development of China. Doing it in a much broader context means that one does not run into the danger—which there has been in the past—of China seeing these comments and criticism of its human rights record as antagonistic and, to put it crudely, as “China-bashing,” and therefore disregard it. Put into a wider context it can be dealt with in a different way.

To pick up on another point from the noble Lord, Lord Watson of Richmond, China has made enormous strides in the development of its legal system over the past 20 years. Of course, there is still a long way to go. The Chinese leaders recognise that. At the Communist Party Congress last October, President Hu Jintao spoke of the importance of the rule of law as “a fundamental principle”. We in the UK have helped in the past with the training of Chinese lawyers and judges. A lot of this has been done through the British Council. Some of it, interestingly, has been done in Scotland, because the Roman law basis of the Scottish legal system is often easier for the Chinese to latch onto than the common law tradition in England. A lot has been done, and I am sure that a lot more could be done.

In conclusion, I ask the Minister, first, to tell us something about the wider context of our discussions with China on a broad range of international issues and how the human rights issue could be inserted into them, and, secondly, what the British Government think that they can go on doing to help the Chinese to help themselves to develop a sound rule of law, both for China’s own sake and because that is, after all, a key element in helping to improve a record of human rights.

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Alton of Liverpool, for introducing this debate. I declare my interests as chairman of the British Olympic Association, a director of the London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games and a member of the Olympic board for the Olympics to be held here in London in 2012. The subject of my speech will come as little surprise to noble Lords this evening. I have also sustained a strong personal interest in foreign affairs and human rights, two subjects which dominated the years during which I had the honour and good fortune to sit on the Front Bench as senior foreign affairs spokesman for my party, a humble predecessor to the eminent current incumbent, my noble friend Lord Howell.

Many noble Lords have referred to the problematic nature of China’s human rights record and, indeed, that of a number of other countries in the region. Noble Lords have referred to breaches in human rights which are clearly unacceptable in the 21st century. Every part of the international community must strive to do what it can to move the issue forward. I am also sure that we all recognise the sensitivities associated with taking the Olympic Games to China at this time.

I strongly support the stance of the International Olympic Committee that the 2008 Olympic and Paralympic Games should and will go ahead in Beijing. I also share the view of Jacques Rogge, president of the International Olympic Committee, that there is a real chance that we will see a positive impact on China’s human rights as a result. However, neither the Olympic movement nor, indeed, anyone should expect the 2008 Olympic Games alone to bring China into line with international human rights standards. Expectations of an Olympics-led metamorphosis are simply unrealistic. Real change requires consolidation of the position of China's domestic reformers and a wider public recognition of human rights. It would not be unusual for this to take many more years—in effect, another generation. Indeed, one of the major challenges will be how the momentum for change will be sustained after the curtain comes down on the Games in Beijing. Nor can, or should, the International Olympic Committee be expected to solve a problem to which the Governments of the international community have yet to find an answer.

At the same time, it would be wrong to underestimate the growing national influence of sport and the power of the Olympic movement. For just as China's human rights record fits uneasily with the Olympic ideals, so too does the idea that sport can harbour prejudice, geographical or otherwise. The goal of Olympism is to spread fundamental human values as widely as possible and not to confine them exclusively to the western world, as we tended to do in the 20th century. Sport is about humanity.

An argument for why the 2008 Summer Olympics should be held in Beijing is that sport in itself is a force for good. It is a mass phenomenon which gives enjoyment to hundreds of millions of people every week. We have gone far beyond the principle of the value of sport as simply entertainment. That has been recognised, not least in the 1978 International Charter of Physical Education and Sport, which places the development of physical education and sport at the service of human progress. Sport has a role to play in society. At all levels, it is influential and pervasive. By their very nature, sport and physical education are about participation, inclusion and a sense of belonging. Sport, as a universal language, can help to promote peace, tolerance, reconciliation and understanding. It cuts across lines of class, nationhood, ethnicity and culture that might otherwise divide, and it is an exceptional vehicle for bringing people together, bridging differences and promoting communication and understanding.

For example, sport has helped reinitiate dialogue where other channels have struggled. A tradition of such sports diplomacy has certainly played its part in Asia. North and South Korea promoted reconciliation by merging their athletes into a common team for the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games. Table tennis set the stage for the resumption of diplomatic ties between China and the United States in 1971. Elsewhere, Israeli and Palestinian children regularly come together to play soccer or basketball. If anyone doubted the extraordinary power of sport, they would have to look no further than last year’s Asian Football Cup. In Iraq, riven by sectarian violence and turmoil, there are few rays of hope. Yet Shia, Sunni and Kurdish players made up the Iraqi team and, putting aside the differences that separate them in their own country, they came together as one team to win the Asian Football Cup. The uplift to the Iraqi people as a result of that victory of their national team stands as a testament to what sport can do to bring people together.

Despite this evidence, we have heard some calls for a boycott of the Games, not least from Edward Macmillan-Scott, a member of my own party in the European Parliament. I recognise that boycotts can in some cases be successful, but not in this case. As the noble Lord, Lord Watson, rightly argued, China is at an important stage in its development. As a nation, it will also play a key role in all of our futures. We need to help open up China to the rest of the world, to integrate and to cultivate relationships, to shine a spotlight, as the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, has done today, on the issues which concern us, and to work together to encourage resolutions. It is incumbent on all of us involved with the Olympic movement to play our role in this. It is also incumbent on those involved with the IOC fully to engage with all the issues of a host nation in order to ensure that the principles of Olympism and the Olympic ideals are promulgated as effectively and as widely as possible. Human rights, educational programmes and environmental matters are all on the agenda of those whose lives are impacted by sport, and indeed the IOC. As I was leaving the IOC headquarters in Lausanne only last month, I was passed by three members representing a human rights group, drawn from a demonstration outside, who were welcomed into discussion with IOC executives.

We should not forget the progress which has been made since Beijing was awarded the Games, a direct consequence of the strength of the sports movement to which I have referred. As the noble Lord, Lord Alton, acknowledged in his speech, foreign journalists are, for the first time, welcomed without restriction. Amnesty International has recognised that positive steps have been taken in relation to the death penalty and to police brutality, while rightly continuing to focus on cases of human rights violations which have never before in history been under such a strong global spotlight of media, political and public attention—and never would have been had the Games gone elsewhere.

In conclusion, the IOC has created a serious momentum for change by deciding to stage the Olympic Games in Beijing, a momentum that could generate pressure on the Chinese regime to change its behaviour and, at the very least, accelerate the process of instituting long-term reforms. Amidst concerns that this will not pay off, it is worth remembering that there would not have been the recent Chinese promises to improve human rights and press freedoms that we have heard about, fulfilled or not, without the Beijing Olympics. Beijing 2008 has pushed China’s human rights record to the top of the international agenda for the next eight months. The challenge for politicians, human rights groups, the Chinese Government and the IOC is to work together to make the wisest use of this opportunity, to ensure that fundamental human rights are treated with a new-found respect in China. This is, after all, a fundamental goal of the Olympic movement.

My Lords, we are all grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for enabling us to have this debate at such a topical moment and for allowing us to hear from the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan. We have missed him over the last few years and we are pleased to hear his contribution to this debate and his optimism about the effect that the Olympic Games may have on human rights in China. Nobody expects to wave a magic wand over China and suddenly institute a regime of complete human rights instantly. We recognise that it is a question of a whole generation, but the fact that a start is now being made is a hopeful sign.

The noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe, said in the debate on the gracious Speech last November that China’s huge and continuing economic success is by no means the only reason why its presence on the world stage is so important. He drew attention to the remarkable success of our agreement with China on Hong Kong as an indication of China’s reliability as a partner in international agreements, to China’s support for UNSCR 1769 on Darfur and to the visit by the UN special envoy, Ibrahim Gambari, to Burma in October, as examples of China’s increasing involvement in the solution of major problems on the UN’s humanitarian and peacekeeping agendas. As has also been mentioned, the return of North Korea to the six-party talks on non-proliferation just after that debate was also attributed largely to Chinese diplomacy. China’s involvement in key world issues was underlined again today by the noble Lord, Lord Wilson of Tillyorn.

It is common ground that in a few years China not only will have become the greatest economic power in the world but may also have assumed a much greater share of responsibility for upholding standards of governance, human rights and the rule of law that hitherto have been led by the West, through the motors of change referred to by my noble friend. It will be natural for China to develop those standards within its own borders and to promote them internationally, if only for reasons of self-interest. Several noble Lords mentioned Zimbabwe. The massive Chinese investment there and in other countries in Africa can be protected only if it is embedded in ordinary societies where people have rights protected by the Government and the rule of law. It is welcome that China has signed up to the six major human rights treaties—although it has still to ratify the ICCPR—and has thus acknowledged them as the yardsticks that need to be applied both at home and abroad.

Where China falls short of complying with those obligations domestically, it is not very likely that it will promote them abroad. Amnesty International has provided us with a useful checklist. There is some progress. As has been mentioned, fewer death penalties are being imposed. Some restrictions on foreign journalists were lifted at the start of 2007, as the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, mentioned, but Reporters Without Borders says that since then it has received 180 reports of threats, physical violence, harassment, destruction of equipment, interrogation and visa refusals. In the run-up to the Olympic Games, that simply will not do, nor will the jamming of the BBC’s Mandarin broadcast, which has also been mentioned. I should like to know what the Minister thinks we can do about that before the Olympic Games begin.

As the noble Lord, Lord Alton, said, the next round of UK-China dialogue is at the end of this month. It would be useful to know from the Minister what is to be discussed and what assessment the Government have made of progress over the year. The FCO’s human rights report for 2006 contains a useful summary of the points raised at that dialogue meeting, but what is always lacking is a picture of the effects of all the dialogue over the longer term and how they match up with the reports in the UN Human Rights Special Procedures.

I suggest that there should be a single web portal that gives access to all the information available on the dialogues—ours, those of the European Union, those of the Americans, and so on—with links not only to the related material on Foreign Office websites but to the site of the reports of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, pointing the way to better co-ordination than we have at the moment on those processes. I know that there are periodic meetings of the dialogue partners, but one would like to see how that works and how the special procedures are fed into those discussions.

Let me give an example. The UN Rapporteur for Religious Freedom visited China in 1994 and made a series of recommendations, which could be used as the benchmarks proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Alton, to measure the achievements of the dialogues. The FCO report says that no progress has been made on religious freedom, a key issue that was apparently raised without results at the EU-China dialogue last October. We have asked the Chinese to confirm when the UN rapporteur would be allowed to make a visit to follow up the 1994 recommendations and the Minister could perhaps say whether any answer to that has been received.

The issues of the gratuitous prohibition of the Falun Gong and the ill treatment of its adherents, as well as the relentless persecution of monks and nuns in Tibet, are taken up by Ministers, I know, at every opportunity and one hopes that these matters will be raised at the dialogue. The talks between the Chinese Government and representatives of His Holiness the Dalai Lama are useful but, since the sixth round last July, the ball has been in the Chinese court to name the date and place for the next meeting. Meanwhile, the railway link to Lhasa has stimulated even higher rates of Chinese emigration, accelerating an undermining of Tibetan cultural and spiritual identity, and, as the noble Lord knows, last September a regulation was passed providing that all lamas have to be approved by the Chinese authorities. If Beijing is playing for time, expecting that in a few years it will have extinguished Tibetan Buddhism, it is making a mistake, because the Dalai Lama is the spiritual head of a belief system that has a growing number of followers all over the world. This is the point where domestic human rights intersect with China’s foreign policy, as obviously China is not going to be tough on the Burmese junta over the killings and arrests of monks and the closure of monasteries during the recent uprising when similar violations have been perpetrated in Tibet.

This debate has been far too short to cover more than a fraction of the issues raised by the noble Lord’s Question, but clearly there is a strong demand across the House for the Government to seize the opportunity provided by the Beijing Olympics to increase the persuasion that they already apply for China to address human rights problems. I hope that in doing so they will keep Parliament fully informed and involved.

My Lords, we are all very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for raising this crucial issue and as usual we have heard a number of extremely expert views. For instance, the noble Lord, Lord Wilson, played a major part in preparing for the successful transfer of sovereignty in Hong Kong and probably knows more than almost anyone in this House or elsewhere about dealing with the Chinese people and their aspirations.

The conundrum about Britain and China is easily summed up. We want a strong relationship with China and all its peoples but we do not like some of the brutal methods employed in China today. The facts stare us in the face that China now already produces 16 per cent of the world’s gross domestic product. That figure is measured in purchasing power parity terms and it is heading much higher. Last year China exported over $1 trillion of goods to the western world. We have a dilemma between what we like and do not like, and we try to bridge the gap by hoping that economic freedom will eventually lead to political freedom; by hoping that opening to world trade will lead to higher standards; by arguing, as my noble friend Lord Moynihan did with great eloquence and expertise, that sport and the Olympic Games’ spotlight will bring liberalisation, as I believe it may well do; and by hoping that the information revolution and the world wide web will mean less state dominance and more power dispersal from the centre. But, as the noble Lord, Lord Alton, began by reminding us, that is going rather slowly when all the major search engines are collaborating with the repressive instincts in the Chinese Government. Above all we hope that China will change in line with the general patterns of global development, and it probably will, although in ways and patterns which will continue to baffle western political and economic theorists and not fit in with the kind of models and theories with which we are familiar in the western world.

On the good side it needs to be said that although there are many aspects we thoroughly dislike, let us at least remember—and we have been reminded in this debate—that the Chinese Government are free of some of our own flaws and weaknesses in the West, such as the idiocies of multiculturalism and the fallacies in some of our aid policies, and that they have lifted 400 million people out of poverty through sheer enterprise and energy, leaving hundreds of millions more, as the noble Lord, Lord Wilson, reminded us, still in the countryside and crowding into the towns. Nevertheless, this is progress and it cannot be denied.

Technology is moving ahead very fast. Earlier, we talked about developing our nuclear power programme. In the end, we may have to borrow from Chinese technology to restart our own civil nuclear programme in an effective way. If there are any doubts about the huge shift in wealth and political power now taking place towards China and the other Asian countries—indeed, to the whole Shanghai Co-operation Group—just to take a rather trivial example, I read in the newspaper this morning that China is the most favoured destination for exporting Rolls-Royce motor cars. Last year, sales to China increased by 50 per cent, which is evidence that something—maybe not the right thing—is certainly going on in that market, a market that we have to be in.

Of course, we do not want just markets from China, but responsibility and a measured weight in world affairs. We need China to be a force for stability in Africa, in central Asia, in Iran and in the Middle East. We want, indeed advise, those in China who will listen to us to adopt a less confrontational and more embracing approach to Taiwan, as the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner, rightly reminded us. The idea that it will embrace the future Taiwan by firing rockets at it and mobilising military forces on the mainland is completely the wrong approach.

I was especially struck too by the comments made by my noble friend Lady Park, which are always deeply perceptive. She is right to say that we must make sure that in Africa human rights are upheld, and that we point out to both the Chinese and the African people the benefits of pursuing the rule of law and upholding human rights. But we have to face a fact, which was encapsulated the other day in the rather disastrous EU-Africa meeting in Lisbon when one of the African leaders said, “It is all very well lecturing us on human rights, but the plain fact is that you can buy two Chinese cars for one European car”. That is the hard currency of the situation. If China can bring immediate, in-the-pocket benefits, it will prove to be a very attractive visitor and is beginning to exert an enormous influence, so that everywhere one goes in Africa now one sees signs of buildings and infrastructure labelled with Chinese symbols. That is what we are up against.

My right honourable friend David Cameron, the leader of my party, was in Chongqing recently, where he made a very interesting comment at the university, which I have no hesitation in repeating. Addressing a Chinese audience, he said:

“As your star rises once more in the world, so does the size of your stake in preserving global security and stability. This is partly a question of self-interest. Today, you are the world’s third biggest importer of oil”,

as we know,

“and ten per cent of it comes from Sudan. So China has a direct national interest in working for stability in Sudan, and an end to the killings in Darfur”.

He went on to point out that:

“China has a direct interest too in making sure Zimbabwe”,

is not worse, but a more “sustainable and brighter” place for the future, as my noble friend Lady Verma rightly emphasised. He also pointed out that China should play a really responsible part in helping to,

“resolve the Iranian nuclear crisis, because the proliferation of nuclear material endangers lives in Nanjing as much as it does in New York”.

He urged China to,

“deliver and reward good governance in Africa, because”,

successful Chinese,

“investment in that continent depends on stability and progress”.

That is the language of talking direct to Chinese interests and Chinese realism, which is beginning to have some effect, as many of those participating in this debate have rightly said.

In the end, the message we need to send to China—not as lecturers from some superior moral position but as practical friends who want China to succeed and prosper—is that more humane practices and a much deeper respect for human rights will benefit the Chinese people, as the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, rightly indicated, and will enable China to play its full, rightful and responsible role in world affairs in the 21st century. That is what we all want to see.

My Lords, I join others in congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Alton, on proposing this debate. His interest in the subject reflects his overall commitment to human rights, for which I think we all commend him.

This has been a typically interesting and thoughtful debate in which we all to a greater or lesser extent share the arguments made by the noble Lords, Lord Watson and Lord Wilson. Having come to China first as an expert on development rather than on human rights, I have always had to take into account the fact that China ranks in about the middle of the list in the UNDP Human Development Report. Although it scores poorly on the political criteria, it continues to score way above its per capita income level in terms of the economic and social criteria because of the improvements in life that it has created by lifting so many hundreds of millions of people out of poverty. Yet if one looks at the more purely political league tables of human rights freedoms and political freedoms more generally—that of Reporters Without Borders, which has been mentioned, or of Freedom House—one finds China near the bottom of the list. The noble Lord, Lord Howell, referred to this dilemma. We are in a sense investing in the idea that if China continues to enjoy strong economic progress, it will translate into greater political liberalisation.

For those who make that case, such as on the Olympics, there is a precedent. I would argue that China’s accession to the World Trade Organisation was a step change in many areas of internal freedom and in the introduction of at least pluralistic economic competitiveness into the Chinese economy. We hope, similarly, that the hosting of the Olympics will be another step change; not a temporary aberration where freedom is granted and then taken away but a process of locking in a greater degree of press and other freedoms.

Similarly for those of us who believe that the way forward on human rights is through engagement with China and through China’s economic and social success, we also make the case about the need to think of the alternative. If disengagement led to lower growth rates in China, think of the appalling challenges that it would pose to such a large country, with such rising aspirations and expectations among its people for a better life. After all, China comprises between one-fifth and one-sixth of the world’s population, so its fortunes impact directly on all of us, not just because of the trade and consumer goods that it provides us but because China’s environmental performance, its role as a consumer of the world’s natural resources and its role in global security are of direct interest to us. We require a partnership and a dialogue to help China manage its way through these daunting challenges of development and modernisation in a way that improves human rights as well as its performance on the other criteria. I would certainly make the case—I did not hear that much dissent from it in the debate—that however one balances the disappointing human rights record against the successes in other areas, the only way forward is engagement.

China’s stability is vitally important both for us and for global growth more generally. President Hu is committed to doing more to address the growing disparities affecting his country, and that is a commitment we wholeheartedly welcome. It has a value in terms of China’s record on economic and social rights that we sometimes underestimate. After all, there are two covenants on human rights; there is not only the civil and political covenant, but also the social and economic one. Since the reforms of 1978, China has lifted perhaps as many as 500 million people out of poverty. We need to applaud that and work to see how we can build further on it.

We want China to be a stable power so that it can play an increasing role in the global political system. That is because with the role comes the responsibilities associated with being a global stakeholder, as Bob Zoellick, president of the World Bank, has described it. Through exercising its influence responsibly, China can be a real force for good from Darfur to Kosovo, Iran to North Korea, and Burma to Afghanistan. Indeed, there has been some limited—I acknowledge that—progress on this. For example, China is now one of the largest contributors of personnel to UN peacekeeping operations of any P5 member. Chinese engineers are working in the Middle East, as well as a battalion of engineers embarked for Darfur. More recently, China voted in favour of important UN Security Council resolutions and supported what was for it difficult statements on issues such as Darfur and Burma, and as has been said, China facilitated the visit of the UN envoy to Burma last year.

Further, while I acknowledge that there are two points of view on this, China’s role in Africa is nevertheless very significant. At the time of my visit to Beijing last summer, in conversation with me the envoy to Africa announced that indeed China would now limit its support to Zimbabwe to humanitarian assistance and that it recognised that it was no longer a plausible development partner. On Darfur, it has been China’s pressure which, while at times perhaps not as strong as we would have wished, none the less allowed us last July to pass a Security Council resolution at 15 votes to zero in order to bring forward the deployment of UNAMID and see the beginnings of political negotiations between the two sides.

Finally, I turn to the issue of China’s investment in the infrastructure of Africa. Speaking as an old development man, while I recognise that the Chinese are like a new donor who needs to learn how the issues of environmental and social standards as well as good governance are critical to development outcomes, nevertheless for Africa, which for years was asking us for investment into the critical infrastructure of roads and power to allow it to compete in the global economy, it was China which heard that call. I regret that we in the West did not come forward with similar amounts of development assistance. So, yes, we can make the case for the ways in which the Chinese can improve how they deliver that assistance, but we should not fall into the trap of looking, in this case, an aid gift horse in the mouth.

Domestically, we believe that China could do more progressively to build a stronger rule of law, much greater freedom of information and association, and, over time, we hope, a pluralistic political system. That is critical if China is to equip itself with the checks and balances needed to let the pressure out of the steam cooker of dealing with public discontent. If people are not to riot and protest then, as we have seen in country after country, they must be granted the means of expressing themselves peacefully in politics. So we will go on pressing for a trajectory of Chinese reforms that do not cover only economic and social issues, but touch also on the political. It is against that backdrop that I would like to turn to the specific human rights issues raised today. Obviously it will not be possible to deal with every case, so I shall be happy to come back to noble Lords after the debate who want more information on particular cases.

First, let us acknowledge that ordinary Chinese people are now at much greater liberty to choose where they live and work and have greater rights to travel abroad. With this greater openness comes a greater exposure to other people’s ideas and cultures. China’s burgeoning economy offers them new choices and opportunities.

Institutional progress is often ignored, but there are developments in China’s legislative framework to provide greater protection for the rights of its citizens. The new labour law, which came into force on 1 January, is a good example. Of course there are difficulties of full implementation in a country the size of China, where there are still restrictions on some forms of public organisation. Nevertheless, on issue after issue, we are seeing greater recourse to legal remedies, a greater demand by the Government for improvements in how the judiciary operates and greater use by citizens of legal redress when they feel that their rights have been abused. On the rule of law, we consider that the use of house arrest, of re-education through labour and of extrajudicial forms of detention remain serious problems and we continue to urge the Chinese to be more transparent. But we also see progress.

Freedom of the media is still a significant problem. The new media regulations, put in place in January 2007, provide greater freedom for foreign journalists to travel around the country, but they are due to expire in October, after the Olympics, and do not, as has been pointed out, apply to domestic journalists. As has been said, the BBC Mandarin service is being blocked, an issue that we have raised with the Chinese authorities and about which we are in discussion with the BBC.

We are all aware of the difficult issues around Tibet. The death penalty in China has also been mentioned and, while its use seems to be declining, we still lack sufficiently reliable data to be confident of how far the number of executions has really fallen. Freedom of religion has properly been mentioned by many noble Lords today and we share the great concern about it.

On the one-child policy, when I heard the noble Lord refer to the fact that China is the only country where by law you cannot have a brother or sister, I thought that my squabbling children would all apply to move there. But behind the policy lies a profound and dangerous social situation. The consequences for family life and the structure of the country were by no means fully understood when the policy was adopted. I fear that we will live with the consequences for some time. Let me assure the noble Lord, Lord Alton, that moneys given to UNFPA are not used for coercive family planning; there has been much insistence by UNFPA that its moneys are used for policies that do not breach human rights.

Specific cases were mentioned. I visited China last August and, again, I can say that the cases of Chen Guangchen and that of his wife, Yuan Weijing, who at that time had just been stopped from travelling, have been raised by me and by others. The case of the children of Rebiya Kadeer has been raised. My right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary discussed human rights with his Chinese counterpart during the latter’s visit here in December. He again raised Chen Guangchen’s case, as well as those of Gao Zhisheng and Rongye Adak. We received responses to our requests for information just last Friday—4 January—with information on the welfare and whereabouts of many of those whose cases we had raised.

My right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary and I also discussed with our Chinese interlocutors the prospects of Chinese ratification of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. We are disappointed that the Chinese Government remain reluctant to commit to a timetable for ratification and we urge them to do so. It has been noted that my right honourable friend the Prime Minister will visit China later this month. He, too, will raise the issue of human rights and, shortly after his visit, we will hold the 16th round of the UK-China human rights dialogue, which will look in great depth at progress and at the challenges ahead. There is, as has been mentioned, a similar European Union dialogue in which we also participate.

In closing, I acknowledge that the Prime Minister will raise lots of other things in addition to human rights. He will raise our growing links in the financial, commercial, environmental, political, research, cultural and sporting areas. We host the Olympics in sequence with each other, and we will have a lot to learn from each other. We hope to be a kind of financial back office for China as its role in the world grows. We hope to partner with China to find solutions to its environmental difficulties. We have made great progress in that. The dialogue with China is rich and important and it must continue on all fronts, but it is critical that central to it—and something that we are never embarrassed about raising—is the role of human rights in China’s development.

House adjourned at 6.25 pm.