Skip to main content

China: Tibet

Volume 700: debated on Thursday 20 March 2008

asked Her Majesty’s Government:

What representations they have made to the Government of China about the conflict in Tibet.

My Lords, the Prime Minister discussed Tibet at length with Chinese Premier Wen on 19 March. He expressed his ongoing concern at the situation and urged restraint and a return to substantive dialogue to resolve underlying issues. We also continue to raise our concerns on a daily basis with the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Beijing and the Chinese embassy here in London.

My Lords, will the Foreign Secretary call in the Chinese ambassador and ask him to relay to his Government the extreme concern that the British people feel about the level of violence being inflicted on Tibetan civilians, including at least 100 dead, and the denial of access to journalists, diplomats and human rights observers? Further, what is the Government’s response to the request that has been made by the Dalai Lama for an international investigation of the situation in Tibet? Will they press that with the Chinese authorities when they speak to them?

My Lords, the noble Lord knows that in a way we have done better than calling in the ambassador in that the Prime Minister has spoken to his counterpart and made exactly those points on the need for dialogue and restraint and the need to pull back from violence. Equally, we have made it clear that we believe that the Dalai Lama’s commitment to seeking autonomy but not independence and his appeal to Tibetans not to resort to violence create a situation that we hope the Chinese will respond to positively.

My Lords, while it is not totally clear what is going on in Tibet—there is more than one side to the story—will the Minister accept that we on this side of the House are very glad that the Prime Minister has spoken to the Chinese Premier and that he is meeting the Dalai Lama, as are my colleagues Mr Cameron and Mr Hague, as well as His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales? Will he attempt, with his considerable international skill, to convey to the Chinese officials, whose achievements in many ways we respect enormously, that the Dalai Lama has always sought a moderate, compromising approach in dealing with Beijing and that treating him as the enemy and setting him up as a sort of demon may not be the wisest course for the people of Beijing, who obviously want a peaceful and non-violent solution to what is clearly a difficult situation?

My Lords, the noble Lord makes an important point. I think that everyone in the House would affirm that the Dalai Lama is a remarkable spiritual leader of his people and a remarkable voice for moderation and conscience in the world. Nevertheless, in China he has been broadly vilified. Across the internet you see ordinary Chinese people speaking against both the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan people. Some of the language used by the Chinese leadership is equally disappointing. One hopes that the Chinese can pull back from this and recognise that in the Dalai Lama they have a partner for peace.

My Lords, the Minister stressed today, as he did yesterday, the concept of autonomy within China, but when I met the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan Government in exile in Dharamsala last year, they impressed on me how painfully slow and spasmodic the discussions in Beijing had been. Will Her Majesty’s Government impress on China that, if it were to accelerate those talks and secure the return of the Dalai Lama to Tibet as a spiritual leader, far from threatening China, that would greatly enhance that country in the eyes of the rest of the world?

My Lords, the noble Lord speaks of exactly the kind of messages that the Prime Minister, the Foreign Secretary and others of us will wish to impress on the Chinese. Talks have not produced results. Tremendous economic support has been given to Tibet by Beijing, but it has not led to the political dialogue that one would want to see. I say again that the Chinese are looking a gift horse in the mouth; they are remarkably lucky to have a partner such as the Dalai Lama.

My Lords, do Her Majesty’s Government consider that the aspirations of the Dalai Lama for Tibet fall within the general scope of the one-country, two-systems principle?

My Lords, I not sure that conflating the issue of Taiwan with that of Tibet would be helpful or constructive. The key point is that the Dalai Lama has indicated that he is seeking autonomy, which should give the Chinese authorities comfort that there is a solution consistent with their view that Tibet is part of China.

My Lords, the Chinese greatly emphasise the rule of law, and we are pleased that they do so, but can the Government remind them that the rule of law implies that security forces can be held to account if they exceed their powers? Will they also remind them that allowing the media into the area would help them enormously in the long run and that facilitating channels of communication with the Dalai Lama, which we, too, could help with, might be much more beneficial to them than our thinking that China is still the tyranny that it was 30 or 40 years ago?

My Lords, my noble friend is correct that we have to impress on the Chinese that they must allow the international media to return to Tibet. There seems to be no British journalist remaining in Lhasa; the last one’s visa or permission to travel there expired just yesterday. We have still not been able to send a British diplomat there. The noble Lord, Lord Howell, referred to the different reports about the situation. That remains true. We are uncertain about the level of human rights violations or violence that may have occurred. We need to establish the facts.

More broadly, I certainly endorse what my noble friend said. As I said in this House yesterday, China has gone through an extraordinary transformation, which we should all praise and be aware of. It has entered the world community as a responsible and powerful member. It is in China’s interest not to allow the issue of Tibet to damage the new stature that it properly enjoys.