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China: Human Rights

Volume 794: debated on Thursday 10 January 2019


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the violations of human rights in China, including the arrest and disappearance of political activists and religious adherents, forced organ harvesting, and restrictions on free speech; and when they last made representations on these matters to the government of China.

My Lords, we are deeply concerned about restrictions to civil and political freedoms in China, particularly the treatment of ethnic minorities, freedom of expression, association and assembly, and freedom of religion or belief. We highlighted these concerns publicly during China’s universal periodic review in November 2018 and in my subsequent Statement. During 2018, the UK raised human rights bilaterally with China on a number of occasions, including through the Prime Minister, the Foreign Secretary, Ministers and senior officials.

I thank the Minister for that reply. Has he noted that at the heart of the deterioration of human rights in China has been the imprisonment, interrogation and, in some cases, torture of some 300 human rights lawyers and activists and their families? Among the issues that these brave lawyers have pursued is the mass repression of Uighurs in Xinjiang, the destruction of Christian churches, the arrest and detention of pastors such as Wang Yi and his wife Jiang Rong just before Christmas, and the forced harvesting of organs from prisoners of conscience. Sir Geoffrey Nice QC’s China Tribunal describes the situation as,

“involving a very substantial number of victims”,

and as being, “beyond reasonable doubt”, perpetrated by the state. Can the Minister assure us that, in the next universal periodic review, these questions will be put on the agenda, and the Government will do much more to try to raise levels of support for these courageous lawyers and civil society groups, who do not want China to regress into the violence and destruction that was so characteristic of the Cultural Revolution?

My Lords, I commend the efforts of the noble Lord in consistently raising this issue and standing up for the different communities, the lawyers and activists, those of different faiths, and those who are being subjected to specific targeting for organ harvesting. I reassure him that, during the last UPR in Geneva, I made it a point to directly raise these issues, including the treatment of lawyers and religious minorities, and specifically the closure of Christian churches and the desperate situation of the Uighurs.

Sir Geoffrey Nice is conducting a review on organ harvesting, and the noble Lord will note that I ensured that some of my officials attended the hearings of the preliminary findings of that report. We are currently awaiting the detailed outcome. Let me reassure all noble Lords that we will consistently raise human rights publicly, through processes such as the UPR, and bilaterally, as I indicated in my original Answer.

My Lords, I am extremely grateful to the Minister for his response and also for Mark Field’s response to my honourable friend’s Written Question just before Christmas. However, noting all the contact that we have had through the Foreign Secretary and the Minister himself in raising our concerns, has the FCO taken the trouble to speak to the Department of Trade and other civil society organisations, including business, about our concerns on civil liberties? Engagement is not simply about political representation. We should make clear to everyone engaged with China that we have genuine concerns over human rights, and that to do business with China we need to see an improvement.

My Lords, as I have repeatedly said, in bilateral meetings and, importantly, publicly, the Government are clear that our trading relationship with China is important. China is an important strategic partner, and it is because of the strength of our partnership that we are consistently able to raise these issues bilaterally. The noble Lord raised the important issue of a cross-government approach. Let me reassure him that that is exactly the approach we take. We will continue to raise these concerns, as I have said, through international fora and bilaterally. The situation for particular minorities and for groups that we have not mentioned—for example, journalists detained in China—is deeply concerning; indeed, it is a country which is paramount in our minds as the Foreign Secretary launches his new campaign this year on media freedom.

It is good to know that the Government are making these representations, but what evidence is there that the Chinese are listening and acting on them? Surely it is a matter of the profoundest concern that the country that will be the dominant power in the world by the middle of this century indulges in these practices.

My Lords, as I said, our job is to raise this concern bilaterally and, with other like-minded partners, with our Chinese counterparts, and we will continue to do so. If I may, I will refer to a recent example that I have already mentioned in your Lordships’ House. Just before Christmas, we sent our diplomats to undertake an insight into the suffering of the Uighur community. They have now reported back and we are looking very closely at their findings and recommendations to ensure that we can take those up with the Chinese. This cannot in any way be done by force of hand. It is through consistent and collaborative representations that we will, I believe, begin to see a change. If the Chinese wish to see a place for China that is progressive—which they clearly do—they need to subscribe to the international standards set and be held accountable.

My Lords, according to Amnesty International, there are more executions in China than the rest of the world. Issues that have been identified include not only the death penalty but the one-child policy, the legal status of Tibet, freedom of the press, the lack of regular legal recognition of human rights, the lack of independence of the judiciary, and the lack of rule of law and due process. In our haste to build a good relationship with China, particularly for trade, are we compromising on these human rights issues?

My Lords, let me reassure the noble Lord that, if we were compromising, we would not be raising these specific points in public fora, as we have done through the UPR process.