Relationship with Russia and China

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 1:47 pm on 24th February 2022.

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Photo of Navendu Mishra Navendu Mishra Opposition Whip (Commons) 1:47 pm, 24th February 2022

I am grateful to Bob Seely for securing this important debate. The eyes of the world may be focused elsewhere at present, but it is vital that we do not lose sight of other nations where people face abuses. My thoughts and prayers are with the people of Ukraine today as they face aggression. Military aggression in Ukraine is not acceptable, and the House stands in solidarity with the people of Ukraine.

I thank the Office of Tibet, Tibet Action and Free Tibet for their briefings ahead of this debate. I thank, too, the all-party group for Tibet for all the work that it does. I declare an interest as the vice-chair of the said all-party group. I was pleased to have the opportunity to meet the Office of Tibet in London last year at the Labour party conference where I heard about the experiences of the Tibetan people.

Since it was annexed more than 70 years ago, occupied Tibet has been closed off to much of the rest of the world, preventing us from witnessing the repression against the people that live in the region. According to the Free Tibet campaign, the Chinese Government have been orchestrating a deliberate and systematic elimination of Tibet’s distinct and unique cultural, religious and linguistic identity through a sinicization of Tibetan Buddhism, its culture and its language.

Worryingly, those sinicization measures are reported to have increased in intensity over the past decade, reflecting the Chinese Government’s further attempts to subdue the Tibetans, who continue to resist the occupation. This process includes the Chinese Government’s bilingual education policy of replacing the Tibetan language—the common language of all Tibetans—with Mandarin. In the words of the Free Tibet campaign, this

“strikes at the very root of the Tibetan identity”.

It was reported late last year that two teenage Tibetan students were detained for opposing Chinese-only instruction in their school. A Tibetan teacher was also arrested after her Tibetan-language school was forced to close. According to research by the Tibet Action Institute, as many as 900,000 Tibetan children are estimated to have been separated from their families, while the teaching of the Tibetan language has faced further restrictions, with limitations on monasteries that wish to provide language classes.

Last month, I asked our Government whether they had raised that exact issue, specifically regarding Chinese-run boarding schools in Tibet, with their counterparts in China. I must say that the response to my written parliamentary question was disappointing. Although I am encouraged to hear that measures are being taken to urge the Chinese Government to respect the rights of all its citizens, including those in Tibet, I appeal to the Minister today to push specifically on this issue to ensure that families do not continue to be coerced into sending their children to residential boarding schools.

Nor has religion emerged unscathed from this process, with the Chinese Government imposing a raft of restrictions that are almost certainly designed to make Tibetan Buddhism compatible with President Xi’s vision of “religion with Chinese characteristics”, as he has described it. In reality, that has meant limitations on the influence of Tibetan Buddhism in community life and monasteries repeatedly being placed under Government control and surveillance. In practice, that means all monasteries being forced to fly Chinese flags and hang portraits of political figures on their premises.

The Government are also accused of proactively coercing Tibetans into renouncing any allegiance to His Holiness the Dalai Lama, a process that also extends to outlawing the portraits of His Holiness and arresting Tibetans who carry out seemingly small acts of resistance such as calling for his return to Tibet or singing songs that wish him a happy birthday. In the past three years alone, authorities have ordered Tibetans to place shrines to President Xi and other Government leaders inside their homes in place of religious figures. The Free Tibet campaign also reports that in some counties, authorities have gone to such lengths as physically inspecting households to ensure that that order has been carried out.

Finally, I will focus briefly on Drago county in eastern Tibet. Since last October the county, which is in Sichuan province, has been the site of a series of demolitions of sites of religious and cultural significance, accompanied by arbitrary arrests and alleged torture. One such example is reports of Government officials tearing down a Tibetan Buddhist monastic school that once housed more than 100 young Tibetan students. That was followed soon afterwards by the destruction of two Lord Buddha statues, including one that stood almost 100 feet tall, the construction of which was only completed in 2015 with funds donated by Tibetans and Buddhist disciples.

Further evidence of Government aggression and destruction includes the demolition of several monks’ residences, in addition to monastery prayer flags being removed and burned. It is clear to those who witnessed those incidents that, as well as lacking any free or informed consultation with the locals, the demolitions were carried out very deliberately to cause maximum distress, with members of the community in some cases ordered to assist in tearing down schools and statues, and others forced to watch. I hope the Minister will make a note of those ongoing events, given that the forced inspections continue to take place on an almost daily basis, which has led to the lives of all those involved rapidly deteriorating.

I want to highlight that 10 March is observed annually as Tibet Uprising Day. In 1959, hundreds of thousands of Tibetans banded together to revolt, in defiance of the Chinese invasion a decade earlier. That peaceful protest was violently crushed by the Chinese Government.

In closing, I urge the Minister to heed the concerns of hon. Members on both sides and push the Governments of China and Russia to ensure that all rights are respected, and that a way of life is not imposed on people that leads to the destruction and desecration of everything from the heritage to the culture, language and even the very identity of the Tibetan people. Their voices must continue to be heard.