It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Owen. I am delighted that Mr Speaker has granted this debate on freedom of expression in Tibet, which I believe is the first debate on Tibet for some years. I am particularly pleased that it is taking place on international human rights day, which is appropriate given the human rights abuses that Tibetans have suffered for decades, ever since the occupation of Tibet by China in 1950.
Chinese Government representatives and diplomats will say that Tibet has always been a part of China. They say that it has never been a separate nation or an independent state, but that is simply not true. However, gradually over the past 60 years or so, Tibetans have become second-class citizens in their own land.
I had the huge privilege of visiting Tibet in 2006, thanks to the insistence of colleagues on the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs, in particular Sir John Stanley. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office was initially reluctant for members of the FAC—of whom I was one at the time—to go to Lhasa and other parts of the so-called Tibet Autonomous Region, but we insisted and, in May of that year, a small group of five British MPs was eventually given permission to travel from Beijing via Chengdu to Lhasa. We were accompanied by Barbara Woodward, then a senior British diplomat at our embassy in Beijing—I believe she is now the ambassador-designate—who spoke excellent Tibetan, and about 15 officials from the Chinese Government’s Foreign Ministry, who were there to look after our security and attend to any medical needs, given the high altitude of the Tibetan capital. The new railway from Chengdu was yet to open later that summer.
I did not expect that the visit would have such a profound effect on me and my colleagues. The sheer beauty of the ancient home of the Dalai Lamas, the Potala palace, and the surrounding Himalayan mountains make Lhasa a unique capital city. It is, as Tibetans often say, the roof of the world. On disembarking the aircraft at 13,000 feet above sea level there is a sensation of dizziness, which can last for several days at that altitude. Heinrich Harrar’s book, “Seven years in Tibet”, had given me some background to what we were about to see, but nothing quite prepares one for the reality. The city had changed quite a lot over the years and there were many more Han Chinese residents in 2006 than there ever had been. However, the old Barkhor area in the centre of Lhasa was mainly intact and the Buddhist temples have been carefully preserved in recent years, following their initial destruction at the beginning of the Chinese occupation.
Our hosts were impeccably polite and helpful, but they always kept a watchful eye on us by sitting in the lobby of the Yak hotel in the centre of town where we were staying. It was hard to get away from the minders, even just to go to the noodle bar next door, but on the final evening in Lhasa the former Member for Thurrock, Andrew Mackinlay and I managed to escape past the security people out of a back door and into the labyrinth of small streets that eventually led us to the Barkhor. Once there, we tried to speak to local traders, but most of them did not speak English or were too frightened to engage with a foreigner, or both. The overwhelming sense we felt from the Tibetans we managed to speak to was that they were highly religious Buddhists and that they missed the Dalai Lama, who was forced to flee from Tibet in 1959 after being told of a Chinese plot to murder him.
The reverence for Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama of Tibet, was clear, but the fear of expressing any support for the exiled religious and political leader meant that few obvious signs of support were evident among most of the population. Local Tibetan Communist officials told us that the mediaeval feudalism that used to characterise Tibet before the enlightened Chinese Communist party liberated the Tibetan people meant that every Tibetan now had a far better lifestyle: they could live in a good home and have enough to eat.
I am most grateful to the hon. Gentleman for allowing me to intervene so early in his contribution and I am delighted that he is having this debate on this day. I wonder whether he or Andrew Mackinlay, or any of the other visiting Members, had the opportunity during their 2006 visit to obtain evidence of, or to discuss, human rights abuses, including torture, in Tibet. Will he enlighten us about that in his contribution?
I thank the hon. Lady for that contribution. Sadly, we did not have much of a chance to talk to anyone about what Tibetans had to suffer day in, day out, because we were not allowed access to any Tibetans without our minders from Beijing. However, we asked the abbot of one of the monasteries about the missing monks for whom we had records and names. He was extremely embarrassed and refused to answer our questions because of the people who were watching him. There was a sense of fear the whole time that we were there, but subsequently we discovered quite a lot, especially when we did our full inquiry into Britain and China. The people we were with said that the Tibetans were now better off under the Chinese People’s Republic, without a feudal monarchy over which they had no say or control—that they no longer had to be subjected to an ancient religious system of government that had subjugated them for centuries.
After leaving Lhasa, we travelled for several hours along dusty, deserted roads in a treeless wilderness towards the concrete-block town of Tsedang, a place that foreigners rarely visit, where silence greeted our entry into a run-down old bar on the evening of our arrival. The next morning we were to visit the oldest Buddhist monastery in Tibet, the eighth century Samye monastery, which is being carefully restored to its full glory by the Chinese after the damage wrought in the 1950s following the invasion. It was a truly remarkable place, but even there the interpreters were reluctant to mention the name of the Dalai Lama, who still had a throne waiting for him in one of the many rooms.
On our return to the UK, news of the trip quickly spread to the Tibet support groups and the all-party parliamentary group for Tibet, which I now have the privilege of chairing. I was asked to speak and to show my many stunning and extraordinary photographs, which I was happy to do. Just over a year later, in September 2007, I joined a visit organised by the APPG and the Tibet Society to Dharamsala to meet the exiled Tibetan community and, of course, His Holiness the Dalai Lama.
The Dalai Lama always talks about his middle way policy towards China. He jokes in his broken English that because Tibetans are no good with firearms, the Chinese are welcome to provide an army to defend Tibet and that Tibetan cooking is pretty awful, while Chinese food is very tasty, so most Tibetans would prefer to eat Chinese food. However, he thinks that the autonomy they are given should mean just that: the ability of Tibetans to have a say over their own future; to decide for themselves who their rulers should be; to speak their own language; to practise their own religion; and, most importantly, to have their Dalai Lama back among them, not continuing to live in exile.
I thank my hon. Friend for giving way and congratulate him on securing today’s debate. I had the privilege of accompanying a delegation on a further visit to Dharamsala. Does he agree that the ability to express one’s own culture and to show religious affiliation is not available to Tibetans, who could find themselves in fear of their lives simply for having an image of their own national flag or spiritual leader?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I will go on to detail some of the human rights abuses perpetrated against Tibetans simply for expressing their support for their religious leader or displaying the Tibetan flag, which is something that we can freely do outside Tibet. That is reprehensible.
The middle way approach for genuine autonomy for the Tibetan people was a policy conceived by His Holiness in 1974, in an effort to engage the Chinese Government in dialogue and find a peaceful way to protect the unique Tibetan culture and identity. It is a policy adopted democratically through a series of discussions over many decades between the Central Tibetan Administration and the Tibetan people, and there is no doubt that it is a “win-win” proposition that straddles the middle path between the status quo and full independence—one that categorically rejects the present repressive policies of the Chinese Government towards the Tibetan people without seeking separation from the People’s Republic of China.
The most recent series of talks between Dharamsala and Beijing began in 2002, with a total of nine rounds of talks being held since then. During the seventh round of talks in 2008—the year in which unprecedented and widespread protests broke out across Tibet—the Chinese Government asked the Tibetan leadership to put in writing the nature of the autonomy it sought. The “Memorandum on Genuine Autonomy for the
Tibetan People” was presented during the eighth round of talks in 2008. The Chinese Government expressed a number of concerns and objections to the memorandum. To address those concerns, during the ninth and last round of talks in January 2010 the Tibetan leadership presented the “Note on the Memorandum on Genuine Autonomy for the Tibetan People”.
I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on securing this debate. He gave an answer to a previous question about discussions that were held, and he outlined that there was not much engagement with people. Was there any engagement with the youth of Tibet in particular or with the educationalists, to hear their views?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for that question; the answer is no, not while we were there. On subsequent visits to Dharamsala we engaged with many young people who had escaped from Tibet to seek refuge and sanctuary in India. They made their views very clear, and how they saw the oppression by the Chinese Communist regime in Lhasa and other parts of Tibet. Sadly, however, while we were in Tibet, we did not have access to anybody outside those who were dictated to by our hosts. Those were the strict rules under which we were allowed to visit Tibet at all. It was a privilege to be in Tibet, but sadly it was not a very enlightening visit as far as learning the views of the people was concerned. Nevertheless, being there and seeing things for ourselves meant a great deal.
As I was saying, the Chinese Government expressed a number of concerns and objections to the memorandum. To address these, the Tibetan leadership presented the “Note on the Memorandum on Genuine Autonomy for the Tibetan People” during the ninth and last round of talks. The memorandum and the note outline how genuine autonomy for the Tibetan people could operate within the framework of the People’s Republic of China—its constitution, its sovereignty and territorial integrity, its “three adherences” and the hierarchy and authority of the Chinese central Government.
Sadly, there has been no dialogue between the Chinese and the exiled Tibetan leadership since 2010. Despite that, however, the Tibetan leadership remains steadfast in its commitment to the middle way approach, and to finding a lasting solution through dialogue between the envoys of His Holiness the Dalai Lama and the representatives of the Chinese leadership. Therefore, my first question to the Minister is this. Would the British Government support the resumption of dialogue between the envoys of His Holiness the Dalai Lama and the representatives of the Chinese leadership? The Tibetan leadership has reiterated on numerous occasions its commitment to seeking genuine autonomy, not independence, and to finding a resolution to the Tibet issue through peaceful means. The British Government have a particular responsibility, unique among all western Governments, because of the relationship that we had with the Tibetan Government in Lhasa prior to 1959.
I am extremely grateful to the hon. Gentleman for allowing me to intervene on him once again. He referred to the special commitment that Britain has to Tibet. Bearing in mind the special commitment that the UK had to Hong Kong and the recent reaction by China to Hong Kong, is he saying to us and to the Foreign Office that he is concerned about China tightening, rather than loosening, its grip on Tibet?
I thank the hon. Lady for that question, which is very pertinent. I have deliberately avoided mentioning Hong Kong, but she makes an important point. My impression, having studied Tibet and Chinese relations with Tibet for the last eight years, is that China is tightening its grip. There is further oppression of the Tibetan people and China is clamping down; there is no doubt about that.
In the eight and a half years since I was in Lhasa, Tibet and its people have come to mean a great deal to me, as they do to so many supporters of a free Tibet, both in this country and throughout the world. In a materialistic consumer society, the teachings of the Dalai Lama and the ideals of Tibetans living in exile provide us with an alternative to the lives we live today. It is not that I have become a kind of Jewish Buddhist—[Interruption.] Well, there might be such a thing. It is not that we should all convert and that the world would then be a better place, but this is an ancient culture with warmth, wisdom and a message of peace and love for all humanity—I do not mean Judaism—and that is a message that we rarely hear in the world today. The 14th Dalai Lama never stops telling anyone who will listen—many millions do listen to him—that we can live in peace and harmony together, without war or conflict. I can never understand why the Chinese Government believe he is such a threat to them, and even call him a terrorist.
Today is not only international human rights day but the 25th anniversary of the awarding of the Nobel peace prize to His Holiness. To quote from the announcement of the Nobel peace prize for 1989, which was made in Oslo on
“The Norwegian Nobel Committee has decided to award the 1989 Nobel Peace Prize to the 14th Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso, the religious and political leader of the Tibetan people. The Committee wants to emphasize the fact that the Dalai Lama in his struggle for the liberation of Tibet consistently has opposed the use of violence. He has instead advocated peaceful solutions based upon tolerance and mutual respect in order to preserve the historical and cultural heritage of his people. The Dalai Lama has developed his philosophy of peace from a great reverence for all things living and upon the concept of universal responsibility embracing all mankind as well as nature. In the opinion of the Committee, the Dalai Lama has come forward with constructive and forward-looking proposals for the solution of international conflicts, human rights issues and global environmental problems.”
Later today, I will attend a ceremony in London to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the awarding of the Nobel peace prize to the Dalai Lama. It is important that we never forget the contribution that he has made to global peace and understanding. Despite their best efforts, the Chinese Government can never remove the love and respect that the Tibetan people have for him. His message continues to be highly relevant in the modern world.
The cause of Tibet and freedom of expression is important, and not just to Tibetans. Let me outline some of the cases that have been drawn to my attention. One of the earliest cases I became involved in was that of Dhondup Wangchen, the Tibetan film-maker who produced a documentary that was critical of the Chinese Government in the run-up to the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
For his crime of making a film called “Leaving Fear Behind”, Dhondup was given a six-year prison sentence, and he was only released on
Dhondup’s wife, Lhamo Tso, came to stay with my wife and me in Leeds three years ago while she was on a tour of the UK to raise awareness of her husband’s plight, which had left her and their four children living in extreme poverty in Dharamsala. This family’s story was typical of stories of the families of any Tibetan who dared to speak out against the Chinese Government and the way that Tibetans are routinely treated in their own land. “Leaving Fear Behind” is critical of the Chinese Government and records the feelings and thoughts of ordinary Tibetans about the Olympic games. It does not advocate violence or the overthrow of the state; it is not subversive in any way; and it would be considered quite mild if it had been a documentary about this country’s attitude to what the Chinese Government label an ethnic minority. However, such freedom of expression is forbidden in Tibet, so Dhondup had committed a criminal offence.
The outrageous and severe punishment he received almost took his life, because he contracted hepatitis B while he was in jail. Born in Amdo, Dhondup is now 40. He is free again and will soon be reunited with his wife and children, who are now in the United States. Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and Students for a Free Tibet took up his case and organised a worldwide protest, but it made no difference to the severity of his sentence; he was not released early.
Let me leave Dhondup’s case by quoting him on why he made the film:
“At a time of great difficulty and a feeling of helplessness”, the idea of his film was to
“get some meaningful response and results. It is very difficult”— that is, difficult for Tibetans—
“to go to Beijing and speak out there. So that is why we decided to show the real feelings of Tibetans inside Tibet through this film. Nowadays, China is declaring that they are preserving and improving Tibetan culture and language. That’s what they’re telling the world. Many organisations and offices have been set up for these things. What they say and what they do are totally different, opposites. If they really want to preserve and improve Tibetan culture and language in Tibet then they should withdraw Chinese people living in Tibetan areas. Tibetan culture and language has to be practised in all Tibetan areas. If it’s not practised, how can it be preserved?”
Throughout the ages, music has often been used as a way of expressing protest. A number of Tibetan musicians have written and performed songs and made CDs, for which they have been arrested and severely punished. Lolo, a 30-year-old male Tibetan singer, was first detained on
Other musicians convicted for publishing controversial Tibetan songs include Kalsang Yarphel, who on
Kelsang Yarphel, who is 39, and a popular Tibetan folk singer and composer, was sentenced to four years in prison and given an immense 200,000 yuan fine. He was detained by the authorities in Lhasa on
Finally, I draw to the attention of hon. Members and the Minister the case of Tenzin Delek Rinpoche, a senior monk sentenced to life imprisonment on false charges. He is not a musician. He was arrested on
Tenzin Delek Rinpoche has consistently maintained his innocence. He is now suffering from severe ill health and there are serious concerns for his well-being, so much so that family members and others are calling for the international community to help press the Chinese authorities to grant him medical parole. Tenzin Delek is a highly revered Tibetan Buddhist lama and a community leader from Litang in Sichuan province. He has worked on numerous social, medical and educational projects and campaigned for the protection of Tibet’s fragile environment, working to stop indiscriminate logging and mining activities. I hope that the Minister adds his voice to the international calls for Tenzin Delek’s early release.
There is no doubt that the Chinese Government use a mix of systematic oppressive measures, propaganda and disinformation to stifle free expression and to present a positive image of their actions in Tibet to the outside world. Since peaceful demonstrations spread across Tibet in 2008, the Chinese authorities have adopted a harsher approach to suppressing dissent. In its current approach, which can be more accurately characterised as totalitarian, the state recognises no limits to its authority, imposes a climate of fear, and strives to regulate every aspect of public and private life to crush all forms of dissent against Communist party rule. There has been a dramatic expansion of the powers of China’s policing and military apparatus in Tibet. This has created a climate of fear and lack of trust, even among families and close friends. Many Tibetans in exile report that they cannot talk to their families in Tibet on the phone, because of the danger to their families of their having contact with them as exiles.
The Chinese Government have stepped up Communist party presence in Tibet, sending thousands of Chinese officials to carry out surveillance and so-called “political education”, and to disseminate propaganda. The Chinese state media call it a “war against secessionist sabotage”, in which the Chinese Government seek to replace loyalty to the Dalai Lama in Tibetan hearts and minds with allegiance to the Chinese party-state and, in doing so, to obliterate memory and undermine Tibetan national identity at its roots.
Just nine days ago, on
“form a correct view of art”.
Announcing the programme, the state-run news agency, Xinhua, commented:
“Art and culture cannot develop without political guidance”.
It also congratulated Chinese President Xi Jinping for
“emphasising the integration of ideology and artistic values”.
Since last May, following the killings in Xinjiang, an expansive counter-terrorism drive has been launched by the Chinese Government and has expanded across China, including Tibet. In Tibet, the Chinese authorities have organised large-scale military drills and intensified border security, and are holding training exercises for troops on responding to self-immolation and on dealing with problems in monasteries, in spite of the absence of any violent insurgency in Tibet. Armed responses to protests, including killing with impunity and the torture and imprisonment of individuals, have become the cause of instability and are therefore deeply counter-productive.
In conclusion, I have a number of requests for the Government to consider, which I believe will help the cause of Tibet and allow Tibetans the right to free expression that we in Europe and the west take so much for granted. I hope that the Minister will discuss these points with the Foreign Secretary, and that on this international human rights day of
My requests are these. First, as a matter of urgency, I urge the British Government to call on China to engage in a broader and more substantive dialogue with Tibetan representatives, and to involve the Dalai Lama in discussions on Tibet’s future. There needs to be a more robust approach, given that the current approach is clearly not achieving anything.
Secondly, I urge the Government to strengthen policies towards China and Tibet, and to be more robust, with a clear stance and directive regarding human rights, civil society and democratic rights. The Government should adhere to their stance that human rights are integral to the United Kingdom’s foreign policy. Thirdly, I want the Government to challenge China’s policies in Tibet, in particular where the Chinese Government are flouting international standards on human rights and civil liberties. Fourthly, the Government should take the lead in the European Union in explicitly calling on the Chinese Government to address the policies in Tibet that threaten Tibetan culture, religion and identity and are the root cause of the crisis. These are the key grievances of the Tibetan people.
Fifthly, I urge the Government to prevail on the Chinese leadership to end the military build-up and to limit the dominance of the security apparatus in Tibet. Sixthly, I want the Government to initiate a scholarship scheme in the UK for Tibetans inside Tibet, as well as for Tibetan refugees. Seventhly, the Government should explore the possibility of cultural exchanges with Tibetans inside Tibet or, if that is not possible, with Tibetan refugee communities in India and Nepal, to help promote and preserve Tibetan culture. Eighthly, I want the Government to provide funding for a BBC Tibetan service. Ninthly, I urge the Government to call for medical parole for Tenzin Delek Rinpoche, who is serving a life sentence and is seriously ill.
Over the past seven years, I have been privileged to meet His Holiness the Dalai Lama no fewer than eight times: twice in India, five times in London, including when he was awarded the Templeton prize at St Paul’s cathedral in May 2012, and once when he came to my home city of Leeds. I am grateful to both the office of the Dalai Lama in London and to the Tibet Society for their help in organising the visits of His Holiness to the UK, and to Mr Speaker for hosting the Dalai Lama in Parliament in 2012, against the advice given to him from certain quarters that such a meeting could damage relations with the People’s Republic of China. The Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister also deserve praise for agreeing to meet the Dalai Lama in 2012 at St Paul’s cathedral, an event that had repercussions for UK-China relations for many months afterwards.
I thank Philippa Carrick and Paul Golding from the Tibet Society and Chonpel Tsering from the office of the Dalai Lama for all their help in preparing my speech today. Finally, I strongly believe that Tibet and the Tibetan people should be free, and I will never give up my support for their struggle. I give everyone today the traditional Tibetan greeting: tashi delek, or blessings and good luck.
Thank you, Mr Owen. I can do the maths. I congratulate Fabian Hamilton on battling against his health to be here today for a long overdue and important debate. It is right that the House has an opportunity to express solidarity with Tibetans and to question the continued oppression in the Tibetan autonomous region and of Tibetans across the world at the hands of the Chinese. I cannot rival his Jewish-Buddhist perspective or the number of times he has met His Holiness the Dalai Lama. I have only had the opportunity to meet him twice. I have not been able to go to Tibet, but I have travelled to Dharamsala and met many members of the Tibetan community there and heard the appalling stories they have to tell us. At the outset, I pay tribute to the Tibet Society and in particular to Philippa Carrick. It does fantastic work in keeping the flame of hope lit and the flag flying for the Tibetan cause in this country and beyond. I declare an interest as an officer of the all-party group for Tibet. I welcome the Minister, who has shown a genuine interest in this cause in the past, and I am sure he will be listening carefully to what everyone has to say.
The hon. Member for Leeds North East rightly said that today was an appropriate day for the debate, as it is human rights day, but it is also 25 years since the Tiananmen Square massacre, which is another reminder of China’s inability to allow free speech and expression within its borders. I am particularly concerned—I will not go into the detail of all the cases that he articulated—that the situation has been getting worse over the past six years, since the Beijing Olympics. There have been severe security crackdowns and restrictions on freedom of expression, religion, movement and assembly. The climate within the Tibetan autonomous region can be likened to that of a military occupation. I do not think it alarmist to say that the Chinese Government have effectively created a climate of fear within Tibet. They strive to regulate virtually every aspect of public and private life in order to crush any form of dissent against Community party rule.
There has also been a dramatic expansion in the powers of China’s policing and military apparatus in Tibet. As the hon. Gentleman said, many Tibetans in exile report that they cannot talk to their families in Tibet on the phone because of the danger they might be put in through that contact.
The hon. Gentleman is outlining the deteriorating situation regarding Tibet and China, but does he agree that as a society and a Government, we have to analyse the benefits of the UK-China human rights dialogue to see whether it is productive? It would appear that it was productive in the past in trying to de-escalate tensions between the United Kingdom and China. Should we analyse its benefits for the future?
Of course dialogue is best, but dialogue needs to take place on both sides. Everyone with an interest in Tibet needs to be given the freedom to express themselves in a peaceful way, and the Tibetans just have not been given that privilege within their borders or in other parts of the world. The Chinese Government, with their tentacles even in this country, try to suppress people who plead the cause for freedom of expression and freedom of movement for the Tibetan people. We need to adopt the guise of a critical friend and be in dialogue with China. We have much to benefit from trade and engagement with China, but it does not serve that cause or the cause of democracy that we hold so dear in this place if we turn a blind eye to the blatant suppression of the rights of millions of people who happen to live in part of what is China. It serves no purpose for what we are here to do if we carry on regardless. As a critical friend, dialogue is everything, but remember that some people are put in prison for trying to exercise just that right.
I am concerned about the escalation of surveillance and the issuing of propaganda by the Chinese within Tibet. They sent thousands of Chinese officials to carry out surveillance and what they call “political education”, and to disseminate propaganda. The example of forming a “correct view of art” shows how China’s tentacles go into every element of Tibetan society. The Chinese authorities have deemed it a counter-terrorism drive and, under that guise, they have organised large-scale military drills and intensified border security, and are holding training exercises for troops on responding to self-immolations and dealing with problems in monasteries—despite the absence of violent insurgency in Tibet. All the protests we have seen are peaceful.
Yesterday, the all-party group had a briefing from someone who recently travelled to Tibet and was allowed in as a tourist. Some of the worrying accounts he gave us of everyday life for Tibetans in their country are worth recounting. He had a Tibetan driver with a Tibetan car. There are fantastic new roads across the Tibetan autonomous region. In my constituency, we would die for such roads and the lack of congestion. The speed limit for Tibetans is 40 kph. Their arrival and departure from certain towns is closely monitored to see whether they have exceeded the speed limit. They are prosecuted or under fear of prosecution if there is any minor infraction of that speed limit, yet someone with Chinese plates is allowed to go a bit faster, it would appear. Police checkpoints are littered liberally across those roads, in the middle of nowhere—for what purpose?
Huge urbanisation is going on in the Tibetan autonomous region and, worryingly, most of the new businesses springing up are Chinese-owned. All the road signs are in Chinese, with the Tibetan language version in a small font underneath. People are unlikely to get work with Chinese businesses unless they speak Chinese, even within Tibet. We saw photographs of drones surveying monasteries across Tibet in a rather sinister way. We saw security cameras disguised as prayer wheels within monasteries and towns. We saw what Lhasa has become: a much changed place, I am sure, from when the hon. Gentleman visited some eight and a half years ago. For what is a holy place for many Tibetans is a sprawling modern city with the ubiquitous cloud of pollution overhanging it, as we see in so many parts of China. The region is home to some 3 million Tibetans, but receives approximately 13 million Chinese visitors. There has been huge immigration of Han Chinese into Tibet, swamping the language and culture and trying to dilute Tibet’s history by sheer weight of numbers. It happens day in, day out, and Tibetans have to suffer this oppression with a depressed resignation that can be seen in the faces of the people in the photographs and film we were shown.
Surveillance happens not only in person, but online. Reprisals are likely following searches for subjects such as “democracy”, “the Dalai Lama” and “Tiananmen square”. State censorship and the suppression of free expression are widespread across China, but since the protests that broke out across Tibet in March 2008, the Chinese Government have strengthened attempts to impose an information black-out across Tibet. That it is an offence to display the Tibetan flag—even a digital image on a mobile phone—because it is deemed to be a separatist activity punishable with a prison sentence, shows just how paranoid the Chinese have become. Singing a song can lead to a jail sentence. People who were legitimately protesting online about abuses in the fur trade earlier this year have also ended up in jail. It is an outrage that people suffer persecution and torture in prison and are then released before they die so they are not deemed to have died from their injuries in jail.
This House has a duty to flag up the abuse suffered by one of the most peace-loving peoples I have ever come across. To liken the Dalai Lama to a terrorist is quite extraordinary when he has spent his life preaching peace and harmony between peoples around the globe. He stands for freedom of worship and of expression. The Tibetans’ struggle for their culture, language, heritage and soul is one we have a duty to do everything we can to support.
I will end on the chilling note that the suppression is not only happening in Tibet. The tentacles of the Chinese Government reach into other Governments and local authorities and within education establishments and universities. I am particularly worried about the Confucius institutes or cultural centres that are co-operating with universities across the world. They have discriminatory hiring practices and seek to impose censorship on topics such as human rights, the Tiananmen Square massacre and any dialogue about Tibet. We must seek out, expose and resist such censorship of our freedom to speak out. When I was a Minister, my right hon. Friend Norman Baker, who cannot be here today, and I were warned off meeting the Dalai Lama at a private lunch because it might upset the Chinese—tough. We need transparency of dialogue and to be able to speak freely. When speaking freely in the House, we must say loud and clear that the Tibetan people’s struggle is a struggle for democracy and free speech in which all of us have an interest.
It is a pleasure to follow Tim Loughton, as I am also a member of the all-party parliamentary group for Tibet. I congratulate my hon. Friend Fabian Hamilton on getting this timely debate. I will not go into the individual cases that he carefully and properly raised. An important aspect of today’s debate is that we get the names of those brave Tibetans who are being held in custody or have been imprisoned for long sentences out to the rest of the world, and that has been done well this morning.
Looking through Tibet Watch’s excellent booklet, “Broken promises”, I was reminded of how we were all were duped—or how many people were; I feel personally that I was not—into feeling that if China got the Olympics, it would make such a difference and China would do all these wonderful things, changing its whole attitude to human rights. We went along with that, but what has happened? Not a single thing has changed in relation to Tibet. Indeed, as has been mentioned, things are getting worse by the day.
I, too, had the privilege of hearing from the gentleman at yesterday’s meeting who had recently been to Tibet. It is clear that the Chinese Government are making a huge attempt to rapidly change the face of Tibet—not just to change civil liberties and human rights, but to change the physical structure of Tibet. Some 13 million
Chinese tourists visited Tibet last year, and we are seeing a concentration of Chinese people who are given money to go and settle in Tibet. The Chinese Government want to eliminate every last sign or vestige of Tibetan culture and the history of that wonderful country. We must be clear that none of our warm words about working closely with China seems to be having any effect whatever. I will be interested to hear what the Minister says about that.
I want to go into a little more detail about something that the hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham mentioned. I am also concerned about the Confucius institutes, of which I think there are now 24 in the United Kingdom. These are Chinese Government-funded cultural centres that are set up at universities all over the world, although the UK has the second highest number after the United States. Several universities in the United States and Canada—including the university of Chicago, Pennsylvania State university and the Toronto district school board—recently pulled out of relationships with Confucius institutes because of accusations and proof of discriminatory hiring practices and censorship of certain topics. In order for a university to receive Chinese money, the Chinese do not want any mention of Tibet or any criticism of anything that is happening.
I was privileged to hear recently from an American professor at a meeting in Parliament about how China’s influence on an American university is threatening freedom of speech. If we cannot have freedom of speech in our universities, we really are on a slippery slope. It is worrying and sad that one of our most famous universities, the London School of Economics, has been reluctant to give out information on how much money it has been getting from China. It is only through journalists’ use of freedom of information requests that we have discovered the exact amounts given out. It has been revealed that the LSE
“has received £863,537.91 from the Chinese state for housing a Confucian Centre and a further $33,000 for teaching Chinese government officials via BHP Billiton, a mining conglomerate.”
If China has 25 of these cultural outposts right at the hearts of our main universities, that funding will extend to several million pounds. Of course that may sound wonderful—isn’t that great: universities that are suffering from a shortage of resources are getting money directly from China? The danger, however, is that no matter how much the university hierarchies say that that will not influence or affect what they do, the reality on the ground is that it does. In fact, they are taking what could be said to be Chinese gold in return for getting out Chinese propaganda—sometimes subtly, sometimes less subtly. I really believe that our Government should be investigating this and making sure—[Interruption.]
I am sorry. The phone is turned off. I am glad I am not in Tibet, because it would have been monitored.
There is a serious issue. We are seeing Chinese developments coming into this country, into London, and the big money coming in to build tower blocks and hotels. On the subject of hotels, let me say how shocking it was that InterContinental Hotels went ahead and built one in Lhasa that employs Chinese people and is part of efforts there to destroy Tibetan culture. Tibet groups across the world are trying hard to organise some kind of boycott of InterContinental Hotels, because of what the company is doing in that part of Tibet. We must get to the bottom of the money that is coming in
There have also been incidents, such as the ones we heard about only yesterday, which happened recently in Sheffield, where there are substantial numbers of Chinese students. Many of those students are very political indeed, and we heard about the example of a shop owner who had put a Tibetan flag in the window. I do not think it was a huge flag; nevertheless, they were threatened that if they did not take it down, things would happen. In fact, the windows were broken, which was reported to the police, but the attitude was, “Well, this was just students being a bit silly.”
The reality is that this is not students being a little silly. What is happening here is coming from the very top in China. I am very worried indeed that unless we face up to it early, China will do in this country and other parts of Europe what it has done in Africa, which is to go in and simply use its money as a way of getting its message across and its way of doing things. That relates directly to Tibet, in the sense that Tibet is the issue in this country that gets the most publicity in our universities, and yet many of our students are being stopped from getting their message across because of the worry about China.
I would add that South Africa recently refused to give His Holiness the Dalai Lama a visa, which meant that the conference of all Nobel prize winners had to be cancelled—it is now happening in Rome, in Italy, this week. Meanwhile, the Chinese Government, having put pressure on South Africa, immediately thanked the South African Government and more or less said, “We will now do something for you, as you were so kind as to stop the Dalai Lama visiting.”
We are getting to the point where I want to ask our Government, “What dreadful thing would the Chinese Government have to do in order for our Government to start standing up to China? What would have to happen for us to start calling in the Chinese ambassador and doing things that make a difference, such as saying, “I’m sorry, we might need the money—the investment is great—but you, China, are fundamentally a pariah state and we’re going to treat you as such”? Unless we start standing up to China, as the European Union or as a country, it will not buckle to anything other than force, in terms of what we are saying—I am not suggesting we invade China, but I am suggesting that we start to mean what we say.
Warm words have come out of all Governments, including this one and the previous one. We were the last country not to recognise that Tibet was part of China, but David Miliband, the Foreign Secretary in the previous Government, changed that, telling the House that it would make a great difference and that China would start behaving better. Of course that did not happen.
China has a terrible human rights record not only in Tibet, but all over China. I want the Minister to outline clearly what more the Chinese have to do to people in Tibet and through their influence in this country before we as a British Government say, “Enough is enough.”
It is a pleasure to make a contribution, Mr Owen, thank you.
I thank Fabian Hamilton for bringing the subject to the House for consideration. As the Democratic Unionist party’s spokesperson for human rights, I am delighted to be in a position to contribute to today’s debate. Religious persecution in Tibet is not only a matter of ethnic or religious conflict, or discrimination by a majority against a minority, but is politically motivated and consciously implemented as a policy to realise political aims. That is what is happening in Tibet, which is why are speaking about it today. I am always pleased to see the Minister in his place, because he is totally committed to addressing the issue of religious persecution wherever it may be in the world. I have heard his contributions in the House, but I am also aware of his work and of the many countries that he visits. We appreciate that very much.
The issues in Tibet started in the 1950s and heightened throughout the 1960s, and the Dalai Lama and some 100,000 Tibetans fled to India. Within a few years, nearly all of the more than 500,000 monks and nuns were driven from the 6,000-plus monasteries and nunneries of Tibet, virtually all of which were destroyed. Many monks and nuns were tortured, killed, imprisoned or forced to disrobe. A few years later, during the cultural revolution, any display of religion was prohibited, punishable by beatings and imprisonment, and all religious objects were confiscated and destroyed.
A campaign for political re-education, the so-called “patriotic education campaign”—sounds very Chinese—was instituted in the monasteries in 1996 to implement the goals of the third work forum. Political work teams were sent into monasteries and nunneries throughout Tibet, including many where monks and nuns had never been involved in demonstrations or protest. The work teams are frequently accompanied by armed police, who stand guard over the monks and nuns as the members of the work teams speak.
Re-education combines investigation and interrogation of individual monks and nuns with lectures by political workers. It is clear that individual liberties have been taken away and religious views discounted, with monks and nuns given the correct answers to a series of questions on Tibetan politics, history and religion. They are then required to take written examinations and sign a written affidavit of loyalty to China. To pass and to be allowed to remain, monks and nuns must agree that Tibet has always been part of China. Asking a Tibetan to be part of China is like asking me, as a British citizen, to be part of Ireland. It is impossible; I would not accede to it and neither should they. Monks and nuns must also assent to characterisations of the Dalai Lama as a criminal, unfit to be a religious leader and not worthy of veneration. Refusing to participate in the re-education is not allowed. Monks and nuns who attempt to boycott the sessions are arrested and imprisoned. Failure to comply with the demands of the work team and to denounce the Dalai Lama results in expulsion or arrest. That is a clear violation of individual liberties and an attempt to direct religious viewpoints.
In 2014 the situation in Tibet has not improved, as all the Members who have spoken today have outlined. Every aspect of Tibetan life is under siege from a
Chinese leadership determined gradually to eradicate a whole culture. That cannot be allowed and it is an issue that must be addressed. The Tibetan flag and national anthem are banned. Possession even of a picture of the Dalai Lama can result in torture and imprisonment.
I am not aware of what the First Minister does, but I suggest that we should have done so and that he needs to do so. Similarly, Tim Loughton mentioned direct contact and using all available opportunities. I know that the Minister who is here today does it, and I am sure that he will outline such issues.
Even children in Tibet face abuses of their freedom and human rights. Tibetans are not free to protest or speak openly about their situation, and even peaceful demonstrations are met with heavy-handed military crackdowns. In 2008, thousands of Tibetans staged the largest protests in Tibet for over 50 years, and demonstrations swept across the entire Tibetan plateau. Chinese authorities arrested an estimated 6,000 protesters; about 1,000 of them are still unaccounted for. Where are they? What questions have the Government asked about those forgotten people and forgotten prisoners—if they are still alive?
We are all aware of the Tibetan monks who, horrifically, have set fire to themselves as a method of protest to highlight these issues. Every one of us can remember those horrific, horrendous stories of people driven to extremes to express themselves and to seek liberty, the democratic process and the right to religious freedom through their deaths.
Prisons in Tibet are full of people detained for simply expressing their desire for freedom. People have been arrested and sentenced to prison for peaceful acts, such as distributing leaflets or sending information abroad about events in Tibet. We take such things for granted in this country because they are part of our democratic right—we are speaking about them democratically here today. Yet those everyday freedoms—those small acts of democracy—that we enjoy, as part of the great nation of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, in Tibet can lead to imprisonment and even torture. The clear violation of human rights is shocking. As a country, through this debate today and through our Government, we have to take action.
Reporters Without Borders ranked China 175th out of the 180 countries on its press freedom index. There are more foreign journalists in North Korea than in Tibet. Despite what by our own standards we can describe only as atrocities, this week a top Chinese official in Brussels told reporters that China does not need lessons on human rights from the EU; well, actually, it does. Li Junhua—putting a Northern Ireland accent on a Chinese name—a director-general in the Foreign Affairs Ministry, has said that China has its own model of human rights. It does, but that model does not conform to the model that we have in the free west. He claimed that China had a clear understanding of how human rights will be carried out in his country and was confident of its own model.
“not a degree of freedom for Tibetans within China” after meeting Tibetan refugees from Nepal and India and gleaning first-hand information about their lives in the country before they had to flee because of persecution. Clearly the ongoing hardships and crimes against them that Tibetans still face on a daily basis back up Ms Sewall’s point. Tibetans cannot enjoy any freedoms, which in turn means they are denied their basic human rights. That is the issue. The Chinese may well measure their version of human rights differently from those of us in the EU and the USA, but that does not mean that we should simply sit back and accept the situation, because ultimately it is not good enough.
It is not good enough that people are denied their freedoms—freedom of expression, freedom of religion and freedom of speech, to name just a few. People have fought and died to secure those rights; in 2014, Tibetans are either fleeing, being imprisoned or being killed to try to secure them. We must let the Tibetans know that they are not struggling in vain or suffering in silence. We must do all that we can—at Westminster, in Brussels and on the world stage—to persuade China to change its oppressive ways in its bid for political support.
Thank you for allowing me to contribute to the debate, Mr Owen, albeit fairly briefly. The debate is timely and I applaud Fabian Hamilton for securing it.
The situation in Tibet is very sad, given the impression we get in the west these days of China as a whole. China’s situation is one of enormous progress, with an incredible reduction in poverty and a scientific and intellectual flowering the like of which we do not often see in a country of its size. We ought to celebrate and welcome that.
Yet when it comes to Tibet, we still see what appears to be a throwback to a darker and harsher era in China’s history: the catalogue of human rights abuses that hon. Members have referred to, arbitrary and unjustified arrests, suppression of freedom of speech and the systematic undermining of Tibetan culture. We hear a language that harks back almost to Maoist terminology—reference to “correct views of art” or to “secessionist sabotage”, or the Xinhua news agency congratulating President Xi on
“emphasising the integration of ideology and artistic values”.
That post-Maoist language has a chilling tone with regard to Tibet in particular, because it suggests that the impression of progress and positive development in China as a whole masks some very negative developments.
If I had to say something about the Tibetan Government in exile—now with an elected leader in Lobsang Sangay, as the Dalai Lama has handed over political power—it is that the Chinese are astonishingly lucky that that Government in exile are campaigning for liberation and freedom in Tibet. There are so many more violent models for resistance—so many more disruptive, antisocial and potentially threatening ways in which various peoples around the world try to achieve self-determination and freedom of expression—yet the opposition in Tibet has consistently advocated peaceful change and dialogue with Beijing. It has even accepted that the sovereignty of Tibet is probably not going to be re-established and that it is really searching for some kind of accommodation with the Chinese state. Yet that opposition is met with incredibly aggressive language and a heavy-handed and oppressive response from the Chinese authorities.
As for the wider situation, I seem to take part in a lot of debates—whether on cybercrime, wildlife crime, militarisation in east Asia, China’s aggressive relations with some of its neighbours, including Taiwan, Japan and Vietnam, China’s indulgence of various dictatorships in Africa, or the situation in Hong Kong—during which, in each case, we say that China is not pursuing the responsible and statesmanlike approach we would expect of a new world power or superpower. Yet we never seem to join up the dots or sit back to look at the situation and ask, have we had a sophisticated enough policy towards China? Has that policy simply been too focused on trade, investment and the economic benefits of our relationships with China—not just as the UK, but as part of the European Union and the international community? Do we now need to wake up to some of the worrying developments: abuses of human rights, suppression of freedom of expression, and aggressive stances towards—in the case of the people of Tibet—some of the most vulnerable and disempowered people in the world? Do we need a more sophisticated and developed policy towards China?
At the end of his speech the hon. Member for Leeds North East read out a list of specific things he was asking for. If I had to pick out one as the most important, it would be to take a lead within the European Union on developing a new approach and asking the Chinese Government to address the issue of policies toward Tibet that threaten Tibetan culture. As the European Union, we are not so subject to the divide and rule approach. Other hon. Members referred to relations between this country and China, or between South Africa and China or Norway and China. When one country takes a stand, it is more vulnerable than we will be if we take a collective and collaborative approach across the international community.
There is much to celebrate in our relationship with China. I know the Minister has enormous expertise on the part of the world we are debating. However, the current situation, in which the international community appears to be showing a rather aimless indifference towards the plight of the people of Tibet, simply cannot go on.
As ever, it is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Owen. I congratulate my hon. Friend Fabian Hamilton on securing this debate. His long-term commitment to the Tibetan people and their cause is outstanding.
As my hon. Friend said, it is particularly fitting to be debating the subject this morning, as today is human rights day. The UN’s theme for this year’s human right’s day is “Human Rights 365”, which makes the point that we should be concerned about human rights not just on one day a year, but every day of the year. As has been said, it has been several years since the subject of Tibet was debated in Parliament, so it is useful to make the point that it is not a concern that should just pop up occasionally. As Martin Horwood has just said, Tibet should be raised as an issue of concern whenever our Government have dealings with China, be it a trade mission meeting or another form of engagement. I hope the Minister can reassure me that that is indeed the case.
The sovereignty of Tibet is not really on the table at the moment; the discussion is more about a middle way, as my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds North East outlined. I should make it clear that the Labour party recognises Tibet as part of China, but that does not mean that we cannot support meaningful autonomy for Tibet. The issue can be resolved only by genuine dialogue between the Government of China and representatives of the Dalai Lama, but talks have been stalled since 2010. I do not want to repeat all the questions that have been put to the Minister, but the British Government could play an important role in getting those talks moving again, and I hope we will hear from the Minister about that.
As the hon. Member for Cheltenham said, the Chinese are fortunate that the approach taken by the Tibetan leaders has been to urge a peaceful solution. They have shown remarkable restraint and taken a measured approach. The Chinese Government should recognise that and be prepared to engage with them.
We have heard several strong speeches about the abuse of human rights—particularly the restrictions on freedom of expression and the use of violence as a means of repression. We have also heard about how the human rights situation seems to be deteriorating and about the growing influence of Chinese culture—how its pervasive impact is gradually making Tibetan culture secondary. That is particularly true of the development of Lhasa.
I do not want to repeat all those points, but I would reiterate a number of concerns. I was particularly struck by the number of musicians my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds North East mentioned. Often, they are at the forefront of expressing dissent, even though the examples he gave could hardly be regarded as incitement to great political insurgency. The fact that China is cracking down on the arts and cultural diversity by sending artists to rural areas to form a “correct view of art” is quite a totalitarian response, and we should be very concerned about that.
Campaigners have been jailed for messaging each other even about an anti-fur campaign. Bloggers have been jailed. Nuns were expelled from a nunnery last month after they failed to denounce the Dalai Lama during a police raid. There are many other examples, and the fact that I am not going into great detail about them does not mean we are not hugely concerned—it is just that we have heard from the people I mentioned, and I am also keen to give the Minister time to respond.
We did not hear that much about self-immolations. There have been 133 since 2009, and the vast majority of the people involved have died, while details of the well-being and whereabouts of some of the others are not known. The fact that people are prepared to resort to such extreme measures and feel that is the only way to get their views across is the most harrowing indictment of human rights in Tibet.
The Chinese Government have now criminalised self-immolations, rather than responding to the underlying reasons why people would resort to such drastic measures. Since December 2012, anyone potentially associated with a self-immolation risks a charge of intentional homicide, which is subject to the death penalty. Family members could be arrested even for their involvement in the funeral of someone who self-immolated. Last year, Lobsan Kunchok received a death sentence, suspended for two years, on such a charge, while more than 40 Tibetans were sentenced to prison last year. I hope the Minister will tell us what representations he has made about those cases, against the intentional homicide law and against the use of the death penalty.
I recognise why the Government are so keen to promote trade links with China. Our bilateral relationship is incredibly important and we value it, but that does not mean we should be silent on human rights. We need a much more strategic engagement that allows the UK to raise human rights concerns and to meet the Dalai Lama without fear of being frozen out. I hope the Minister will agree that the Government’s commitment to business and human rights—the business and human rights action plan was published just over a year ago—should mean that no Minister from any Department visits China without being prepared to raise such issues.
The Foreign Office’s latest “Human Rights and Democracy” report noted
“concerns around the consequences of resource extraction and allegations of corruption.”
British businesses do not tend to operate in Tibet at the moment, although we heard from my hon. Friend Kate Hoey about InterContinental’s regrettable decision to open a resort in Lhasa. It would be helpful if the Minister told us whether concerns about corruption and human rights in Tibet have been reflected in the advice the UK offers British businesses, and whether the UK uses its trading links with China to address those concerns.
I want to touch briefly on environmental considerations, which have not been mentioned. Tibet is often referred to as the third pole, as it is home to the largest concentration of ice and glaciers outside of the Arctic and the Antarctic, providing an invaluable water source but also making Tibet especially vulnerable to the impact of climate change, and meaning that Tibetans face the threat of forced migration. China’s new commitment to action on climate change and its agreement with the US provide welcome leadership on the international stage. Talks are going on in Lima, leading up to Paris 2015, but it is important that China demonstrate responsible stewardship in Tibet and look after the environment there. I would be grateful if the Minister updated us—he can do this in writing, because he has a lot of questions to reply to—on any talks the Government have had with the Chinese authorities about the Tibetan environment and Greenpeace’s report earlier this year exposing illegal mining on the Tibetan plateau. Greenpeace says that that operation covers 14 times the area of the City of London, and it believes that the mining violates water protection laws.
My final point is about access for the media, non-governmental organisations and other groups wanting to visit the Tibet Autonomous Region. It is disappointing that the British embassy’s requests to visit it last year were declined. Perhaps the Minister can update us on the prospects for future visits. The EU special representative for human rights and a number of diplomatic missions have been permitted. I hope the Minister will agree that it is important that the UK and the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights have discussed with China the possibility of visiting Tibet. I hope the Minister and the British embassy will do all they can to support that and visit Tibet.
I congratulate Fabian Hamilton on securing the debate, particularly given that it is international human rights day. I pay tribute to his expertise on these issues, which he spoke about so eloquently. Of course, he has two advantages over me: one is that he has met His Holiness the Dalai Lama on a number of occasions; the other is that he has actually visited Tibet—something that I have yet to do.
The subject commands such interest right across the House that it deserves rather more than an hour-and-a-half Westminster Hall debate, and it would be good if we could return to the subject. I will try in the time that remains to answer all the points raised, but if I miss any out, I will undertake to write to hon. Members.
So as to avoid any misunderstanding, I will restate the Government’s policy on Tibet. As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister outlined in Parliament on
We have a strong relationship with China, and we understand that, for China, Tibet remains a sensitive issue. The Chinese Government are well aware of the United Kingdom’s position; in fact, the Prime Minister reaffirmed it with Premier Li during the UK-China summit in London in June. Those high-level discussions form part of a broader engagement with the Chinese Government, in which we seek to ensure that all citizens, including Tibetans, fully enjoy their rights under the Chinese constitution.
We welcome the significant economic investments the Chinese Government have made in Tibetan areas, leading to improvements in the standard of living, health care and life expectancy, as shown in the fact that the area’s gross regional product is estimated to have seen average annual growth of 8.5% over the last 50 years.
We welcome President Xi’s public commitment to ensure that, by 2020, China is ruled according to the law, respecting and protecting human rights. We would expect that to apply to Tibetans as much as to people in Shanghai, Wuhan or Beijing. However, as the Chinese Government have acknowledged, proper implementation will be key, so we, along with our EU partners and the United Nations, will follow those matters closely.
Importantly, we have shown clarity and consistency in our position on human rights in China. That happens through the UK-China human rights dialogue, which Mr Campbell, who is no longer in his place, mentioned. The UK is one of a handful of EU member states that engage with China in that way. It happens also through our Foreign and Commonwealth Office human rights report and its quarterly updates; through our work at the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva; and through actively pressing for an EU-China human rights dialogue.
Hon. Members rightly raised some individual cases. During the UK-China human rights dialogue in London this year, we raised more than 20 individual cases, a quarter of which related to freedom of expression. The hon. Member for Leeds North East spoke about Dhondup Wangchen, and we have raised his case. He was of course arrested in 2008 for filming a documentary recording the reactions of ordinary Tibetans to the Olympic games.
Ethnic minority rights remain a concern; my hon. Friend Tim Loughton has consistently raised that issue in relation to Tibet, even when he was a Minister. As he pointed out, cultural rights are incredibly important in all societies and should be actively protected in all countries. We have discussed ethnic minority issues with China on numerous occasions, including during the UK-China human rights dialogue in May and during China’s universal periodic review in October 2013. We would like further progress on promoting freedom of religion and belief in China, particularly in minority areas. We regard freedom of thought, conscience and belief as a universal human right and, as such, it is a priority for the FCO across the world.
The hon. Member for Leeds North East raised a number of questions. We continue to encourage dialogue and we raise human rights concerns. We work through the EU, and the EU-China human rights dialogue happened only last week. We encourage proportionate security responses in China, as, indeed, we do everywhere else. As to scholarships, we have a big Chevening programme in China, which I have been actively promoting. Tibetans have taken places on the Chevening scholarship programme in the past and are welcome to apply again. We commend the work of non-Government groups in the area of cultural exchanges. I think the British Council could probably do more, and I will ask it to consider what more it could do. The point about the BBC is an issue; it comes just as we have got rid of responsibility for the World Service. It is bombarded with requests relating to where it should broadcast around the world. Matters to do with where to broadcast, and programming and radio, are best addressed to the BBC.
We share the concern of the hon. Member for Leeds North East about the conviction of Tenzin Delek Rinpoche, and about his health. We have raised the matter in Beijing, and I urge consideration of parole on medical grounds. The shadow Minister, Kerry McCarthy raised the issue of immolations. We had a spate of questions about self-immolations about a year ago, when there was a series of them. It is not something that we should take our eyes off. We urge the Chinese authorities to ensure the protection of their citizens’ constitutional rights in line with the international frameworks to which China is a party. The development of civil society and the application of human rights under the rule of law are essential to China’s long-term prosperity and stability, and it is with deep concern that we note that at least 130 Tibetans have attempted self-immolation, often fatally, since February 2009.
The hon. Members for Vauxhall (Kate Hoey) and for Bristol East talked about the Intercontinental hotel in Lhasa and our advice to British businesses about investment. We encourage all British companies to be aware of the human rights risks in the countries where they propose investing. Our overseas business risk guide for China provides information on key risks, including human rights risks, that UK businesses may face when operating in China. Last September, we were the first country to publish a national action plan on business and human rights, setting out our commitments as a Government to implementing the UN guiding principles.
I want to deal head-on with the question raised by the hon. Members for Cheltenham (Martin Horwood) and for Vauxhall about whether there is a binary choice between human rights and investment in doing trade with China. I utterly reject that. I do not think that there is such a choice, and I do not apologise for this Government’s desire to rebuild the economy as part of our long-term economic plan to attract increasing inward investment from China. That is critical to renewing our national infrastructure. Bilateral trade is as important to companies in my constituency as it is to the constituencies of the hon. Gentleman and the hon. Lady. I do not think that we have anything to apologise for on that. We are robust in maintaining a dialogue with the Chinese Government on a range of issues, and Tibet is of course one of those.
We work increasingly closely with the Chinese Government on various issues. We are both members of the UN Security Council, and we work together as part of the E3 plus 3 process on Iran. The hon. Member for Bristol East mentioned climate change; we have invested an enormous amount in our relationship with the Chinese in relation to combating climate change. It would simply not be possible, as she pointed out, to reach any kind of meaningful global deal at next year’s COP 21 in Paris without a constructive approach from Beijing. We need to work side by side with the Chinese on global challenges of the moment, such as combating Ebola and—this is timely—today’s London summit, hosted by the Prime Minister, on ending the online sexual exploitation of children. Our relationship with China is dynamic and must be carefully balanced, but I utterly reject the point that we are in some way subjugating our principles on human rights because of Chinese money. It is not the case at all.
I want to reiterate the Government’s position on His Holiness the Dalai Lama. The Dalai Lama is recognised worldwide as an important religious figure and esteemed Nobel laureate, having been awarded the peace prize in 1989. Given that he has stated publicly that he does not seek Tibetan independence, we encourage the Chinese Government and Tibetan interest groups to seek a peaceful resolution to their differences through a resumption of dialogue. Dialogue with non-governmental organisations and interest groups is something that the British Government undertake as a matter of course in every country that we engage with. As part of that, I met a number of Tibetan groups in June, and my officials consulted them ahead of our human rights dialogue in May. We will continue to use broad-based engagement as an integral part of promoting our values around the world.
May I write to the hon. Lady on that? I want to conclude.
Our long-standing position remains that we do not support Tibetan independence, but we believe that Tibet’s long-term stability is best achieved through respect for universal human rights and genuine autonomy within the framework of the Chinese constitution, so we continue to engage actively and constructively with the Chinese Government as they work to improve human rights and the rule of law across China, including in Tibet. I thank the hon. Member for Leeds North East for this opportunity to re-state the Government’s position, and other hon. Members for their remarks today. I am sure that they will keep questioning the Government, as is their duty and right. I in turn will, as I said, undertake to write to them to answer the questions I did not have time to address in this morning’s extremely good debate.