China: Labour Programme in Tibet — [Mr Philip Hollobone in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 9:45 am on 7th October 2020.

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Photo of Wera Hobhouse Wera Hobhouse Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Justice), Liberal Democrat Shadow Leader of the House of Commons, Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Women and Equalities) 9:45 am, 7th October 2020

I thank Sir Iain Duncan Smith for bringing this debate to Westminster Hall today. I echo what has been said about human rights abuses in Tibet and in the People’s Republic of China in general. It is shocking that in the 21st century we are still having to speak out against the barbaric acts of a totalitarian regime. The basic rights enshrined in documents such as the universal declaration of human rights and the international covenant on civil and political rights are the foundation stone on which human life can be lived in dignity. We have a duty to stand up for those rights on behalf of not only persecuted people inside China but all people, not least because the Chinese Communist party is seeking to expand its influence around the world.

I would like to speak more specifically about the recent report by Adrian Zenz on militarised vocational training in Tibet and to place that in the context of the CCP’s long-term strategy in Tibet. First, it is important to note that the report refers mainly to what is happening in the so-called Tibet autonomous region, which is only one part of Tibet. The vast areas of eastern Tibet are contained within the provinces of Sichuan, Qinghai, Gansu and Yunnan. We must be careful not to overlook the Tibetan people in those regions.

About 6 million Tibetans live under Chinese rule. Although exact numbers are hard to ascertain, it has been estimated that, until recently, there have been roughly 2 million Tibetans whose lifestyle can be described as nomadic or pastoralist. They graze their herds on the high pastures, as their ancestors did for generations. Their way of life is fine-tuned to the harsh climate. The CCP has long sought to undermine that traditional lifestyle. The fundamental reason for that is that the pastoralist way of life perpetuates the distinctive Tibetan identity and culture. Together with the Tibetan language and Tibetan Buddhism, it is one of the pillars on which that distinctive identity and culture rest. The CCP has for decades seen the Tibetan’s distinctive identity and free spirit as a threat to its authoritarian rule. Just as the CCP wishes to cripple the Tibetan language through Mandarin education, as we have heard, and to cripple Tibetan Buddhism through the demolition of monasteries such as Larung Gar, so it is trying to undermine the pastoralist lifestyle.

That is the context for this report. The CCP’s pretext for its action is framed in terms of economic development. The pastoralist lifestyle is characterised as backward, and pastoralists are treated as surplus labourers who are lazy. Using a combination of superficial incentives and punitive force, the CCP has long been driving pastoralists off their ancestral lands and into towns, where they are expected to engage in the Chinese economy. The forced vocational training courses described in the report are nominally to give them skills that they can use in the towns. It must be affirmed, however, that that is a pretext. Considerable evidence amassed by Tibetans suggests that the lifestyle of pastoralists who are driven into towns is deeply degrading.

Once in the towns, the Tibetan people are much more easily controlled within the horrifying systems of surveillance, such as the grid management and double-linked household system described in the report. To reaffirm the key point, the CCP’s framing of its policies in Tibet in terms of economic development is spurious. The issue here is deliberate cultural destruction. In that sense, there are many similarities between the CCP strategy in Tibet and the horrific cultural genocide taking place in Xinjiang. I stress, however, how important it is to take the situations in Tibet and in Xinjiang on their own separate terms. We must be careful not to blur the important difference between the two cases, as that would only help to let the CCP off the hook for its specific abuses against Tibet.

Therefore, I call on the Government to bring Magnitsky sanctions against those members of the CCP involved in perpetuating human rights abuses in Tibet, as we have heard. I also call on them to adopt the private Member’s Bill from Tim Loughton on reciprocal access to Tibet, which would make it harder for the CCP to continue to hide its abuses in Tibet from journalists, diplomats and independent travellers.

Finally—this is important and has not been mentioned yet—I call on the Government to publish their formal strategy for when the current Dalai Lama, the spiritual leader of the Tibetan people, dies. It is very likely that the CCP will try to use that moment to further undermine the Tibetan identity by appointing its own stooge Dalai Lama. We should be ready to stand in defence of the Tibetan people if and when that moment comes.