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

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 9:50 am on 7th October 2020.

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Photo of Tim Loughton Tim Loughton Conservative, East Worthing and Shoreham 9:50 am, 7th October 2020

I thank my right hon. Friend Sir Iain Duncan Smith for bringing this debate today. He started by saying that Tibet is something of a forgotten issue. Over 20 years, as a member of the all-party parliamentary group for Tibet, and as chair and co-chair for the last five years, I have been in this Chamber—a very lonely Chamber—raising the cause of Tibet, so it is good to see many more hon. Members from across the House here in support.

Last year, we marked 60 years since the invasion of Tibet. Since then, more than a million Tibetans have lost their lives at the hands of the Chinese. The regime has brought about the suppression of basic human rights, such as religion, cultural identity, free movement and assembly, as well as subjection to arbitrary arrest, detention, disappearances, torture and racial discrimination. It is also imposing an environmental catastrophe on the world with the degradation of the Tibetan plateau, which is responsible for the water sources that feed or refresh almost 40% of the world’s population. That must not be a forgotten or hidden disaster any more.

China is now widely recognised as a serial abuser of human rights and cultural identity. It has been doing it in Tibet for years, but now because of what is going on in Xinjiang province with the Uyghurs, with the suppression of the Mongolian minorities that we have seen more recently, and, of course, in Hong Kong, this human rights abuse is at last getting the attention that it so rightly deserves.

I am proud to be a member of IPAC, to which my right hon. Friend alluded, and very much welcome this report. A few days ago, when we marked the international global action day on China, I issued a statement on behalf of the all-party parliamentary group on Tibet, which I want to put on the record. I said:

“On the day that the Chinese Communist Party celebrates the National Day of the People’s Republic of China with a characteristic display of military might and global arrogance, we join the great majority of the free world in remembering the victims of Chinese oppression past and present. For over 60 years now, the peace-loving people of Tibet have seen their liberty, their culture and their heritage systematically suppressed and over one million have lost their lives upholding everyday freedoms that we take for granted in the free world. They continue to be persecuted within Tibet and increasingly amongst the widespread communities forced to live outside their homeland.

In the last few years, the suppression of minorities within Chinese borders has taken an even more sinister turn, as we see the latest assault on the liberties of the Uyghur people forced into concentration camps and subject to appalling sterilisation programmes that constitute genocide under UN definitions. In Hong Kong, which has for long been a beacon of freedom and creativity, China has thought nothing of reneging on international agreements to bring that population to heal and we stand shoulder to shoulder with the brave citizens who continue to take a stand against the world’s most oppressive superpower”.

I hope that all hon. Members concur with that.

The report contains the most extraordinary revelations. The labour transfer policy mandates that pastoralists and farmers are to be subjected to centralised, military-style vocational training which aims to reform backward thinking and includes training in work, discipline, law and the Chinese language. I gather that the Chinese authorities ordered Tibetan nomads to wipe out Tibetan goats. The Chinese authorities deemed that the goats were detrimental to the environment, which is rather ironic given the environmental carnage that the Chinese Communist party is waging in that region. Last year, all the goats in western Tibet, especially in the Tingri region, were wiped out. Tibetan nomads and farmers are now being turned into menial labourers and are concerned by the sudden change of their traditional nomadic or farming lives. This is the equivalent of the Westminster Government telling Welsh farmers to kill all their Welsh lambs and retrain as Ikea shop assistants, for example. It is extraordinary. Why can we not call this out for what it is? It is absolutely appalling.

In the last two years, more than 10,000 monks and nuns have forcefully been evicted from hundreds of destroyed monasteries and placed into internment camps for political re-education as part of the Sinicization of Tibetan Buddhism. Retired Tibetans are not allowed to go on pilgrimages to holy shrines. Tibetan children are not allowed to participate in religious activities during vacations. Possession of a photograph of the Dalai Lama is an imprisonable offence. Kerry McCarthy, Chris Law—who, alas, cannot be here to today—and I went to Dharamshala and again had the honour of meeting his holiness the Dalai Lama. A more peace-loving group of people could not be found on this planet. The torture and the horrendous suppression that they have been through is quite extraordinary, yet they retain their dignity in the face of such adversity. They have seen their holy sites Disney-fied for Chinese tourists.

A new law passed by the Tibetan People’s Congress in January this year, “Regulations on the Establishment of a Model Area for Ethnic Unity and Progress in the Tibetan Autonomous Region”—I use “autonomous” loosely—is all part of the Sinicization programme, despite Tibet’s constitution supposedly guaranteeing the autonomy and cultural identity of those minorities within the Chinese border. The Tibetan language has been replaced by Mandarin in schools and is banned from being taught in monasteries, and Tibetans certainly have reduced job prospects if they continue to use it. Tibetans have to register and seek permission to travel across the Tibetan autonomous region. In contrast, Han Chinese do not need permits to travel anywhere they like in China or the whole Tibetan autonomous region. There is mass surveillance of the population. We have debated in Parliament what Huawei is up to; it is part of that surveillance, certainly in Xinjiang province and in the monitoring of mobile phones used by Tibetans.

On the minoritisation of Tibetans, we have seen a mass inflow into Tibet of Han Chinese and of Chinese companies that employ only Chinese-speaking migrants; they reluctantly employ Tibetans where they have to, because in the higher parts, only native Tibetans can withstand the altitude. There is no freedom of assembly. Escape routes through Nepal for Tibetans who cannot tolerate the oppression anymore have now been cut off because the communist Government in Nepal have done a deal with the Chinese. There is persecution of the Tibetan diaspora around the world, who live in fear of the long reach of the tentacles of the Chinese Communist party.

China denied what has been going on in Xinjiang province until satellite photographs of the concentration camps caught them out in the end. What should we do? I am pleased that Wera Hobhouse mentioned my Tibet (Reciprocal Access) Bill, which I reintroduced again in this Session. It is based on legislation passed in Congress unanimously, with cross-party support, which has been put into effect. It was backed by Marco Rubio from the Republicans and Jim McGovern from the Democrats, and as a result neither is allowed to go to China—a badge of honour, frankly. The Bill calls for reciprocal sanctions against officials who do not allow representatives of the British Government or others to visit Tibet to see the human rights abuses going on at first hand. We need this law to send out a strong signal from this country that Governments cannot abuse their own people in secret, because we will call it out. Human rights abuses of this magnitude, wherever they happen, must be called out. China has no divine right to immunity.

We need a UN special investigation into genocide and the use of slave labour. We remember the Tesco Christmas card incident last year, when somebody found a message from a slave labourer being used to produce Christmas cards in part of China. We must resist Huawei. We must resist the influence in UK boardrooms, with highly paid British directors taking the Chinese shilling.