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

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 10:35 am on 7th October 2020.

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Photo of Stephen Kinnock Stephen Kinnock Shadow Minister (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs) 10:35 am, 7th October 2020

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone.

I pay tribute to Sir Iain Duncan Smith, who gave a powerful speech listing the issues with the behaviour of the Chinese Communist party, whether in Hong Kong, the Himalayas or the South China sea. That set the stage for what has been an excellent debate.

I also pay tribute to my hon. Friend Kerry McCarthy, who gave a powerful critique of the human rights action plan. She demonstrated that our values are not for sale and that, when it comes to the constant debate on whether to prioritise trade or human rights, there should be no debate at all, because the priority is to stand up for our values and for human rights. As Mr Carmichael rightly put it, if human rights do not matter in Tibet, in Xinjiang or in other parts of the world, they end up not mattering here either. This is a universal issue that affects all of us. Wera Hobhouse made that point very clearly with regard to the ethnic and cultural survival of ways of life and diversity across China.

Tim Loughton has done so much work on the issue of Tibet and has been a leading voice on it for so long. He set out some very tangible and clear recommendations for what we need to do to address these issues. Fiona Bruce did likewise. Indeed, there were so many other contributions today that unfortunately I do not have enough time to go through them all in detail.

I will say a few words about where my party sits on this issue. It is absolutely clear that we are profoundly concerned by the human rights abuses in Xinjiang against the Uyghur Muslims. We have called repeatedly on the Government to take action and we are deeply troubled to hear that similar abuses of human rights are taking place in Tibet.

The research sets out some very disturbing statistics, including the half a million labourers over the first seven months of 2020. There is strict, military-style management and enforced indoctrination and intrusive surveillance of participants. It is clear that the programme’s aim is to reform Tibetans’ so-called cultural backwardness, through teaching Mandarin, and by weakening the way of life and the religious practices of the Tibetan people.

Before I appeal to the Minister with some specific recommendations, I will say a few words on the wider context of the policies and activities of the Chinese Government. It is becoming increasingly clear that our interaction as a United Kingdom, and the interaction and engagement of the United Kingdom Government—indeed, of successive Governments since 2010—has been characterised, I am afraid to say, by naivety and complacency, both domestically and abroad. Of course, in 2015 David Cameron and George Osborne announced the so-called golden era of Sino-British relations, based on the premise that we would open our markets to China and that the Chinese Government would reciprocate while gradually aligning with the international rules-based order and opening up to trade with the rest of the world. That approach viewed the UK’s relationship with China purely through an economic lens, turning a blind eye to human rights abuses in exchange for the naive and narrow promise of future economic benefit.

The reality is that the benefits of trade have remained largely unbalanced, a process actively encouraged by the Chinese state, which has facilitated the replication of intellectual property and the dumping of heavily subsidised products on European markets, leaving UK firms open to hostile takeovers and driving the UK to a trade deficit with China of around £20 billion a year. Further still, the UK now has 229 supply chains dependent on China, 59 of which relate to our critical national infrastructure.

Moreover, we are increasingly isolated on the global stage. Over the past decade, I am afraid we have gained a global reputation for being alliance breakers, when one of the great strengths of our country has traditionally been our role as alliance makers. The UK’s relative isolation has made it easier for President Xi to press ahead with the imposition of national security legislation in Hong Kong, which has been met with international condemnation; the persecution of the Uyghur and Tibetan minorities; and destabilising actions in the South China Sea, which are a violation of international law. To summarise, our supply chain dependence on China clearly constrains our ability to stand up for our national interest and national security, while this Government’s approach to international relations has hindered our ability to convene and lead an alliance of democracies, to stand up for our values and interests.

The golden era strategy was an unmitigated failure. Britain alone—an agenda that the current Government appear to be pursuing—is not a strategy at all. It is a recipe for disaster. China respects strength, unity and consistency, but we are in a position where we are starting to look weak, divided and inconsistent, and that has to change. We need a fundamental reset in Sino-British relations and, indeed, in relations between China and the rest of the world.

It is against that backdrop that we debate Tibet today. Our central message to the Government is that expressions of outrage are not sufficient. Tangible action is required and we recommend three initial responses. First, the scope of legislation that underpins the so-called Magnitsky sanctions must be broadened. The senior Chinese Communist party and Hong Kong Executive officials, who are clearly responsible for breaches of human rights in Xinjiang, Tibet and Hong Kong, must be added to the list. The rapidity of the Government’s recent decision to add senior Belarusian officials to the Magnitsky list was very welcome. Why, then, are they dragging their feet when it comes to Chinese Government officials?

Secondly, we urge the UK Government to revise their risk advisory for British companies that source goods and services from areas that may involve Tibetan forced labour. The vast majority of British companies want to do the right thing. They want to behave ethically, and the Government must act to support them in doing so.

Thirdly, we support calls for the UK Government to push for the appointment of a UN special rapporteur for the full and transparent investigation of forced labour and ethnic persecution in Xinjiang and Tibet. The issue of genocide has been raised, but in order for that to be classified as genocide, very clear and compelling proof and evidence are required. The way to get that is through international action to get that special rapporteur; otherwise, we cannot move forward with the debate on genocide.

I trust that the Minister has taken note of the strong views expressed by right hon. and hon. Members from across the House. I look forward to his response to the specific points and recommendations.