HC Deb 20 November 1950 vol 481 cc156-68

9.58 p.m.

Mr. Blackburn (Birmingham, Northfield)

I am grateful to you, Mr. Speaker, for calling me to raise the subject of the Chinese Communist Government's present aggression in Tibet. At the moment, there is a Chinese delegation on its way to Lake Success to discuss before the United Nations the subject "American aggression on Formosa." The subject which, really, the United Nations has to discuss is not American aggression on Formosa but Chinese Communist aggression on Tibet. In my submission, it is the duty of His Majesty's Government to do all in their power to prevent the Chinese Government from being able to attend the Security Council until this present aggression against Tibet has come to an end.

After all, of all the harmless countries in the world, surely Tibet is the most harmless. It is a country the population of which is mainly composed of Buddhists and, for the most part, of Buddhists who accept the original doctrine of Gautama and who are pacifists. [Interruption.] They are even more pacific in their behaviour towards others, than the hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes), as a pacifist, is with some of us in this House. It is often said in this House that it is remarkable that one can come across experts on any subject. I have always understood that no Englishman had ever lived in Tibet. I was astounded to discover that there is a Member of this House who has lived for many months in Tibet. It is an astonishing fact that the hon. Member for Derbyshire, West (Mr. E. Wakefield), who is kind enough for the moment to sit next to me, has lived there for many months, and I am sure he will correct me if I make any misstatement on a subject of which, after all, I am necessarily somewhat ignorant.

It being Ten o'Clock, the Motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—[Mr. Sparks.]

Mr. Blackburn

Even the "Daily Worker," even the Communists themselves, have for once not dared to proclaim that the country the Communists are attacking is really the aggressor. We have been told that the South Koreans marched against the North Koreans. We have been told of the terribly aggressive designs of Tito, in Yugoslavia, against the Soviet Union. But this lie was too great even for Stalin; even Stalin could not say that Tibet had attacked China and the Soviet Union. For once, if I may say so, we can congratulate Stalin and his friends upon their wisdom.

Nor, indeed, can it be suggested—although it would be an irrelevant suggestion if it were made—that Tibet is a country which is living in abject poverty. Let me quote from an excellent report in "The Times" of today. It admits, of course quite correctly, that Tibet is run under a feudal system, but it says: Yet the peasantry is by and large well off and there is no grinding poverty such as exists in China and India. There are some hon. Members—I am never quite sure about the hon. Member for South Ayrshire—who suggest that in the cause of efficiency totalitarianism may sometimes be justified. I have heard that argument adduced many times. It is a most horrible, repulsive and loathsome argument. Even that argument cannot be adduced in the case of Tibet, however, because the people there are far better off than the Chinese and far better off than most of those who live in India.

Mr. Harrison (Nottingham, East) rose—

Mr. Blackburn

I hope the hon. Member will forgive me, but I cannot give way. I have only a short time in which to make my speech. I promise that I will give way to him the next time I speak, but I am afraid I cannot do so tonight.

I submit that we have to face the fact that if we parley with the aggressors while the aggression continues, we are responsible for a form of appeasement far worse than Munich. After all, at the time of Munich we were not arguing while Hitler's forces were invading Czechoslovakia. If His Majesty's Government now parley with the Chinese Communist Government they will be doing what Neville Chamberlain himself would never have done—parleying with the aggressors at the very moment that aggression is taking place. It is almost as if one were remonstrating with a man while he was raping one's sister. [Laughter.] The hon. Member for South Ayrshire laughs, for we have that peculiar mentality of our pacifist friends, that violence is almost approved so long as it enables them to show their pacifist views.

Mr. Emrys Hughes (Ayshire, South)

I was laughing at the hon. Member's exaggeration.

Mr. Blackburn

Anyone who has the slightest experience of the Red Army's advance in Europe would know that the reference I made to rape is pretty accurate.

I wish to turn to the legal aspect of this matter as it may be advanced by the Under-Secretary of State. On 21st June, 1950, the Minister of State, quoting with approval the Foreign Secretary of 5th August, 1943, the right hon. Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Eden) said: His Majesty's Government have always been prepared to recognise Chinese suzerainty over Tibet, but only on the understanding that Tibet is regarded as autonomous."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 21st June, 1950; Vol. 476, c. 1267.] Surely it must be perfectly clear that that understanding has been broken by the Chinese Communist Government, who do not regard Tibet as autonomous but are treating Tibet as a satellite of the Chinese Government. It is perfectly plain, therefore, that our recognition of the suzerainty of China over Tibet falls to the ground.

In any event, I personally agree with the view put forward at that time by Lord Vansittart and by the hon. Member for Lancaster (Mr. F. Maclean) as to the recognition of the Communist Government of China. I am now convinced that it was a mistake, although I did not say so at the time. I kept silent at the time. I have no right whatever to say to His Majesty's Government, "I told you so." But that does not alter my opinion that we should now recognise the facts; and the fact which we ought to face is, as Lord Vansittart himself said at the time, that we were inviting some one to join a club when he had already notified us in advance that he did not intend to observe the rules of the club. In the Press and on the radio the Chinese Communist Government had announced their intention, in their own words, of liberating Tibet. At the very time that they were announcing their intention of taking over Tibet, we recognised the Chinese Government.

I ask the Under-Secretary of State, in no hostile spirit, and with very great admiration for the Foreign Secretary who, I believe, has represented this country in a very fine way over the last six years, how on earth he can defend the manner in which we recognised the Chinese Communist Government? Do I understand that, in recognising the Chinese Communist Government, we recognised Chinese suzerainty over Tibet? All I can say is, speaking as a lawyer, if I behaved in that way for a client of mine I should expect him to sack me immediately. It is a most serious matter.

It is, of course, perfectly arguable that we should have recognised de facto that the Communists were in charge of China, but it would be most monstrous to state that, because they have succeeded by force of arms in conquering China, they have a legal right to take over Tibet. I hope the Under-Secretary will be able to make it quite plain that, in recognising the Communist Government of China, His Majesty's Government specifically excluded any statement which might recognise suzerainty over Tibet. In any event, it is quite clear that the conditions to which I have referred have not been fulfilled and that any right of suzerainty has been forfeited.

In any event again, I would say that the United Nations should certainly examine the matter for the reason given in the "Economist" of 18th November. It stated: If the United Nations follows the precedent of its action over Indonesia it will assert jurisdiction. The Security Council refused to accept the Dutch contention that their conflict with the Indonesian Republic was merely a domestic affair of the Netherlands. I will not go on with the quotation, because that is enough to illustrate my argument.

Let us forget the legal argument for a moment. Let us come to the basic principles. The sure way of avoiding war, as we have now learned, is to resist aggression at the moment that it first occurs. The parallel of Manchukuo in 1931 has been repeated over and over again in this House in relation to Korea, but it must not be repeated only in relation to Korea: it must be repeated in relation to Tibet as well. Otherwise, principles are a farce. Otherwise, all our high sounding moral speeches from both Front Benches and from all parts of the House of Commons themselves become meaningless.

As a matter of fact, there is even greater moral justification for giving aid to Tibet than there was for giving aid to South Korea. Let the Communists take over Tibet, and they are on the borders of India. Tibet—and I am speaking subject to correction by my hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, West—has in its centre a plateau between 12,000 and 15,000 ft. above sea level. It is an ideal area for the establishment of air ports of all kinds. It is an ideal area from which to conduct a radio war to dominate India and Pakistan. On moral, strategic and political grounds, we cannot afford to let Tibet fall.

I further suggest that the Government should immediately get in touch with the Governments of India and Pakistan, although Pakistan does not adjoin Tibet, and ask the Governments of India and Pakistan, with support from us, to send a brigade by air to Tibet. There is not the slightest doubt, in my view, that one brigade—

Mr. Emrys Hughes

Of volunteers?

Mr. Blackburn

I should prefer volunteers. The hon. Member knows my position on that.

Mr. Hughes


Mr. Blackburn

If we had to rely on gentlemen as patriotic as the hon. Gentleman, we should not—

Mr. Hughes

Will the hon. Member join them?

Mr. Blackburn

I should be perfectly willing if I could afford it. I am perfectly willing to accept the challenge of the hon. Member if he will pay for my children at school and find and pay for decent houses for them and myself. However, I put this suggestion sincerely, that a brigade should be offered, and that one brigade alone would be enough—

Mr. Harrison


Mr. Blackburn

The hon. Member says it is rubbish. I am going to sit down in a moment in the hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, West, may have some words to say on whether this is rubbish or not. But I do suggest that the northern frontiers of Tibet, the most difficult terrain in the world, could be, efficiently protected today, and be defended against aggression from Communist China.

I end with this recollection. I remember well having said in 1947 in this House that if Nicolai Petkov fell, the whole of Eastern Europe would be bowed under the Communists. I say tonight what I said about Nicolai Petkov—and what I said about Nicolai Petkov has been proved true—that if we allow the bell to toll for Tibet, as we allowed the bell to toll for Nicolai Petkov, then we shall see the whole of Asia in imminent danger of falling under the domination of the foulest totalitarian tyranny this world has ever known.

10.12 p.m.

Mr. Wakefield (Derbyshire, West)

I think there may be a danger of confusing suzerainty with sovereignty. Suzerainty is a conception which is quite common in the East, where it is intended to signify a token prestige; but a suzerain has no right whatsoever to interfere with the autonomy of the vassal. I strongly support what the hon. Member for Birmingham, Northfield (Mr. Blackburn), has said about the pacific nature of the Tibetans. They really are the most peace-loving nation on earth, and are incapable of fighting. They have no wish to fight. They have no means wherewith to fight. I have attended a military display in Gartok, the capital of Western Tibet, and the arms used were bows and arrows!

I have at this moment, living in my home in Derbyshire, a family of Tibetans. They are actually Tibetan dogs, but they manifest all the characteristics of the Tibetan people. When a stranger appears, they will go and bark at him. If the intruder retreats, they will pursue him; but if he advances they themselves retreat to another point of vantage, and then go on barking. If in due course the intruder establishes himself, they accept the fact; but if at some subsequent period, in some unguarded moment, he appears to weaken they will renew their attacks. The Tibetan people will not fight and defend themselves in the way that we should, because their whole nature derives from their religion. It is for that reason that they are incapable of defending themselves.

Whether we British can help them I do not know, but I do know that many people in India and Pakistan would volunteer if called upon. I do suggest that if we could associate ourselves with India in any physical protest that we could make against this violation of Tibetan independence, then we should be very wise.

Mr. Harrison

Would the hon. Gentleman have a word to say about this idea of a brigade protecting the Western approaches to this vast country? He knows something about it. We called it "rubbish." I should like to know his opinion.

Mr. Wakefield

I think that what the hon. Member for Northfield said about defence by air is possible. In 1904, we sent an expedition to Lhasa. It had a very laborious journey, but we did not then have the advantage of air transport. Of course, the physical difficulties in that part of the world are immense.

I must give the hon. Gentleman time to reply, but I should like to address myself for a moment to a point which has not yet been raised, and that is the attitude of the Chinese themselves. The Chinese did for a very long period prior to 1894 govern Tibet. From 1894 to 1910, Tibet was independent, but from 1910 to 1912 there were again Chinese governors of Tibet, and Chinese school children have been brought up to believe that Tibet is a province of China. This new Communist Government is anxious, as all newly established governments are, to make a display of its strength, its patriotism and its courage. It is prepared to be aggressive. I have no doubt myself that this Chinese aggression is a natural form of expressing a new-found authority, of which advantage has been taken for sinister reasons, by a greater power.

10.18 p.m.

The Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs (Mr. Ernest Davies)

I think that our position in regard to Tibet has been made quite clear in the replies which I have given to Parliamentary Questions which have been put to me in the last two or three weeks. As I stated this afternoon, this matter is now before the United Nations. Tibet has appealed to the United Nations, and the United Nations is considering whether it should put the matter on its agenda and take any action. I think that it would be very rash of us tonight to discuss the military possibility of going to the aid of Tibet, of whether that would be advisable and whether that would be successful. It is entirely a matter now before the United Nations, and I do not propose to discuss that aspect of it.

The hon. Member for Northfield (Mr. Blackburn), suggested at the opening of his speech, that we should not allow the representatives of the Central People's Government of China to take their seat on the Security Council so long as they were engaged in aggression against Tibet. Here, again, I have tried to make the position of His Majesty's Government clear from this Despatch Box during Question Time. It is a very straightforward point of view which we take. It is that the Central Government of China today is the Government of China in effective control of the country, and, as long as it is so, it is the Government which has our recognition as the effective Government of China.

We deplore the action which the Chinese Government has taken, and the recognition of the Government is in no way approbation of what that Government is doing. All that it is, is the recognition of a fact. The hon. Gentleman should not overlook the fact that the Charter of the United Nations provides that there shall be representatives of China on the Security Council and in the United Nations. It is a procedural matter as to who, at the present time, should represent China. We take the view that the Government which is effective should be represented in the United Nations at the present time. Our view has not yet won a majority. Whatever action the Chinese Government are taking at the present time, it does not alter our view in that respect.

Mr. Blackburn

While entirely accepting that, will the Under-Secretary say that the Government view, that the present Government is the effective Government of China, does not imply any suzerainty over Tibet, of which it is not the effective Government?

Mr. Davies

If the hon. Member will allow me to reply seriatim, rather than that I should get my answers mixed up, he will get a better reply. We still hope to establish full diplomatic relations with the Chinese, because we think thereby we shall be able the better to settle the outstanding differences between us, and the problems that concern us at the present time.

As I have stated, we deplore the action China has taken. Tibet was prepared to negotiate with China, and it was while the Tibetan representatives were actually on their way to Pekin, that the Chinese took the aggressive action they did against this autonomous country. As the hon. Member said, this action was taken without provocation and while peaceful negotiations were in progress. I think that the action taken by the Chinese is inexcusable and unforgivable.

In this connection, I should like to remove some misunderstanding which has arisen regarding our granting of visas to the Tibetan delegation which was on its way to China. We have been accused of delaying their passage to China to conduct the negotiations, as they wished to pass through Hong Kong. Unfortunately, in the first place the Tibetans asked for visitors' visas to enable them to conduct their negotiations in Hong Kong. In the circumstances, we were not prepared to permit the negotiations to be carried on in Hong Kong itself. If there had not been misunderstanding and they had asked in the first place for transit visas, they would have been granted to them.

I should like to clear up the point the hon. Member raised regarding our relationship with Tibet and our attitude towards her relationship with China. In the first place, our treaty rights and obligations were, of course, taken over by India when India gained her independence, and India has assumed all the liabilities, as it were, which we previously held. We informed Tibet at the time that we were maintaining our friendly interest in Tibetan autonomy; but we do not happen to have any representative there, because there is no necessity, as far as our relations with Tibet are concerned, to have representatives there at the present time. That goes not affect our attitude in any way towards that country.

We have recognised that China does have suzerainty over Tibet. We have taken that attitude for a considerable time, but only on the understanding that Tibet is regarded as autonomous. This suzerainty has been quite nominal for a considerable time, and there has been no active interference from China as far as we are aware. It dates back to 1911, since when Tibet has enjoyed de facto independence within this framework of Chinese suzerainty. The independence of Tibet has not yet been lost. That fact must be kept in mind. It is tragic that she is being attacked, but she still remains autonomous and de facto independent.

Whether we continue to recognise the suzerainty of China or not, it in no way justifies the Chinese invasion of Tibet. But this present circumstance must make us look at this position again, and at this stage we are not in a position to say whether or not our legal attitude towards the country is affected by this. We are not prepared to commit ourselves in that particular. Certainly the circumstances have changed, and this is a matter which we have to take into account. Further than that I am afraid that I cannot go at the present time.

As the hon. Gentleman has pointed out, and as the hon. Gentleman the Member for Derbyshire, West (Mr. E. Wakefield), has also pointed out, Tibet is also an inaccessible country. It is a romantic country. It is cut off from India, Pakistan and Nepal by the great Himalayas, and that makes it impossible in our view that she should be used as a base for aggression. Chinese alleged fears in this respect are, of course, quite absurd. As it has been pointed out, particularly by the hon. Member for Derbyshire, West, the Tibetans are a most peaceful and pacific people. Tibet is one of the great centres of the Buddhist faith. They are remote from the world spiritually as well as geographically. I think we could refer to Tibet as Asia's ivory tower. Here are these people who prefer to contemplate, as it were, the eternal truths rather than the hurly-burly of 20th century ideologies.

Mr. Blackburn

Very sensible too.

Mr. Davies

There is a great deal to be said for that attitude in this world torn with international tension. We all think that it is tragic that these people cannot be left alone to pursue their devotions and their ancient way of life. We think that the Chinese should go home and leave the Tibetans to carry on their own unique and contemplative way of life. How can one possibly credit that this religious community living in its ivory tower on the crest of the world could possibly resort to provocation or to non-peaceful methods? It is sad to contemplate that the Chinese, with the culture and wisdom of centuries, should now disturb this peaceful haven of yesterday.

Having said that, I think it will be clear to the House that we deplore the attitude which China has taken towards Tibet at the present time, and we can say that it causes us to look at our attitude towards China's relations with Tibet and, of course, to consider what action should be taken, not only in that respect but more immediately and more particularly in respect of the United Nations.

Therefore, I suggest to the hon. Gentleman that he should rest assured that this matter is under the urgent consideration of His Majesty's Government in full consultation with those members of the Commonwealth who are concerned, and that we regret that the present international tension, which is unfortunately so great, should be increased by this unprovoked aggression of China against Tibet. We regret that the more so because at the present time we are endeavouring to bring China as an equal partner into the deliberations of the United Nations for the purpose of removing that tension and of restoring international peace. We still hope that the fact that a delegation is on its way to Lake Success may result in better counsels prevailing and some of this international tension being removed.

Question put, and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at Twenty-nine Minutes past Ten o'Clock.