HC Deb 14 June 1989 vol 154 cc897-900
7. Mr. Winnick

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement on current British/Chinese relations.

Mr. Geoffrey Howe

I refer the hon. Gentleman to my statement in the House on 6 June, when I said that under present circumstances there could be no question of continuing normal business with the Chinese authorities.

Mr. Winnick

Will the Foreign Secretary again tell the Chinese authorities, if he has not already done so, of the widespread feeling of revulsion in Britain at the continuing intimidation, brutality and terror tactics that the Chinese authorities are using against anyone considered to be a dissident or a subversive? If they continue their present policy of terror, is there not bound to be a growing feeling among democracies—not just Britain—that effective steps should be taken against that dictatorship?

Will the Foreign Office work closely with the Home Office to ensure that those Chinese students studying in this country who have a well-founded fear of returning home in the present circumstances will receive sympathetic consideration of their requests to stay in this country?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

The first point expressed by the hon. Gentleman was exactly the one expressed it the meeting of European Foreign Ministers on Monday, which I attended. We joined in expressing the clear view that continued repression, such as that being enforced by the authorities in China, following the savagery and brutality of the previous week, is likely to lead to a progressive decline in China's status in the eyes of the rest of the world. We are trying to get that message through as clearly and as plainly as possible. As to Chinese students in Britain and other Community countries, a clear view was expressed that applications to extend their right to stay in their respective host countries should be sympathetically considered in the light of the facts that the hon. Gentleman mentioned.

Mr. Walden

Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree with hon. Members who recently visited Hong Kong that the most honourable approach to the predicament of its people is the most realistic? Does my right hon. and learned Friend further agree that it would be wrong to jettison the Sino-British agreement; that it would be wrong to encourage mass emigration, which would undermine the stability of the colony; and that it would be wrong to encourage the illusion that the swifter introduction of democracy would be any bulwark against a regime that has manifestly taken leave of its senses? Does he agree that there are circumstances in which prudence can be a potent substitute for power?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for summarising the chunks of wisdom that we have been able to read in newspaper articles that he has written recently. He is right to urge, above all, a sense of balance and realism. Plainly, as I said in the House last week, if it is possible to make headway by enhancing and consolidating democratic structures within the territory of Hong Kong, it should be considered in the light of the views being expressed there. It would be wrong to do or say anything that would encourage a flood of emigration. Above all, my hon. Friend rightly emphasised the importance of retaining the foundation for the future—the joint declaration. One must ask whether the future would be better or worse in the absence of it. It is clear that a future built on the continuation of the declaration will be far stronger. Our task must be to do all that we can to make the Chinese Government give the declaration the support that their international obligations require.

Mr. Morgan

Having read the press release from the Monday Club last week, which said: We should not become the dustbin of Europe"—

Mr. Speaker

Paraphrase, please.

Mr. Morgan

The press release states that the people of Hong Kong are not British but Chinese and that this country should not become the dustbin of Europe. Further to the reply that the right hon. and learned Gentleman gave my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) about the position of mainland Chinese students in Britain, will he say what provision the Foreign Office is making to provide some means of funding for them, because they are funded on a monthly bursary basis by the Chinese Government? How will they survive in Britain if they have a well-founded fear of persecution should they return home?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

It is not possible to address oneself to all the possible implications of what has happened recently in China, save step by step. Our present concern, which was expressed by the hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick), is to secure a minimum assurance about the response that will be given to applications made by Chinese students to extend their stay in Britain. Some of them are here on scholarships financed in this country and some on scholarships financed by their home Government. We shall have to see how the arrangements can best be made. It is most important that the world secures, as soon as it can be achieved, a return to a more reasonable and more restrained style of Government in Peking.

Mr. Adley

I endorse the view put quietly but essentially by my right hon. and learned Friend and by my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham (Mr. Walden), but does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that the only beneficiaries from the present position are those who, for some time, have been trying to sow mistrust between Britain and China to undermine the joint agreement? Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that to bring succour to the suffering people of China in their hour of turmoil, and to restore confidence to the people of Hong Kong, it is necessary, however distasteful, to continue to do business with those who are currently in charge of affairs in China?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

I must say to my hon. Friend that it is very difficult, even with the most far-ranging eye, to detect anyone who can be classified as a beneficiary of the tragic brutality of the past few weeks in Beijing. It is certainly right for us to do everything we can to bring about a reversal of those trends. We have moved in that direction by making it plain that neither normal high-level contact nor the continuation of arms contracts can be contemplated in the present circumstances. We have equally made it plain that it is important to retain such contacts as can be built on continuing commercial or personal relationships, for example. Sooner rather than later we must try to achieve a means of getting through to those in authority in Beijing just how deeply the rest of the world mourns what has happened to the progress that has taken place in the past 10 years and how strongly we urge a return of common sense and sanity to that country.

Mr. Foulkes

Can the Foreign Secretary confirm that what he said in answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) was a clear condemnation of the purge now under way in China? As well as giving sympathetic consideration to applications from Chinese students in the United Kingdom, will he give sympathetic consideration to applications for refugee status from any Chinese democracy activists who feel that they may be in danger in the present purge and who seek refuge in the British embassy in China?

Will the Foreign Secretary tell us his response to the widespread support in Hong Kong for much faster progress towards democracy in that territory? Does he agree that he and his colleagues are on pretty shaky ground when criticising the lack of democracy in China or elsewhere while retaining colonial paternalism in Hong Kong?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

I have already made it very clear that the purge was condemned not only by Her Majesty's Government, but by the other Governments of the European Community last week and again at our meeting this week. I have also explained the extent to which we clearly need to respond sympathetically where possible to the applications about which we have been talking. On Hong Kong, I must tell the hon. Gentleman that the answer is by no means as simple as he thinks. My hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham (Mr. Walden) put a more cautious view of it. It has been discussed at some length in the evidence given by the Governor of Hong Kong to the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs on Monday this week. Obviously, it is prudent to see what more can be done, as I said last week, to advance and consolidate the democratic process as a bulwark for the future of Hong Kong and to do so in the light of the views more recently expressed in Hong Kong. It would not be right to jump to premature, absolutist conclusions.

Sir John Stokes

I have recently been in China and Hong Kong but I hesitate to pontificate on the subject. However, does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that while on one hand we must adopt a very strong attitude to the Chinese Government about their wrongs and our rights, on the other hand it would be wrong to the people of England and Hong Kong to allow the idea to get abroad that we shall be far easier in allowing millions of Chinese to come here from Hong Kong?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

My hon. Friend is right to draw attention to the matter. It was emphasised by a number of hon. Members last week that it would be wrong to give the impression that the House was ready to contemplate offering such an open-ended commitment.

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