§ 9.14 p.m.
§ The Earl of Carrick rose to ask Her Majesty's Government what they are doing to assist the Tibetans to have meaningful dialogue with the People's Republic of China leading to a negotiated settlement of the Tibetan issue.
§ The noble Earl said: My Lords, I start by saying how deeply sort' I was to learn today of the very untimely death of Derek Fatchett, who was such a sympathetic Minister towards the Tibetan issue. My every sympathy goes to his family and colleagues.1056
§ Turning to my Unstarred Question, it is pertinent to remind your Lordships that while the world now regards Tibet as part of China, that was not the case when the communist government used their military might to achieve their territorial aim. The invaders themselves deemed the country utterly foreign in culture and language and found a populace united in its hostility towards them. As the International Panel of Jurists concluded, Tibet was a de facto, if not de jure, independent nation and Britain never accorded sovereignty to China in the years we were the only nation other than China to have relations with Tibet.
§ Whatever the political realities of the present, we are dealing with a nation that has been annexed by force and which, ever since, the communist regime has ruled as a colonial outpost, often refusing its citizens basic freedoms. The Tibetans' need for our assistance and that of the world has never been greater. The country faces yet another crackdown which Amnesty International calls one of the most disturbing of the past decade in its attempt to crush the very identity of this ancient and unique nation.
§ Let us be clear about the current situation. China's so-called benevolent liberation resulted in the loss of over 1 million lives. Even after 40 years, refugees are still taking terrible risks to escape the oppression under which they live, despite Chinese insistence that all has never been better. Now matters have reached a nadir. The Tibetan language has been marginalized, and the people urged, and government workers ordered, to be atheist in a society defined by its belief in a remarkable form of Buddhism. We have official insistence that Tibet was never a British culture and a dismal record of intensifying racist bullying.
§ The trouble is, and always has been, that Tibet is of zero economic interest to anyone whereas China is vital to the whole world in the next millennium. Although the Government insist that there is no play-off between commerce and human rights, I am afraid that the current position of the Tibetans tells a very different story.
In an article in the Independent, Chris Patten wrote:
It is difficult to be against engagement: you cannot ignore more than a fifth of humanity. But I see no reason why engagement should involve fooling ourselves about what's happening in China. They have turned Europe and America inside out on human rights, cynically signing international covenants that they have no intention of ratifying or keeping".
So what chance for Tibet? All we have is a sense that something is horribly wrong, a sense perfectly expressed on "Newsnight" last month by Defence Minister, George Robertson, talking about the Kosovo crisis when he said:
If the international community doesn't take a stand, what future do we have?
§ I know that the Government are sympathetic to the plight of the Tibetan people. I know that the Prime Minister is personally sympathetic. But this is simply not converting into anything useful for the Tibetans. It is like sitting on a beach being sympathetic about a person drowning. The analogy is apt as the Chinese sanction and encourage, despite earlier promises to the contrary, 1057 the continuing influx of Han Chinese, which is drowning the cultural and ethnic characteristics of the indigenous nation, creating a new national identity.
§ The trouble right now is that time really is running out and greater determination must be shown by all governments who care. Our Government should be aware not only of our historical duty but also of the fact that potentially we still have great influence. Europe looks to us for a lead. We could yet be instrumental in bringing a peaceful solution to one of the great humanitarian tragedies of this century.
§ Britain's change from recognising China's relationship with Tibet as one of sovereignty rather than suzerainty was done on the basis of genuine autonomy for the country, which has never manifested. A genuine autonomy is at the heart of Tibetan needs.
§ A senior Tibetan once said to me that while charity was deeply needed, it was fundamentally a small matter in the wider issue. Human rights, he continued, was obviously of far greater importance and the subject upon which most of the world concentrates. But even this was a side issue compared to the central point, which is nationhood, not independent of China but freedom from thought-control, freedom from repression and freedom to make decisions that accord with the special needs of the people and environment.
§ This is endlessly portrayed as "splitism" by the communist leadership where any attempt to assert aspects of Tibetan culture or religion is irrationally regarded as threatening to the vast motherland. But the truth is—this does not take a great turning of the mind from the leadership—the motherland would be stronger and better integrated if minorities such as the Tibetans and the poor Uighurs, who also face persecution, were willing rather than dissenting partners. Perhaps the Government could help Beijing to understand that simple truth.
§ Recently, China, with its customary utter disregard for world, let alone Tibetan, opinion, had the temerity to declare that as Tibet was already autonomous, what was the purpose of negotiating with the Dalai Lama? Here I come to one of the central dynamics of the situation. The Dalai Lama and the government in exile represent the means to an autonomy both democratic and ready to accord to the wishes of the Tibetan people. Here is an historically legitimate leader, yet one who has repeatedly affirmed that he would cede any temporal influence the moment democratic elections, by his wish under UN auspices, had taken place.
§ I return to the point we are talking about; that is, real autonomy, enshrining basic human rights and allowing a due degree of self-determination which does nothing to detract from China's strategic or commercial interests. Every single utterance by the Dalai Lama and the National Democratic Party of Tibet on the subject would be considered fundamentally reasonable, responsible and desirable in this House and by any other democratic government.
§ But the Chinese do not accept such concepts. Nowhere is that better demonstrated than by their attempt to suggest that the standards of human rights 1058 laid down in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights are those advocated by the West and do not apply to Asia and other parts of the third world, as though the latter belonged to some sub-species of the human family. The Dalai Lama gently and firmly refutes such a patently absurd notion by observing that whatever our station in life, whatever our beliefs or nationhood, ultimately each of us is a human being like everyone else, and we all desire happiness and want to avoid suffering.
§ The Chinese are fond of extolling the benevolent transformations they have wrought in Tibet. Yet the country is almost unique in the degree to which access is controlled. I was part of a small parliamentary group that asked if an all-party delegation could go and see the wonders China was claiming for Tibet, pointing out that such high-level confirmation would vindicate the People's Republic from worldwide criticism. We asked to go on a more independent basis than the previously stage-managed visits by delegations or individuals. Of course the request was refused categorically. The Red Cross? No. Amnesty? No. Other charities or NGOs? No. Anyone remotely capable of monitoring the situation on the ground is just not tolerated. Such actions go beyond raising suspicions; they confirm our worst.
§ The latest example of double-speak and an unco-operative and rigid attitude, which is very serious and germane to this debate and the whole solution of the Tibet issue, again concerns the Dalai Lama. After giving every indication towards the end of last year that negotiations with His Holiness were at last a real possibility, not only did this hope vanish but it was replaced by a virulent anti-Dalai Lama campaign. He is now being described as wanting to lead Tibetans back to poverty, backwardness, ignorance and even advocating serfdom. In fact, the Dalai Lama's position has been consistent and seeks to address the fundamental points that would save Tibet as a nation and, as he is at pains to emphasise, draw Tibet willingly into an association with the People's Republic working with a spirit of respect for ethnic differences.
It is crucial for the Chinese to understand that if the problem of Tibet is not solved by negotiated settlement, it could cause long-term instability, violence and suffering to the region. As David Lambton, director of China studies at John Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies recently noted:
If the Dalai Lama dies. the movement can fracture and there could be guerrilla and terrorist groups".
§ As we know, not even the sharpest security forces in the world can prevent terrorism, and particularly when the majority of the population supports it. China might consider what happened to the might of the Soviet military machine in Afghanistan.
§ If the Dalai Lama had sanctioned a policy like the PLO, ANC or even the IRA, then he would have been listened to and given the profile accorded to the likes of Yasser Arafat, Nelson Mandela or Gerry Adams. Instead, His Holiness has been steadfast in pursuing a non-violent path which, while gaining international admiration, has not achieved the political support it is due. That is so wrong. Western governments will be culpable of a dereliction of sense, let alone duty, if 1059 greater action is not taken. It is high time Beijing adopted a less belligerent attitude and instead showed greater vision, and it is up to western governments to encourage positive changes without fretting about economic consequences the whole time.
The Chinese bridle at any interference in their internal affairs. Yet they would do well to heed the words of our Prime Minister who. when speaking about the situation in Kosovo, declared that acts of genocide can never be purely internal matters. The UN Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, voiced the same sentiments to the Commission for Human Rights, saying:
No Government has the right to hide behind national sovereignty in order to violate the human rights and fundamental freedoms of its peoples.
§ There are many things the Government can do for the Tibet issue. Undoubtedly, the most important would be to encourage dialogue between Beijing and the Dalai Lama. Furthermore, we could raise in the European Council the resolutions passed by the EU Parliament about a special co-ordinator for Tibet. We could promote Tibet's cause with the UN and encourage an opportunity for His Holiness to address the General Assembly. Also, greater financial support for the Tibetan refugees from the DfID would be a positive step.
§ Most of all, simply approaching the issue with an abiding determination to find a solution and to urge our friends to do the same would be of the greatest assistance. For the sake of stability in the region, for justice and for China's own standing in the world, Beijing must stop fearing the Dalai Lama: he is not the problem, he is the solution.
§ 9.27 p.m.
§ Baroness Elles
My Lords, the noble Lord, the Earl of Carrick, h as given noble Lords the opportunity to raise the continuing problems surrounding the former autonomy of the people of Tibet and the ever-increasing control by the People's Republic of China over Tibetan territory. We are most grateful to the noble Earl for what he has said and the background he has given for this short debate.
We should look back over the last century and remember that the series of agreements between Tibet and China throughout the twentieth century had confirmed Tibetan autonomy, but was overridden by the Chinese invasion in October 1950, leading to the present critical situation and resulting in recent years in the deaths of over a million Tibetans.
Any hope of change in the situation of the Tibetans, which has weakened over the years, can only be improved by international action. As we have heard, negotiations wit China, even with considerable renunciation of specific areas of control which have been offered by the Dalai Lama recently, do not give cause for optimism. Each time he has studied the situation and gore one step further down the road of reducing the autonomy of Tibet, China has rejected these offers and has consistently refused to come to any agreement or to afford any opportunity of discussion with the Dalai Lama about the situation in his country.
1060 During the 1980s the Dalai Lama visited the European Parliament in Strasbourg, where he received a massive reception from widely differing political parties throughout Europe. He spoke of his hopes and objectives for his country. All the political parties were represented there. It was a vast meeting of over 300 Members of the European Parliament. I very much regretted that the then president of the European Parliament refused to take part because of the pressure from China on the presidency of the Parliament. We should always be aware of the background of pressure by the Chinese Republic and its emissaries throughout the world and its objections to any action, activity or discussion on the subject of Tibet throughout the world. In the free world we do not have to take any notice of this pressure, but we should be aware of it nevertheless and take action where necessary.
The Dalai Lama, since that visit to the European Parliament, has taken his message throughout Europe and specifically to America where there is strong support for the Tibetan people. It is well known that attempts to speak with the Chinese political leaders have led to failure on each occasion and have been followed by the strengthening of Chinese forces, as well as forcing vast numbers of civilians to pile through into Tibet, causing ever-increasing individual and collective suffering of the Tibetan people.
In contrast to the political and economic development of Western Europe, where non-members of the EU seek to become members and to join the existing 15 member states, the political developments in China are characterised by total abolition of the individual political regime of Tibet, with the gradual elimination of any national political system, language, religion and culture.
What are the chances of the Chinese ever leaving Tibet, or some of them, or relaxing their control over its people? There is little or no chance, it would seem, at the present time.
Having left his country in 1959, the Dalai Lama has established his base in Dharmsala in North India, together with his government-in-exile. World recognition of the strong desire for peace for his people and the actions that he has taken, which won him the Nobel prize, have not so far been proved enough to ensure the liberation of the Tibetan people. Of course, that is to be greatly regretted. Even acceptance of Chinese control over spheres of defence and foreign affairs would, with difficulty, lead to constructive discussions with the Chinese, especially, if I may say so, at the present time. Recent events in Belgrade would make it very difficult for the West to take any immediate part in such discussions in the hope of some peaceful and satisfactory conclusion. However, it is hoped that Her Majesty's Government will be able to contribute to and support the international attempt of the Dalai Lama, and his followers, to achieve his long-term aims based on non-violence for his country and his people.
§ 9.30 p.m.
§ Lord Weatherill
My Lords, when the noble Earl, Lord Carrick, an active member of the All-Party Group on Tibet, applied for this debate, it was our hope that it 1061 would help to highlight the present very unhappy situation in Tibet and that it would be an encouragement to the Chinese Government to open up a dialogue with His Holiness the Dalai Lama, with a view to bringing about a fair and peaceful solution. Alas, as the noble Baroness has just said, the events of last weekend in Belgrade and also the sad loss of Mr. Derek Fatchett, who was always so supportive of the all-party group when we visited him in the Foreign Office, do not auger well for our pleas to the Chinese Government this evening. However, I hope that our suggestions will be heeded by the Minister, who has kindly agreed to come here this evening in order to respond to this debate. Further, as we all know, this is a short debate, and we are all constrained by a time limit. Nevertheless, the noble Earl, Lord Carrick, spoke extremely well and put the case very well for the all-party group. I warmly congratulate him on that.
Some 18 months ago, as patron of the all-party group, I led a small delegation to Dharmsala with Members of Parliament and members of the Tibet Society. Apart from the privilege of in-depth discussions with His Holiness, we were also able to visit the parliament which he had established. We met Ministers and members of parliament who had been democratically elected by Tibetans in exile to represent the districts in Tibet from which they, their parents or, in many cases, their grandparents had originally come. For me, it was a particular pleasure to meet their distinguished speaker, Samdhong Rinpoche. I have to say that he did not need much guidance or help from me as a former Speaker. However, in truth, I can say that the Tibetan parliament in exile, based on our Westminster system, is highly professional. Its debates were very well informed and well conducted. Ministers were genuinely held to account rather more than is often the case in our own Parliament at present.
His Holiness the Dalai Lama repeated on a radio programme this morning in an interview with Mr. Jeremy Paxman what he had told me in Dharmsala; namely, that he wished to relinquish his temporal responsibilities to a democratically-elected parliament; and this he has done. Furthermore, he told Mr. Paxman that if the Chinese allowed him to return to Lhasa he would do so on the basis that Tibet would be considered a part of China, and that he was seeking not independence, but, as the noble Earl said, a form of autonomy—genuine autonomy. Surely this is a pattern which in our own way we are seeking to achieve for ourselves in Northern Ireland, in Scotland and also in Wales. His Holiness concluded his interview with Mr. Paxman this morning by saying,"This is my ambition".
The present situation in Tibet, as the noble Earl, Lord Carrick, explained, parallels very closely the situation in Kosovo. The difference is that we do not see it on our television sets. The refugees from Tibet come over the Himalayas, frequently in very bad weather, because that is when the Chinese guards are less likely to apprehend them. Many of them, as I saw for myself, arrive with frostbite, many children having had limbs amputated as a result.
1062 We are involved in Kosovo to stop the abuse of human rights and to allow the people of that province to return, not to an independent state, but to a measure of autonomy. In my talks with the Dalai Lama he told me that many young Tibetans in exile were telling him that his non-violent approach had failed and that the world would not take notice of the plight of the Tibetan people until they could return to Tibet with guns—and there are plenty of those around.
We in our country are rightly proud of our tradition of settling our disputes by a parley rather than by the gun. We regularly encourage others to follow our example. Surely we should practice what we preach. Surely His Holiness the Dalai Lama, who steadfastly espouses the path of non-violence in Tibet, deserves our support in all the ways that are open to us in achieving a peaceful, and above all a fair, resolution of the impasse faced by his people. As the noble Earl movingly said, he is, far from being a problem, in truth the solution to the problem, and he deserves our encouragement and our support.
§ 9.37 p.m.
§ Lord Thurlow
My Lords, may I start by associating myself very sincerely with the expressions of sympathy at the loss of Mr. Derek Fatchett. He was a great friend and supporter of the interests of Tibet. Before the change of government he took the trouble to go all the way up to St. Andrews to join in a briefing to inform himself more on the problems and questions of Tibet. His death is a very great loss to his colleagues in the Foreign Office, with whom I sympathise, and to us all.
We should not be too much put off from the right aims and objects by the present very unfortunate situation that has blown up in Belgrade. We cannot deny its seriousness nor the fact that for the time being it will affect every other aspect of relations with China. But these things will pass. A time will come when it will again be expedient and possible to make firm representations to China against its enormities. I express my thanks to the noble Earl, Lord Carrick, for his clear and very moving statement of the terrible situation Tibet now finds itself in.
The international community can do little to help, except by making known its views on the rights of Tibet, supporting His Holiness with his very modest requests, as the noble Lord, Lord Weatherill, impressively said, and by pressing human rights issues in every possible international forum.
As the noble Earl said, political statements have been regrettably muted in recent years in the competition for contracts. That will pass. Nevertheless, an ethical foreign policy implies some readiness to sacrifice interests in support of wider aims. China has signed the human rights convention and is flouting its provisions in the most cynical way. It is up to us to maintain a firm line and to continue, as I am glad to say we have been doing, our efforts to stiffen the spines of our European Union partners.
I believe that a powerful factor in the international reluctance to take a firmer stance is the background of confusion about Tibet's international legal status. Other 1063 countries have historically taken their lead from Britain because of our responsibility for the defence of India until 1947. However, in the past 50 years, our view has not been expressed consistently and clearly. Indeed, at times the Foreign Office seemed to accept that Tibet had always been part of China. It could certainly be excused some uncertainty because in the days of the India Office it did not handle Tibetan issues directly and, after 1947, everybody agreed that it was for the Government of India to take a lead. In this country, the Commonwealth Office played that hand.
Unfortunately, in 1950, with the invasion, the Indian Government, after an initial protest, refrained from anything that might offend the Chinese. Despite the readiness of the US Government to help, Nehru simply trusted the lies of the Chinese at Bandung and onwards. In retrospect, I believe that India considers that to have been a critical mistake. I was involved on the margins because I had to discuss the situation in Delhi with the Government of India at the time.
It would help our European partners and perhaps the United States if the Government would now put the record straight after 50 years of some confusion about status. The late Sir Algernon Rumbold, the old India Office expert, put it clearly. Denying the claim that Tibet had been part of China, he said:This is geographically, racially, culturally and politically false. Historically Chinese Governments exercised some influence in Tibet only occasionally and for brief periods".As the noble Earl mentioned, in 1997 the International Commission of Jurists, manned by a distinguished group of international lawyers, concluded that Tibet is entitled under international law to self determination. It declared the present alleged autonomy fictitious, as we all know it is. It is totally fictitious.
I respectfully ask the Minister to consider, with her colleagues, undertaking a review to remove all the old legal confusions on status. Internal self-government is all that the Dalai Lama is demanding. We should support it as Tibet's legal international right. We should seek to get the agreement of our European partners to this as the basis of a common position under the foreign and security policy.
§ 9.45 p.m.
§ Viscount Mersey
My Lords, I too am grateful to the noble Earl, Lord Carrick, for introducing this debate. I have spoken before about Tibet and the Dalai Lama. Indeed, I believe that this is my fifth speech. Curiously, all our debates on that sad country follow the same course. Noble Lords on the Back Benches from all quarters of the House recite Tibetan atrocities, praise His Holiness and call for a measure of independence. The Government in reply say that they recognise the Dalai Lama solely as the spiritual head of Tibet and that the Chinese have suzerainty over Tibet in all other fields. Of course, the Government condemn obvious things like the torture of monks, but in a somewhat qualified way. Tae Government also meet the Dalai Lama, but again in a slightly qualified way. For instance, when His Holiness came to Committee Room 14 on the last occasion, the then Lord Chancellor, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay, chaired the 1064 meeting but he said that he was not doing so in his capacity as Lord Chancellor. His Holiness also went to Downing Street. The then Prime Minister, John Major, met him, but not in his capacity as Prime Minister. There was always something slightly unofficial about the Dalai Lama's visits here.
I note that this time he is to be greeted by Madam Speaker. I hope that New Labour means a new attitude towards His Holiness. We shall be quite delighted if we get anything other than the standard government response—perhaps I should say the standard Whitehall response—because this matter is quite beyond party politics. As noble Lords have said, it is an international problem.
I must also say, sadly, that our debates in this Chamber have not made any difference to Tibet over the years. Each time we hold them, the situation is a little worse. The ethnic cleansing is more widespread. There is also the raping of nuns, the pulling down of monasteries and forcing children to shoot their parents.
The position of the Panchen Lama is a little worse than it was. What has happened to the boy who is the true Panchen Lama? What has happened to the monk who discovered him? Of course, the Chinese say that he is not the Panchen Lama and that he is perfectly all right. But has any Westerner actually seen the child? It is surely on the cards that both he and the monk are dead; but who knows?
This is a purely spiritual matter. If the Government accept that the Dalai Lama is the spiritual head of his country, I hope that they will try to explain what efforts they are making to persuade the Chinese to install the true spiritual Panchen Lama in post and to oust what I call the Chinese placement Panchen, who is of course an impostor.
I used the phrase "ethnic cleansing". As many noble Lords have said, we are engaged in stopping that in Kosovo. Why Kosovo and not Tibet? That is simple. Tibet poses no threat to us but Kosovo and the Balkans do. They also pose a threat to the stability of NATO.
Noble Lords may have heard His Holiness talking to Jeremy Paxman this morning about Kosovo. He said that we should oppose Milosevic but not use force. That has amazing relevance. He said that force can have unpredictable consequences. However, we have used force when our own interests and security are threatened. Thus it has always been and always will be. We used it in the Falklands to protect British sovereign territory; we fought in the Gulf to protect oil interests, and in Tibet. We invaded it when the Chinese empire collapsed at the start of this century. That was in our interest. We sent a force under Younghusband and then we made a treaty. It is this treaty that the Tibetans quote to us as proof of their autonomy and why they say they have a special relationship with the United Kingdom. Of course there can be no question of sending a military force to free Tibet from China now; I certainly recognise that. It would be the last thing that His Holiness would want.
Tomorrow His Holiness comes to Westminster. He will address parliamentarians in the Grand Committee Room; he will meet the press; we will give him lunch; 1065 and he will tell us that he does not wish to be the secular leader of his country, merely the spiritual one. The noble Earl, Lord Carrick, and the noble Lord, Lord Weatherill, have said that if Tibet can shake off Chinese rule His Holiness has said that he will hand over power to a local regional assembly, I suppose—perhaps something like the new Scottish Parliament—and he will return to becoming a celibate monk. The Government have a duty to restrain China in what I call its spiritual dealings with Tibet; that is, to recognise the true Panchen Lama, to stop the humanitarian atrocities, to stop the destroying of the monasteries and to stop the torturing and murdering of monks.
I shall end by reminding your Lordships of two small parts of the Dalai Lama's teaching that I heard on the radio this morning: first, that it is not right to impose the Buddhist faith on others. Faith is a matter of individual freedom, otherwise, he says,"There will be a clash". Secondly, we should all behave as the humblest beggar because at the end of our lives we all become equally lowly.
More practically, I ask the new Government to succeed where earlier governments have failed and to find a way to give Tibet some measure of the autonomy we recognised in the Younghusband treaty, and, above all, to guarantee spiritual freedom to all Tibetans.
§ 9.51 p.m.
§ The Earl of Sandwich
My Lords, I warmly thank the noble Earl, Lord Carrick, for giving us this opportunity. It is unfortunate that the debate tonight and relations with China as a whole are overshadowed by the shocking incident over the weekend. However unpredictable warfare is, we must all regret the appalling mistake of NATO intelligence which led a pilot to bomb the Chinese embassy in Belgrade. But it does however raise the question of propaganda, at which the Chinese are adept. As one would expect, they are using the incident to the very best advantage, just as they have already criticised NATO for playing up ethnic cleansing as a pretext for invading Kosovo and extending its influence eastwards. I am sure that the Government will hold up their heads and refuse to kow-tow to China on this issue.
The same propaganda game is being played with the Dalai Lama, whose achievements in the West, surprisingly, I believe, have won considerable respect in China. An intelligent article in the Beijing newspaper Management and Strategy on 2nd January, monitored by the BBC and reprinted in Hong Kong, asks why westerners are so sentimental about Tibet. It concludes that it is the last refuge of western mysticism and idealism, embodied by the Dalai Lama himself. While complimenting the Dalai Lama on his success, the article accuses him of exploiting Tibetan history and philosophy to mislead the West, saying that his inability to control his pro-independence followers will be a cause of future unrest. It says:In the worst case, forces such as the Tibetan Youth Congress…will sharply increase the violence and destruction, to put Tibet in danger of becoming a Palestine or even a Chechnya".1066 Those are legitimate fears. Tibet is not an independent state but an autonomous region of China de facto if not de jure and, whatever the history, it is important for our Government to understand the modern Chinese viewpoint. But we should equally remind China that support for the Dalai Lama, muted as it is in Whitehall, is not just an official western government position. It comes from a worldwide movement of people who believe in the personal integrity of the Dalai Lama as a spiritual as well as political leader. This support is based not on a romantic ideal, as the Chinese newspaper suggests, but on the justice, human rights and self-determination demanded by the Tibetan people over 40 years.
The Dalai Lama's determination to defend a just cause, coupled with his patient willingness to compromise, deserves greater respect from China and continuing support from western governments through and beyond the present crisis.
Our successful trade with China should not inhibit us from countering China's propaganda and pursuing our independent policy of steady diplomacy. It is easy to see why it might. FDI rose from 42 billion dollars in 1996 to 52 billion dollars in 1997. It rose again in 1998. Foreign exchange reserves in China have soared throughout the 1990s. Foreign trade is very important to China, representing one-fifth of its gross national product. Britain is one of China's main trading partners within the EU and its share of China's exports continued to rise in 1997 and last year.
Sichuan province is the latest to open a UK office only a fortnight ago and has just sent a large delegation of its officials here. Tibet does not, however, benefit much from Britain's trade or aid. In the China Statistical Yearbook, Tibet is listed as one of the very poorest regions. Its annual GDP per head in 1997 was only 371 dollars, compared with 2, 772 dollars in Shanghai, where most foreign investment is directed. Illiteracy in Tibet is still as high as 52 per cent. Tibetan language teaching has been in decline because of accusations of "splittism" which has left teachers as well as monks in detention.
The UN agencies have been working in Tibet for many years, with varying success. The World Food Programme has attempted to improve the income and food security of rural Tibetans in the Lhasa Valley for nearly a decade, but the programme was ill-conceived and helped the government more than poor Tibetans. The European Union ran into similar trouble, although the current Pa Nam rural development project benefits indigenous Tibetans.
The World Bank has been associated with another dubious scheme, resettling over 60,000 poor farmers in Dulan county, Qinghai Province, traditionally a home for Tibetan pastoralists. Two-fifths of the beneficiaries, it turns out, are Han Chinese settlers and none are Tibetans. The Minister may be able to tell us how much UK aid is going into these large international schemes. Among the bilateral aid donors, New Zealand, Australia and Canada have a good record of small-scale projects which serve people in Tibet. The UK does not have an active bilateral programme—perhaps the Minister could 1067 explain why, considering our historical obligations—but it is helping a well-established Save the Children Fund programme of health education and pre-school and primary level teacher training. Save the Children has a good record of working in mainland China for many years, in specialised fields such as disability and AIDS education. It is a credit to it and the Chinese and the Tibetans that it is still expanding its programme in Tibet.
China should value the support which the West gives to Tibet, not use it for propaganda. It should seize the opportunity to come to terms with the Dalai Lama, as has been suggested, as soon as possible, before it is too late and while he has earned the respect of his own people as well as of the outside world. European governments should continue to coax China towards these concessions and resist any temptation to enter trade partnerships without a regular dialogue on human rights.
Two-and-a-half years ago, when we last debated Tibet, I remember the inhibition of the Hong Kong handover, the fear that China might be displeased and turn on Hong Kong, if the West made too much of Tibet and human rights in China. The period since then has seen remarkable progress—the European Union-WTO talks are the latest example—and has shown how misplaced that fear would have been. The same is true of the embassy bombing. It is essential to keep reminding China, as we are now, of the strength of feeling both on Tibet and on human rights in China itself.
In our last debate, I spoke of tyranny and ethnic cleansing in Tibet. I cannot support an ANC-style struggle, favoured by some exiled Tibetans who are understandably desperate. Nor can I see China recognising Tibet as an independent country. But I am sure that if Chine. negotiates more seriously with the Dalai Lama, it could see the end to repression and offer more genuine autonomy.
A new generation is growing up in Chinese cities, nurtured on a common awareness of the world and international relations—well aware of the rights of individuals and minorities. It is true that young Chinese will not have learnt anything about human rights from Europe this week, but, generally, they are more and more exposed to European culture and many of the advantages of western technology. Given time and diplomacy, China will move gradually towards greater understanding of the cultural identity and social needs of the Tibetans.
Finally, I add my own tribute to Derek Fatchett, whose personal commitment to human rights and minority peoples is well known. I went to see him recently about Burma. He had great concern for the minority peoples there too. In a debate in another place on 19th March, he made a clear statement of the Government's position on Tibet, of which I am sure we will hear something from the Minister tonight. It will be hard for Downing Street to find someone of similar quality.
§ 10.2 p.m.1068
§ Baroness Strange
My Lords, this year there have been many demonstrations and vigils to mark the fortieth anniversary of Tibetan resistance to the Chinese invasion of Tibet. We are all grateful to my noble friend Lord Carrick for raising this issue so well and comprehensively tonight.
Earlier this year, some of us, wearing Tibetan ribbons—I borrowed that of the noble Viscount, Lord Mersey—watched the noble Lord, Lord Weatherill, place a wreath in Tibetan colours outside Westminster Abbey. We were all given white silk Tibetan scarves of friendship, which we tied to the railings—where they fluttered in the wind like Tibetan prayer flags. It was a small and rather moving ceremony, as we watched the blustery March wind catch the ends of the silk scarves.
Forty thousand Chinese troops first invaded Tibet in 1950. Since that time, more and more Chinese have poured in. In the past 59 years, an estimated 1.2 million Tibetans have been killed by the Chinese. During the uprising of 1959, approximately 430,000 were killed and His Holiness the Dalai Lama escaped into exile in India.
During the past 40 years, thousands of Chinese poured into Tibet and settled there. The two regions of Amdo and Kham were totally taken over by the Chinese, whose population in Tibet now outnumbers by many times that of Tibetans. Those two regions have been given new Chinese names and are not even counted as part of Tibet—which they are. Even in U'Sang—now called by the Chinese the Tibet Autonomous Region—there are more than 5 million Chinese, compared with 4.5 million Tibetans.
During the early 1960s, hundreds of thousands of nomadic Tibetans died or starvation. Many more have been tortured and imprisoned. Thousands of monasteries have been destroyed; monks and nuns turned out; and sacred texts annihilated. The Tibetans were a good and peaceful people—tending their gardens, growing vegetables and flowers, loving children and dogs. We gave a lunch for Professor Samdhong Rinpoche of Varanasi University in October 1997. When he arrived, we walked together through the late summer garden with our dogs bounding at his heels. He picked an apple from a tree and ate it. He said,"It is so long since I was at home in Tibet, in my own garden, able to pick fruit and walk among the flowers with my dog."
The Chinese have also cut down the vast natural forests north of Tibet, which has caused much erosion among the rivers. All the soil has been released because there are no tree roots to hold it back. That action has not only increased the floods in Bangladesh but the soil has swept down into China and clogged up the new dams there. Tibet is also rich in mineral resources, which are now being mined and being taken away by the Chinese.
On Thursday of this week His Holiness the Dalai Lama is to open a new peace garden beside the Imperial War Museum. That is a place of peace and meditation, symbolically under the huge guns of the museum. I have brought down to plant in it a cutting of a single white 1069 Banksian rose taken from the very first one imported by my ancestor Captain Robert Drummond in the sailing ship "General Elliot". He obtained this from the Botanic Garden in Canton in 1793. This rose is a cutting from the original stock which still grows and flourishes in our garden in Scotland, having come from China—or perhaps even more distantly from Tibet—and sailed across the seas of the world to take root and grow in Scotland. I hope that this white rose of peace will grow and flourish in the garden of peace and, with its sharp, sweet scent, will like the white prayer flags on the railings of Westminster Abbey, blow the wise words of the Dalai Lama into the hearts of the Chinese people.
§ 10.6 p.m.
§ Lord Avebury
My Lords, we are all shocked and saddened to hear of the tragic and sudden death of the Minister, Derek Fatchett, who was in China only last month and also in Korea, Hong Kong, Indonesia and East Timor. I pay tribute to him from these Benches as an immensely hard working and effective member of the Government. His contribution will be very hard to match. Mr. Fatchett was doing the work shared by two Ministers in the previous administration but he was always on top of the job. Only last week he answered a Written Question from my honourable friend Dr. Jenny Tonge, reaffirming that we considered the best way to make progress on the question of Tibet was by direct dialogue rather than through the United Nations. But I believe that he had not yet given a full report on his discussions with the Chinese, and we may hear something of the results of his visit later. We send our deepest sympathy to his widow and family.
With the visit of His Holiness the Dalai Lama this week, and the scheduled visit of President Jiang Zemin in the autumn, Britain has a chance to help revive the proposals for a dialogue between the Dalai Lama and the Chinese authorities which all British governments have espoused over the years. That has been a theme of many speeches this evening. I also share the hope that has been expressed that we can repair the damage done to Anglo-Chinese relations by the horrendous mistake of NATO in attacking the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade certainly well before President Jiang comes here in, I believe, October.
We have to decide whether to continue with the EU policy of bilateral dialogue with China on human rights or to admit frankly that it has failed and therefore, presumably, confine ourselves to one-way criticism, forfeiting the chance that may arise for personal contacts such as the EU troika ambassadors' visit of May 1998 and the forthcoming repetition of that visit next month. The Dalai Lama himself believes that we should persevere with the dialogue both on the constitutional status of Tibet and the individual human rights violations of the Tibetan peoples. The question is whether any other policy would secure better results. I have not heard of any convincing alternatives.
However, the engagement with the Chinese should not mean that we avoid all public mention of the issues at stake or that we conduct the dialogue in accordance with rules laid down by Beijing. This should be a 1070 reciprocal process. We know that there are many things with which the Chinese find fault in western society. They have every right to say what they think about us and we have a duty to respond frankly to their criticisms, just as we expect them to respond to ours.
On this reasoning, the Prime Minister should receive the Dalai Lama without having a Church dignitary present to imply that the discussion is concerned solely with matters of faith, as the noble Viscount, Lord Mersey, pointed out. Obviously, one of the important questions in this discussion is whether, and if so how, we can help to promote the negotiations between the Chinese and the Dalai Lama that the Government would like to see. That is a political matter. The Dalai Lama would be giving his opinion as the political leader of the Tibetan people widely respected in Lhasa, as the EU troika saw for themselves when they went there. Meeting him in that capacity would not imply a commitment on the part of the Prime Minister to the independence of Tibet. But it would underline our firm belief that His Holiness must be involved in discussions on the future of Tibet.
Two of the advances said to have been achieved through the policy of constructive dialogue were China's signature of the ICCPR in October 1998 and the visit by the High Commissioner, Mary Robinson, in September last year. But the European Union, in its statement before the Commission of Human Rights on 31st March, recognised the mismatch between,the positive signals sent out by the Chinese Government mostly concerning co-operation with the human rights mechanisms of the United Nations".and what it called the "grave setback" on the ground with a crackdown on political dissidents, detentions and harsh court sentences, to which noble Lords have referred.
In the case of Tibet in particular, two monks from Drepung monastery near Lhasa were arrested under suspicion of attempting to contact the commissioner when she was there, hoping to deliver a letter expressing their concern over the detention of the child chosen by the Dalai Lama as the reincarnation of the Panchen Lama, whose case has been referred to by the noble Viscount, Lord Mersey. The Panchen Lama is 10 years old and the world's youngest political prisoner. We have repeatedly asked to see him and check on his welfare and have been repeatedly refused, thus raising suspicions as to his welfare and health, or fears that he may have been harmed or even brainwashed by the Chinese. The letter from those monks was also said to have referred to the May 1998 Drapchi prison protests which resulted in the deaths of at least 10 Tibetan prisoners, under the noses of the EU troika delegation who were completely unaware of the incident and did not refer to it in their June report.
Do we have any further information about the tragedy of Drapchi and the continuing ill-treatment of prisoners there, in particular the surviving nuns? What information have we about the health of the nun, Ngawang Sandrol, since she was beaten and, we understand, severely injured? In the further EU 1071 delegation to Tibet, which is to take place either later this month or early next month, I hope that they will raise these issues which have not yet been resolved.
When these matters are raised with the Chinese, do we give them an aide-memoire of our concerns, and do we ask for detailed replies in writing? Of course we have no means of compelling them to give the information for which we ask if they choose not to do so, but if, whenever we spoke to them, we published these aide-memoires and any replies that we receive from Beijing, readers would be able to form their own impression as to whether China is,signing bits of paper but changing nothing". —[Official Report, Commons, 19/3/99: col.1466.]as my honourable friend Mr Norman. Baker put it in his adjournment debate on 19th March. In two different contributions noble Lords referred to the cynical attitude of the Chinese in signing these instruments with no intention of doing anything about them. Alternatively, is there any real improvement in China's human rights performance, as Ministers imply when they speak of the 12 developments since we embarked on the policy of constructive engagement? An exchange of aide-memoires and replies from both sides would not imply that we laid claim to judge China or vice versa, but that we would provide the materials on which the international community could form a collective judgment. In this way, I believe that Europe could supplement the work of the Commission on Human Rights, and help to ensure that in the medium to longer term the people of Tibet could largely take charge of their own affairs.
§ 10.13 p.m.
§ Baroness Rawlings
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Earl, Lord Carrick, on initiating this important and interesting debate on Tibet. The outstanding contributions from your Lordships' House have again demonstrated something of which the Minister is already well aware: that the situation in Tibet is rightly of genuine great concern both to this House and to the public in general.
Tibet's history over the past 50 years has been turbulent indeed. From the day that the People's Liberation Army entered Tibet in 1951, and through the years of the Cultural Revolution, deeply damaging and perhaps irreversible inroads have been made into the traditional Tibetan way of life. The Chinese Government's invidious official policy to produce a future Tibet which is predominantly Han Chinese has been described as one of the worst crimes in the second half of this century.
This year marks the 40th anniversary of the exile from Tibet of the Dalai Lama following the failure of the Tibetan national uprising in 1959 when Tibetans rebelled against nine years of cruelty by the Communist Chinese occupation. According to one estimate, more than 400,000 Tibetans were killed by Chinese troops, while in the 20 years which followed 150,000 Tibetans were executed and 170,000 more were tortured.
With the end of the Cultural Revolution, there were glimmers of hope for Tibet's future as dialogue was initiated between the Chinese authorities and the Dalai 1072 Lama, with Peking indicating a willingness to accept the return to Tibet of the Dalai Lama and his followers under certain conditions. But those hopes were dashed when, in 1987, there was a major change in Chinese policy towards Tibet.
The status of Tibet is clearly one of the key issues in any future settlement. Together with the rest of the international community, successive British governments have regarded Tibet as autonomous while recognising the special position of China there. We believe now, as we did in government, that the Tibetans should have a greater say in running their own affairs in Tibet. Although Britain has never recognised the Dalai Lama as the head of the Tibetan government in exile, he has always been acknowledged as a highly respected spiritual leader, Nobel Peace Prize winner and an influential force in Tibet.
The debate this evening, appropriately, takes place during the visit of the Dalai Lama to London. In March, the Minister of State said that he would be met at an appropriate level by members of the Government. Will the Minister say which members of the Government have taken the opportunity to meet the Dalai Lama and what progress was made as a result of the meeting?
The gap between the stated position of the two sides—the Dalai Lama and the Chinese government—would appear to be bridgeable given that no Chinese government for centuries have been prepared to accept the idea of an independent Tibet. There is no reason to believe that that will change in the foreseeable future. The Dalai Lama has shown great courage and wisdom in accepting the impracticality of insisting on independence. Instead in His Holiness's speech in Strasbourg 11 years ago, to which I had the privilege of listening, as did my noble friend Lady Elles, he outlined the concept of "two families under one roof'. He has called for an autonomous Tibet within China, as mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Weatherill.
Chinese spokesmen have responded by stating their willingness to engage in a dialogue with the Dalai Lama if he renounces independence and pro-independence activities. The problem appears to be one of will, especially on the part of Peking. That becomes acutely apparent when the Dalai Lama's response and the Chinese authorities' response to the 40th anniversary of the Dalai Lama's exile are contrasted. The Dalai Lama used the occasion to appeal for an end to what he called the deep distrust between Tibetans and the Chinese and called for face-to-face meetings and sincere dialogue to dissipate that distrust; while the Chinese Communist newspaper, the People's Daily, described the past four decades as a golden chapter in the history of human rights in Tibet and called the Dalai Lama,a tool in the hands of western forces",who has,done nothing good for the Tibetan people in his 40 years of fugitive life".There is consensus in this House that the human rights situation in China as a whole, including Tibet, remains an issue of key importance in our relations with the Chinese authorities. The major and social economic change that China—a geographically vast developing 1073 nation with more than 1.2 billion people—is undergoing has led and will continue to lead to increased domestic pressures for human rights reforms. It was for that reason that under the previous administration we did not believe in a policy of isolating China during this critical period of change and reform.
Nevertheless, it was one of the critical elements of our engagement with China that we made clear, without a shadow of a doubt, the depth and scale of our concern in respect of fundamental political, ethnic and religious freedoms. We did not shirk from criticising Chinese policies and actions if and when events warranted it, as demonstrated by our willingness to co-sponsor the resolutions which drew attention to China's record on human rights, introduced in 1989 after the Tiananman Square massacre, at the annual United Nations Commission on Human Rights in Geneva.
However, there was amazement and scepticism among human rights campaigners when in 1998, for the first time in nine years, the United Kingdom Government did not support such a resolution, particularly in view of the Government's much publicised ethical dimension to their foreign policy. When asked why, for the second year in a row, the Government had failed to table or to co-sponsor a resolution on human rights in China at the 55th United Nations Commission for Human Rights, the noble Baroness, Lady Symons, cited the merits of a dialogue-based approach.
The Minister described the results of this policy as,limited progress in some areas".However, the decision of the United States Government to introduce a resolution on China's human rights practices at the most recent UN Commission on Human Rights was based on their belief that,the Government of China's human rights record has deteriorated sharply since over the past year".Can the noble Baroness reconcile what she has described as "limited progress" with what the US Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright, described as,a sharp deterioration in the human rights situation in China"?Can she say what effect the Government's policy has had on improving the human rights situation in Tibet and in what way it has illustrated that Tibet forms an essential and central part of what we are trying to do on human rights? Finally, can the Minister tell the House to what extent the NATO bombing of the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade on Friday night has damaged our diplomatic relationship with China, including the extent to which any influence the Government may have brought to bear on the question of Tibet has been impaired?
There is no doubt that the treatment of Tibetans by the Chinese Government in the five decades since the founding of the People's Republic of China has been inconsistent with international standards on human rights, and therefore is unacceptable. There have been moments in the 1950s and the 1980s when it seemed possible that a more enlightened policy from Peking might prevail, but these moments have proved to be short-lived.
1074 There is also no doubt that the world needs a strong and stable China. The whole House looks forward to the day when China can take her rightful place in the international community and can assume the role of leadership to which China's past entitles her, her future should assure her but her present denies her. China can only play a full part in global affairs when she conforms to the international rules by which the rest of the world has agreed to abide. Until human rights problems are solved and while Tibet is treated as it is, China can never be completely accepted internationally.
A leap of political will and faith is needed on the part of the Chinese leadership. From these Benches I assure the Minister that we will continue to support the Government when they use every opportunity available to enable Peking to make that leap of faith. The preservation of Tibet's unique cultural and religious traditions and the very future of thousands of Tibetans depend upon it.
§ 10.25 p.m.
§ Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean
My Lords, I, too, am grateful to the noble Earl, Lord Carrick, for raising the issue of Tibet, for providing us with an opportunity to discuss it this evening and Her Majesty's Government with an opportunity to set out our views on this matter.
Before I turn to the detailed questions raised by your Lordships, I thank all noble Lords who have spoken, sometimes very movingly, about the sad death of my colleague Derek Fatchett. Many Members of the House had the opportunity earlier this afternoon to express their great sadness at his passing and I will convey the words of sympathy from your Lordships this evening, and indeed my heartfelt sadness for a supportive, gifted and much admired colleague.
I should like to begin with some general comments. Obviously we are deeply concerned about reports of human rights violations, not only in Tibet but elsewhere in China and wherever they occur. Your Lordships are aware of this Government's commitment to the promotion of human rights; it is a centrepiece of our foreign as well as our domestic policy.
The noble Earl expressed his understandable worries about the situation in Tibet. I can assure the noble Baroness, Lady Elles, that Tibet is rightly an issue of special concern to both the public and Parliament, as my department's weekly postbag of correspondence testifies. It was brought sharply into focus this March, which marked the 40th anniversary of His Holiness the Dalai Lama's exile from Tibet.
The Government share the deep concerns expressed by many in this House, particularly the noble Earl, and are actively addressing them with the Chinese both through our bilateral human rights dialogue and the EU/China human rights dialogue. The situation in Tibet and the plight of individual Tibetans features prominently in both.
But I must remind your Lordships that successive British governments have regarded Tibet as autonomous, while recognising the special position of China there. That continues to be the Government's
1075 view. Tibet has never been internationally recognised as independent and this Government do not recognise the Dalai Lama's "government-in-exile". However, I can assure the noble Lord, Lord Thurlow, that we believe that the Tibetans should have a greater say in the running of their own affairs in Tibet, and have urged the Chinese authorities to respect the distinct cultural, religious and ethnic identity of the Tibetans.
We welcome the present visit to the UK of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, who is a highly respected spiritual leader. In that capacity my right honourable friend the Prime Minister had a meeting with him this afternoon and my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary looks forward to seeing him during his visit. So to answer the points raised specifically by the noble Baroness, Lady Rawlings, His Holiness is being seen in that capacity at the highest levels in government. I must make clear that we do not recognise the Dalai Lama as the head of the Tibetan government in exile. It is in his spiritual capacity that he is being received by my right honourable friends.
Her Majesty's Government believe that the best way to achieve a lasting solution to the situation in Tibet is through dialogue between the Chinese Government and the Tibetans, including the Dalai Lama, without preconditions. I hope that that is the kind of view expressed by the noble Earl earlier this evening. We will continue to urge China to enter into such a dialogue. My right honourable friends the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary did so with Chinese leaders last year. Only last month my right honourable friend the Minister of State, Mr. Fatchett, did so again when he visited China, as remarked upon by the noble Lord, Lord Avebury.
Through the human rights dialogues with China to which I referred, we have made clear our many deep concerns about Chinese policy in Tibet. The noble Baroness, Lady Strange, said that those include the re-education of monks and nuns in Tibet under which some are reported to be required to renounce their loyalty to the Dalai Lama and the reported restrictions on the display of the Dalai Lama's picture. China's recent campaign to promote atheism in Tibet gives further cause for concern. We believe that the Chinese should see religion as fulfilling a basic human right, not as some sort of threat.
We are also concerned about the impact of Han Chinese migration into Tibet on its special ethnic, cultural and religious characteristics—a point raised by a number of noble Lords in our debate this evening.
We have raised the individual cases of many Tibetans, including the detention in 1995 of the child Gedhun Choekyi Nyima, who is recognised by the Dalai Lama as the reincarnation of the 11th Panchen Lama. The Government do not hold a view on the child's candidacy as the Panchen Lama, which they believe is a matter for the Tibetans alone to decide. However, he is just a child, and we are very concerned about his welfare. I can assure the noble Viscount, Lord Mersey, that we have repeatedly asked the Chinese to be able to visit him in order to check on his wellbeing. We will continue to raise his case and those of other Tibetans with the Chinese at every opportunity.
1076 The noble Earl, Lord Carrick, told us of those who have been denied access to Tibet for the purpose of monitoring the human rights situation there. In view of the special nature of the situation in Tibet, a delegation of EU Troika Ambassadors in Beijing made a week-long visit to Tibet in May 1998 in order to assess the situation there. The delegation was led by the British Ambassador, supported by a British Tibetan speaker, which was itself a very important precedent. As a result of that visit, the EU agreed some common guidelines for addressing the issue of Tibet. They are that the EU should urge China to respect human rights in Tibet; that we should encourage China to begin talks with the Dalai Lama; that development assistance for ethnic Tibetans should be targeted in order to help them compete in the economy; and that we should seek to preserve the Tibetan language and culture.
We are also supporting our human rights dialogue with practical co-operation. While in Tibet, the EU Troika Ambassadors visited Pa Nam, the site of a £5.1 million EU rural development project. This will directly benefit indigenous Tibetan people in terms of employment, training and access to land. Britain will contribute about 15 per cent of these costs. The Government are also providing development assistance to Tibet through the Save the Children Fund for projects in the field of education and health.
This year, in view of China's willingness to discuss human rights in a frank and constructive manner and the positive steps taken by China in some areas, EU foreign ministers decided that the EU would not change the position it took at the 1998 United Nations Commission on Human Rights, which meant that the EU did not table or co-sponsor a specific resolution on China at the Commission in Geneva last month. That decision should not be interpreted as in any way reducing our commitment to bring about real improvements in the observance of human rights in China, including Tibet. We made our views on this matter explicit in our national and EU statements in Geneva when we were very critical of China's record, including the situation in Tibet.
We believe that this dialogue-based approach is more likely to bring about positive changes in China than the failed resolutions at the UNHCR.
The noble Lord, Lord Thurlow, and the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, particularly raised the NATO bombing of the Chinese Embassy, a point also taken up by the noble Baroness, Lady Rawlings. I stated to your Lordship's House earlier this afternoon that, in a letter to the Chinese premier, the Prime Minister has personally expressed his profound shock at the bombing and the loss of life that resulted. My right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary is very anxious to speak to his counterpart, and I have spoken to the Chinese chargé today, expressing our shock and dismay at this terrible accident. We deeply regret that the attempt to hit a legitimate military target should have resulted, tragically, in the death of Chinese citizens, and serious damage to the embassy in Belgrade.
We greatly value the improved relationship between Britain and China. We are committed to that relationship and to the continuing strengthening of the ties between 1077 us. We very much hope that the dialogue which I referred to last Thursday evening in respect of what emerged from the meeting in Bonn of the G8 foreign ministers will go ahead, and my right honourable friend was able to assure members in another place this afternoon that he believed that the German presidency of G8 was still on track for those meetings.
The noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, thought that our trading interests might possibly inhibit our being explicit in our criticisms of some of the human rights aspects of China's relationship with Tibet. I must point out to the noble Earl that human rights remain at the centre of our foreign policy; but, at the same time, we do not believe that business partnerships and human rights are mutually exclusive issues because the opening up of China's economy has brought greater freedom of choice to many people in that country. We want to work with China to consolidate and expand development which will bring about real improvements in the lives of ordinary people. By doing so, we believe that this exposes the Chinese to practices, standards and expectations of individuals and governments from other countries. The increasing importance that China attaches to promoting the rule of law throughout China is, in part, because of the need to enhance trade and investment from other countries. Therefore, we do not see these as mutually exclusive issues, but ones which can reinforce each other.
The noble Earl, Lord Carrick, raised questions about aid. I spoke earlier about the EU project. The DfID presently supports projects for Tibetan communities both inside the area referred to as the "Tibetan autonomous region", and elsewhere. That aid amounts to some £2.2 million.
The noble Lord, Lord Avebury, raised questions about the Drapchi prison protests. The EU Troika Ambassadors did not witness any demonstrations or 1078 disturbances at the prison during their visit in May of last year. However, strong concerns have been expressed to the Chinese. We are very concerned about the well-being of Ngawang Sangdrol, and others, imprisoned in Tibet. Her name is on a list of individual cases which my right honourable friend the Prime Minister raised with Chinese leaders in October of last year, and on the EU list of individual cases which was presented to the Chinese authorities on 7th May 1999.
I believe that recent developments in China may have been disappointing, but we really did not expect the dialogue to bring significant, short-term political change. The dialogue has produced some results. Indeed, if the noble Baroness wishes me to do so, I can write to her about the results that we believe have been secured. However, dialogue is something which develops as time goes on. While we cannot expect those changes overnight, we believe that there have been significant improvements upon which we will wish to work. We believe that we must work with China to encourage it to meet the international human rights standards that we expect, and we will continue to do so. We will do so privately and publicly, including, where appropriate, at the UN. We will continue to work to achieve progress through constructive dialogue with the authorities in China and through supporting programmes of practical co-operation, such as legal and judicial training. As argued by the noble Lord. Lord Weatherill, in his very impressive and, if I may say so, typically statesman-like intervention, we will continue to urge the Chinese authorities and the Tibetans, including the Dalai Lama, to enter into dialogue, without pre-conditions, at the earliest possible opportunity to resolve this outstanding issue.
§ House adjourned at twenty-two minutes before eleven o'clock.