§ Sir Bernard Braine (Castle Point)
Two weeks ago an international conference on self-determination for Tibet was held at the London business school. It was sponsored by the all-party human rights group and the all-party Tibet group of both Houses of Parliament and the United States congressional human rights foundation. It drew together 126 parliamentarians and experts in international law and human rights from 41 countries to look at nothing else than the worst case of genocide and violation of human rights against a people and their homeland since the second world war.
I have never attended a conference at which there was such great strength of feeling and concern. It was the third international conference on Tibet to be held in just over a year. The first was in Delhi, which I attended, and the second in Japan where messages of support were received from the Japanese Prime Minister. All three conferences brought together a unique fund of parliamentary, diplomatic and legal experience to bear on the critical and tragic situation in Tibet.
Fourteen international lawyers or professors of international law participated, including the Attorney-General of Australia who is also chairman of the Australian section of the International Commission of Jurists, two Australian judges, both members of the International Commission of Jurists—one of whom, Mr. Justice Kirby, is chairman of the UNESCO expert group on the rights of peoples. The French professor of international law acted as the group's rapporteur. The head of the international affairs department of the Jawaharlal Nehru university in Delhi, a former United States Attorney-General, and the Minister of Justice of Zimbabwe also participated. Jointly, they made it clear that international jurists recognise that there is simply no legal validity to China's claims to Tibet—we have passed beyond the stage of legal arguments. There is no room for debate—Tibet should be free.
Representatives from the Baltic states drew attention to the parallel between their situation and that of Tibet, having no doubt of Tibet's right to independence. They were well represented with a member of the Lithuanian Supreme Council and foreign relations committee attending with the Deputy Chairman of the Latvian Supreme Council and the Chairman of the Congress of Estonia. Of particular significance was the presence of two founders of the Mongolian Democratic Union who made quite clear their commitment to Tibetan independence.
President Vaclav Havel, who, soon after taking office, invited His Holiness the Dalai Lama to visit Czechoslovakia, was represented at the conference by his brother. The Federal Republic of Germany, Austria, Costa Rica, the Netherlands and India all sent representatives from their embassies in London. The Icelandic Prime Minister attended in person. Alas, the British Government declined to be represented, even by an observer. Was this out of concern at possible Chinese reaction? I can think of no other reason.
The world was rightly shocked by the events in Tiananmen square, but so muted was Government responses to a dress rehearsal in Lhasa, when a non-violent demonstration by Tibetans was put down with the same mass brutality and martial law was declared in Tibet, three 181 months prior to its introduction in Peking that, inevitably, the Chinese must have been encouraged to think they could weather the outcry over Tiananmen square.
Now is the time for the civilised world to take its stand on Tibet. The charge of genocide is not arrived at lightly, but the evidence is clear.
The number of persons who perished in Tibet between 1959 and 1979 by execution or as a direct result of imprisonment and torture, or being consigned to a forced labour camp, or from the wide-scale famine engendered by the policies of the People's Republic of China, is in the region of 1 million—about one sixth of the total population. True, this includes the period of the cultural revolution in China itself, but that destruction of human life and onslaught on a distinct culture is not, as the Chinese suggest, part of the cultural revolution.
One in every 10 Tibetans have been held in prisons or forced labour camps for periods of 10 to 28 years. All the 75 Tibetans now living in this country have tragic tales to tell of what has befallen their families. At our conference a young monk of 24, born and brought up under the Chinese regime, spoke of his experiences. The Institute for the Victims of Torture says that his is the worst case that it has encountered. He has severe damage to his ribs, spine and throat. His crime was the writing of slogans calling for Tibetan independence.
Racial discrimination and segregation are widespread, and frequently openly practised. Long-standing Chinese officials manifest all the worst attributes of colonialism, regarding themselves as having to work in an inhospitable land, governing a people who cannot be trusted and whom they regard as barbarous, stupid and superstitious.
The policy of taking Tibetan children to China, ostensibly for education, continues with no choice being given but with the evident object of ensuring that the young are assimilated.
Despite official encouragement, few Chinese in Tibet bother to learn Tibetan, and although it is meant to be a second language in schools, Tibetan students must speak Chinese to be able to achieve anything.
It is that attitude of racial superiority which prevails among the field workers in the family planning units in Tibet, resulting in the brutal implementation of a programme of compulsory abortion and the sterilisation of women. According to the Chinese, this is part of a general family planning drive, but it is particularly offensive to Tibetans who are Buddhists and are reluctant to have abortions, and it appears much more as part of the effort quickly to assimilate the race.
The Chinese authorities admit to forced sterilisations. They say that the practice ended with the cultural revolution in 1979, but there is ample evidence that it continues. On 29 May, the Chinese authorities said that 18,000 women in central Tibet had volunteered for sterilization—out of 600,000 of child-bearing age. I am advised that the attitude of the Chinese medical personnel towards the Tibetans results in forced abortions at any time during pregnancy, and there have also been cases of infanticide.
I need hardly draw attention to the parallels with Nazi methods and the Nazis' attitude towards people whom they considered inferior. Indeed, the similarities are even more disturbing in the light of the increasing official interest in eugenics and official statements that there should be "qualitative control" of minority peoples. China Population News published an article a few months ago 182 stating that it is much more common to find persons who are mentally retarded or short of stature among the minority nationalities than among the Han Chinese. The implication is that such characteristics justify the need to take family planning firmly in hand.
In a particularly perverse twist, forced family planning is being publicised as an example of preferential treatment for people of ethnic minority nationalities, 100,000 of whom are cited as being handicapped. I need hardly tell the House that such trends were not noticed by those who spent many years in Tibet prior to the occupation and are certainly not apparent among the Tibetan refugee population in India.
There can be no doubt of the long-term policy of the Chinese leadership for the assimilation, as they term it, of China's national minorities, particularly through settlement by the Chinese. For example, Mongolians in inner Mongolia are now a minority in their own land.
Tibet was self-supporting before the Chinese invasion. The country has known famine only since Chinese occupation, by an army of 300,000 and since the steady influx of settlers, whose numbers are dramatically increasing. In all major Tibetan cities, the preponderance of Chinese is evident, with the Tibetans increasingly forming a poor quarter. Some 30,000 Tibetans in the Lhasa valley have lost their jobs to Chinese settlers, who are given financial incentives to settle and provided with superior services.
Forcible movement of children, a high death toll, enforced sterilisation and population transfer all add up to genocide. Let me demonstrate what this means in individual terms. If I held up the Tibetan flag in Lhasa today, I would be liable to be shot dead, or at least arrested and tortured in an attempt to persuade me to inform on others whom I might know shared my sentiments. I would be a counter-revolutionary seeking to split the motherland. I would be guilty of treason if I held up the flag of the Tibetan people. At a recent demonstration, a monk was shot in the head for holding the flag aloft. When, in turn, five Tibetans picked up the flag, they too were shot. This cannot be tolerated by the civilised world. It must be condemned.
Some 3,000 to 4,000 Tibetans are currently in prison for so-called "splittist" or counter-revolutionary activity. What sort of country is that? They have simply shouted slogans demanding independence, or have displayed the Tibetan flag.
Last April, Lhasa television announced that in the struggle against subversion the people must deal with hostile elements with an iron fist. That is the language of Stalin and Hitler.
§ Mr. David Atkinson (Bournemouth, East)
In view of what my right hon. Friend has just told the House in his characteristically dramatic way, does he agree that the occupation and annexation of Tibet, which took place in the 1950s, was exactly the same as that which the Soviet Union perpetrated in Afghanistan in 1979, an act which the Chinese condemned as hegemony? Does my right hon. Friend regret, as I do, that the condemnation of the Soviet Union in the United Nations by the west has never been accompanied by a condemnation by the west of what China has done to Tibet?
§ Sir Bernard Braine
The behaviour of the Chinese in Tibet is infinitely worse than what the Russians did during their invasion of Afghanistan.
In the past few months Tibetan nuns have been expelled from their convents, as have monks from their monastery —18 of them from the ruins of Gaden monastic university.
On 18 May the executions of two political activists were announced and a third had his sentence of death suspended for two years after informing the authorities that they had all planned to escape from prison. An official announcement said that the two had written letters showing determination to continue their crime on escaping from prison. That showed that they were held on political charges.
What is meant by political activity? A law just passed by the National People's Congress in Peking states
that Tibetans may not use religion or other activities to organise rallies, demonstrations or parades that will endanger the state's unification or destroy national unity or social stability.Let us consider the case of Nyima Tsamchoe who escaped recently from Tibet. She is 19 and at our conference she described what happened to persons accused of being involved in a demonstration. Nyima has also given extensive evidence to the United Nations commission on torture, to Amnesty International and to other human rights organisations. In addition, evidence has been supplied to the political affairs committee of the European Parliament, which recently held an inquiry on Tibet. Nyima considers that the abuse and the torture to which she was subjected was mild compared with that inflicted on young nuns. Members may have seen the extracts on television news some months ago from a video shot by personnel of the Chinese public security bureau, showing the Chinese brutally putting down a demonstration and their subsequent treatment of those arrested. The Chinese authorities make no apologies for their use of electric batons or cattle prods.
It is easy to forget what escaping from Tibet means for people like Nyima and Nawang, the young monk. It does not mean just crossing a border. Tibetans have to have permits to move about their own country and are registered with a work unit which checks their movements. To escape, they have to cross the highest mountains in the world. Yet these are ordinary people, not professional mountaineers. It can sometimes take weeks or months to reach safety. The route to Nepal is the easiest, except that the border guards usually hand refugees back to the Chinese. One hundred and thirty thousand Tibetans have escaped since 1959, but almost as many have perished in the attempt.
In that profoundly Buddhist country, entry to the monasteries is controlled by the Chinese administration and serious study is prohibited or, at best, very limited. While most of us probably realise Tibet is the highest country in the world, perhaps not everyone realises that it is four times the size of France and is the principal watershed of the Asian continent. Almost all Asia's great rivers rise in Tibet—among them, the Indus, Ganges, Mekong, Yangtze and Salween. Ecologically, Tibet is crucial to a vast area of Asia, but something sinister is happening to its environment. The delicate environmental balance has been severely damaged, and that is already affecting neighbouring countries. The Chinese have 184 decimated Tibet's wildlife, so that much of it has gone for ever. Vast tracts of forest in east Tibet have been felled and there is a constant flow of timber back to China.
With a great sense of urgency and responsibility, the London conference issued its declaration urging specifically the United Kingdom, the United States, India and Japan and other nations, first, to pursue the question of the rights of Tibet through the United Nations and other appropriate forums; secondly, to take account of this tragic and continuing situation in all bilateral and multilateral relations with the People's Republic of China; thirdly, to advance the just cause of Tibetan self-determination and to recognise the non-violent nature of the Tibetan struggle; fourthly, to give due recognition to the Tibetan Government in exile and to His Holiness the Dalai Lama, recipient of the Nobel peace prize and honoured wherever he goes, as the representative of the Tibetan people until such time as properly constituted elections can be held under the supervision of the United Nations.
Before it is too late, we must recognise the situation for what it is—one of the worst, if not the worst, oppression inflicted on any country since the second world war. We are witnessing the destruction of a distinct and peaceful people. China says that there are about 2.5 million Tibetans. That is because it has already absorbed a third of the country into neighbouring Chinese provinces. The policy of encouraging Chinese settlement in Tibet through subsidies and better facilities than those enjoyed by the Tibetans results in a virtual system of apartheid, as any visitor to a Tibetan town will see for himself.
In 1961, 10 years after the Chinese occupation of Tibet and following the Tibetan rebellion against the Chinese and the terrible exodus over the Himalayas of 100,000 Tibetans, the International Commission of Jurists issued a report stating that Tibet was at the very least a de facto independent state when it was occupied, and that acts of genocide and extensive violation of human rights had already take place. In the same year, a resolution was passed by the United Nations General Assembly specifically referring to the violation of Tibetans' fundamental human rights and the suppression of their culture and religion. It thensolemnly renews its call for the cessation of practices which deprive the Tibetan people of their right to self-determination.Fifty six countries voted in favour, the then eastern bloc of 10 countries voted against, and 29 countries abstained. A further resolution was passed in 1965. I am glad to say that our country was among those which voted for that resolution.
The situation is now critical, with Tibet having perhaps five years before it disappears effectively as a separate people and culture. Tibetans are about to become a minority in their own homeland, and their rich culture will become a mere facade for tourists bringing vital foreign exchange for China.
For those seeking to avoid the Tibetan issue by citing uncertainty over its status, the message from the international lawyers at the London conference could not have been clearer. It endorsed the view of the legal inquiry committee of the International Commission of Jurists that at the very least Tibet was a de facto independent state when its representatives were forced in Peking to agree to the occupation in 1950. The committee stated that the repudiation of the agreement by the Tibetan Government 185 in 1959 was fully justified. In examining the evidence, the committee took account of events in Tibet as related in authoritative accounts by officials and scholars at first hand with the recent history of Tibet and official documents which have been published. These show that from 1913 to 1950 Tibet demonstrated the conditions of statehood as generally accepted under international law. In 1950 there was a people, a territory and a Government functioning in that territory and conducting their own domestic affairs free from any outside authority.
In short, after 1950 Tibet's status was such as to make the Tibetan question of legitimate concern to the United Nations, even on the restrictive interpretation of mattersessentially within the domestic jurisdictionof a state, as is strongly argued by China. That was the view of the committee of the International Commission of Jurists. It should be added that, although there had been incursions prior to the Chinese occupation, Tibet had never been occupied in its 2,000–year history. Even the British expeditionary force which went into Tibet in 1904 stayed for only a few months. A leading authority on Tibet with a distinguished diplomatic record in the British Foreign Service has said:when the British ruled India, their primary interest in Tibet was to avoid influence in Tibet being obtained by any other state that might use it to disturb India's Himalayan frontier.The British accepted the Chinese myth of the Middle Kingdom, that Tibet was part of their sphere of influence to discourage the Russian Tsars who sought to establish a position in Tibet. Indeed it was direct contact between the then Dalai Lama and the Russians which caused the British military expedition to take place in 1904. Even so, Britain treated Tibet right up to 1947 as a de facto state with which it was in treaty and had diplomatic relations.
Britain still has a vital role to play in relation to Tibet, as the London conference recognised. Indeed, the term "suzerainty", which has caused Tibet so many problems, was conceived by the British, drawn from European feudal law in the middle ages, relating to personal relationships between sovereign princes as, for example, in connection with the sultan of Turkey and the khedive of Egypt and areas which had been part of the Ottoman empire but which the sultan no longer controlled. It can have no significance whatever in the modern world.
Anthony Eden, when Foreign Secretary, spelled out to the Chinese in 1943 that Tibet had enjoyed de facto independence and that Britain was in treaty relations with her. Ingeniously, he suggested that Britain was nevertheless willing to accept that China had suzerainty over Tibet, but on the understanding that it accepted Tibet's autonomy which, it was made clear, equated with de facto independence.
I repeat that throughout the first half of this century the interpretation of Tibet's status was perfectly clear. Britain saw it as covering Tibet's complete internal freedom, its right to conduct its own external affairs without reference to China, its right to conclude treaties, and its right to receive diplomatic agents. In short, the offer made to the Chinese by Anthony Eden was to recognise nominal Chinese suzerainty on condition that China accepted it as nominal—an offer which, I must agree, China rejected.
Britain's view was inevitably influenced by the handover of power to India and was guided henceforth by the wishes of India, which was desperate for good relations with China. Ironic, was it not, when China stabbed India in the back, breaking Mr. Nehru's heart? In 1948, 186 however, a Tibetan delegation travelling on Tibetan passports was received by Prime Minister Attlee. In 1950, with the Chinese invasion of Tibet, an Under-Secretary of State recalled in this House the assurances given to the Tibetan Government in 1947 about Tibet's autonomy, which he described as amounting to de facto independence. When the Indian Government, anxious to pursue good relations with China, tried to persuade the Tibetan Government against bringing the matter up at the United Nations, however, the British representative supported his Indian colleague, saying that Tibet's legal position was not clear.
China has latched on to that ever since, and Britain has been virtually hoist by its own petard—fearing now, as the Government have made clear, repercussions on Hong Kong. Yet is this not, as our colleagues in another place said in their recent debate, no less than appeasement—the turning of a blind eye to a massive crime against a defenceless people?
Last November another international consultation was convened at UNESCO headquarters to review the notion of the rights of peoples in international law. The participants were of the highest calibre; they were drawn from every corner of the world and represented a wide variety of cultures. They examined the United Nations charter, the international human rights covenants, and the developing customary law of nations. They concluded unanimously that people have such rights—that such rights are recognised in international law, and most especially the right of a people to self-determination.
A people for this purpose can be easily identified by race and language, history and religion, by numbers sufficiently large to provide cohesion and, above all, the will to be identified as a nation. The Tibetans qualify as a subject of international law on each and every one of those grounds. They are therefore entitled to exercise the right of self-determination, and the denial of that right is a breach of international law.
Alas, no international sheriff can be sent to enforce the rule of international law, but there is the force of international public opinion, which can be expressed around the world by Governments and by free Parliaments. That is all that Tibet has. Can we really stand aside when the Tibetans alone in the world have turned away from the use of arms?
I was present in Oslo last year when His Holiness the Dalai Lama received the Nobel peace prize. In his acceptance speech, he said:During this time"—he was speaking of the past 40 years—over a million of our people perished and more than six thousand monasteries—the seat of our peaceful culture—were destroyed. There is not a single family, either in Tibet or among the refugees abroad, which has gone unscathed. Yet, our people's determination and commitment to spiritual values and the practice of non-violence remain unshaken …The demonstrations which have rocked Tibet for the past two years continue to be non-violent despite brutal suppression.Speaking of the cruel and inhumane treatment of his people, His Holiness warned that they
are facing the real possibility of elimination as a people and a nation. The government of the People's Republic of China is practising a form of genocide".Surely it is time for the international community to return to first principles. China may be a mighty power, and its aggressive style of diplomacy may have cowed other nations into accepting human rights behaviour in China and Tibet that has long been regarded as 187 unacceptable in the Soviet Union, South Africa, and elsewhere. History and common sense show, however, that in the long run it will be to China's benefit, and to that of everyone else, if it is reminded that if it wants to be a respected member of the international community it must accept international norms of behaviour. The world is too interdependent for civilised countries to stand aside and show indifference or funk, whichever term one cares to choose, in the face of the deliberate destruction of a unique people and a unique culture.
We are growing accustomed to conferences on the disappearance of species of whales and other endangered wildlife. Hardly a day passes without articles on that subject appearing in our newspapers or a television programme on the same topic—and rightly so. We should be made aware of what is happening to our environment and to life on this planet. I have no criticisms to make of that—I should like to see more of it. The media also constantly remind us of the man-made destruction of the rain forests and of the loss for ever of rare flora and fauna. Today, however, here in the British Parliament, I am talking about the systematic destruction of a whole race of human beings.
I ask my hon. Friend the Minister this simple question: Is the perceived self-interest of our country so short term that we can afford to continue to ignore the plight of Tibet and its people? That question must be addressed, and it must be addressed urgently.
§ 3.3 am
§ Mr. George Foulkes (Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley)
The Father of the House deserves the congratulations of us all, not only on obtaining this debate but on his persistence with this and many other matters in which the violation of human rights is a central issue. He demonstrates a powerful and influential interest, as does my noble Friend Lord Ennals and my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin), who apologises for being unable to be with us today.
The right hon. Member for Castle Point (Sir B. Braine) deserves congratulations also for the powerful and convincing case that he has put to the House this morning. It is the retiring—or should I say promoted—UnderSecretary of State's duty to be with us this morning and to make his pre-penultimate speech on behalf of the Foreign Office. It is his unfortunate duty to answer on behalf of the Government—in all courtesy, perhaps I should congratulate the Minister on his promotion, and I think that his new post will offer him a more interesting and amenable opportunity for his talents—while the Minister of State, now the Financial Secretary to the Treasury, I think, who would have normally dealt with the matter, is on a somewhat misguided, and now abortive, mission to China and Hong Kong.
I am sure that the Father of the House would agree that the Minister's visit to China is in clear breach of the Madrid declaration. In a written reply to me on 27 June, the Minister confirmed that, in Peking, he would be discussing not merely practical issues in relation to Hong Kong—which is understandable—but also other issues of common interest. At this stage, that is certainly not understandable.
188 We very much hope that the Minister of State's visit to China will not be viewed in any way or by anyone as an act of forgiveness, or as a sign that we have forgotten the horrors of Tiananmen square or the human rights violations in Tibet. Indeed, I hope that the Minister will tell the Chinese Government what he said on BBC radio yesterday, and will express the great concern of the British people at the continuing repression in China, and that he will add our concern about the continuing violations of human rights in Tibet.
The right hon. Member for Castle Point has outlined in great detail, powerfully and convincingly, the brutality of the Chinese authorities in Tibet. I shall develop that by comparing what we hear about the situation—what we know about it—and what the Chinese people are told is happening there. For example, the Financial Times of 23 May reported that:Up to 2,000 people were executed, and many more tortured, during the six months before China lifted martial law in Lhasa … Human rights groups and dissidents have told of a concerted and brutal attempt by Chinese soldiers to crush resistance before Peking moved to end 14 months of martial law … on 1 May.That is the reality that we hear.
Meanwhile, a headline in the Beijing Review one month earlier said:Stability is Order of the Day".The article continued:the situation in Lhasa … has returned to normal since martial law was imposed on parts of the city"—2,000 people executed in six months and they have the audacity to describe it as normal.
Like the right hon. Member for Castle Point, I know what I am inclined to believe—I know the true situation in Lhasa. Whatever one's view of Tibetan autonomy claims, and there may be differing views in the House, there can be no excuse for such repression and brutality. I hope that, at the very least, the Minister replying for the Government will make that abundantly clear this morning.
Tibet is not merely a human rights but also a political problem—as the right hon. Member for Castle Point rightly said—which seemed to be increasingly understood in Peking in the months until the beginning of 1989, as part of the increasing dialogue and openness in China. However, since the crackdown of March 1989, the prognosis has been much bleaker, and regression and repression within China, following Tiananmen square, have added to the difficulties in resolving the problem of Tibet, the basic elements of which remain exactly the same.
However, the British Government have been totally unwilling to extend the hand of friendship, or even to turn a sympathetic ear, towards Tibet, as the right hon. Member for Castle Point said, and as the Government have admitted, for fear of upsetting China and rocking the boat over Hong Kong. It shows a very warped sense of priorities for a Prime Minister who refuses even to shake hands with Nobel laureate the Dalai Lama to slink off and dine with the Chinese ambassador, even before the first anniversary of the massacre in Tiananmen square, and to repeat that dinner engagement.
The right hon. Member for Castle Point referred to the conference in London and to the many eminent legal representatives who attended it and expressed eminent legal opinions. I quote just one such opinion from the publication "International Relations" of May 1989. In a long but learned treatise on Tibet, Mr. Michael C. van Walt van Praag concluded:
189From a legal standpoint, Tibet has to this day not lost its statehood.Equally, as the right hon. Member for Castle Point knows only too well, many of us—I am one of them—have had it made absolutely clear to us by all Chinese Government representatives—the Chinese ambassador here and all his staff and all those that I and others met in China before the massacre in Tiananmen square; no official Opposition representatives have met Chinese Government representatives since then—that they maintain their claim that, for centuries, if not millennia, Tibet has been part of China.
What is, however, indisputable is that there is a dispute over the legal position of China's sovereignty over Tibet. We believe that the dispute should be resolved peacefully and that western Governments have a responsibility, as the right hon. Member for Castle Point said, to urge that upon the Chinese Government, using every means at our disposal, in every way that we can and with all the power that we can muster. The British Government have been less than active, less than bold and less than courageous in their attempts to persuade, press and urge the Chinese Government to do that.
We should tell the Chinese Government that, if they want to gain any acceptance and legitimacy in the modern world, if they want to trade with us and if they want us to invest with them, they must respect human rights and resolve disputes in a humane, peaceful and civilised way. That is the only way in which they will be accepted into the international community.
§ The Minister for Trade (Mr. Tim Sainsbury)
As usual, my right hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point (Sir B. Braine) has made a powerful and eloquent presentation of the position in Tibet. Before I respond to his speech, I hope that he will excuse me if I say what a pleasure it is to see my hon. Friend the Member for Eddisbury (Mr. Goodlad) on the Front Bench. I congratulate him on his elevation to a particularly important post. I thank also the hon. Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley (Mr. Foulkes) for his comments about my new post, which I look forward to taking up later today.
To turn to the important subject of the debate, it may be helpful if I first remind the House of the events of the last two years. For over two years, Tibet has been the scene of sporadic outbreaks of unrest and violent demonstrations, to which my right hon. Friend referred on a number of occasions. They were led by young Buddhist monks and nuns demanding independence from China.
The first of those demonstrations was on 27 October 1987 and it was followed by further unrest that, by the Chinese reckoning, left two Tibetans and one Chinese dead. In March 1988, Amnesty International claimed that 20 people had been killed. Police opened fire on unarmed demonstrators in December 1988, killing between six and eight people. Further riots in March 1989 led to the imposition of martial law. We have had no reports of further major disturbances since that time, although, according to press reports, a number of smaller demonstrations have taken place.
Martial law was lifted in Tibet this May, but access remains restricted. Not only is Tibet a remote and isolated part of the world, as the House knows, but Chinese travel restrictions make it difficult for some travellers to reach the 190 region. I hope that the House will understand that it is therefore difficult to gauge precisely what is happening there at any one time.
My hon. Friends the Members for Christchurch (Mr. Adley), for Harrow, East (Mr. Dykes) and for Cornwall, South-East (Mr. Hicks) were able to visit Tibet in October 1989, and a member of the British embassy in Peking was able to accompany them. But obtaining a clear picture of what is going on in all parts of Tibet is frequently complicated by information from varying, often partisan, sources that tend to exaggerate one or other of the positions and can be contradictory. I am sure that the House will understand that it is difficult to obtain an accurate picture of what is happening in all parts of Tibet because of the problems of access.
I say to the House, particularly to my right hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point, the Father of the House, that the Government are concerned at the reported cases of human rights abuses in Tibet. Tibetan sources claim that about 1,000 people were detained after each of the October 1987 and March 1988 incidents. The Chinese admit that 278 people were arrested after the March 1989 riot. We are also aware of claims that demonstrators including nuns, have been tortured. We deplore human rights abuses wherever they occur—unhappily we live in a world in which they are all too common and are not just a feature of Tibet, or any one part of the world. We take seriously the understandable public concern in this country about human rights in Tibet, which my right hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point so eloquently described to the House.
However, despite what the hon. Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley implied, the Government have made their concern clear to the Chinese authorities both in public and in private. As hon. Members will appreciate, our major concern is to bring home to the Chinese the need for a greater respect for human rights, not only in Tibet —I emphasise this—but in China as a whole. We must recognise that, in China, as in some other parts of the world, unhappily the treatment of prisoners and demonstrators and what goes on in gaols do not conforrn to the standards that we would like to see, and do not show the respect for human rights that should exist. In some respects, what happens in Tibet is not necessarily that different from what happens in other parts of China. That is why we are seeking to bring home to the Chinese the need for a greater respect for human rights, not only in Tibet but throughout China.
Apart from the specific measures that we introduced in our dealings with China following the events of June 1989, we have taken a number of opportunities to make our views on the Chinese Government's human rights performance perfectly clear. The EC presidency, on behalf of the 12 members of the EC, made two statements to this year's session of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, calling upon the Chinese authorities to guarantee full respect for human rights throughout China, including Tibet, in keeping with their international obligations. Its second statement called for the release of all political prisoners and respect for the rights of all Chinese citizens to free expression and peaceful assembly—particularly important in view of what my right hon. Friend said about what is happening, and has happened, in Tibet. The United Kingdom was a co-sponsor of a resolution on human rights in China, which unfortunately was narrowly defeated. The lifting of martial law in Tibet 191 on 1 May was a positive step by the Chinese. We have been glad to see other positive steps in China recently, in particular the release of many of those detained following the events of June last year.
Those are welcome developments, but I can assure the House that the Government will continue to take every opportunity to encourage the Chinese to take further steps to strengthen the protection of the human rights of all their citizens. I have a long list of the occasions when, individually or with our partners in the European Community, we have made that position clear. I can therefore fairly reject the criticism of the hon. Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley that the Government have been silent on the issue; we certainly have not been.
I have set out in detail our reaction to what has been happening in Tibet, but much gives cause for grave concern. We should not see every action of the Chinese in Tibet in a purely negative light. Since 1980, China has shown a much more positive approach to the region. The Chinese have acknowledged that serious mistakes were made in Tibet, particularly during the cultural revolution, and have apologised to the Tibetan people for those mistakes.
They appear to have been making an effort to show some respect for Tibetan beliefs and way of life. The Chinese Government have commissioned the restoration of more than 500 monasteries and temples that were destroyed in the cultural revolution, the authorities gave substantial aid to Tibet and they are committed to making it self-sufficient.
The member of the British embassy in Peking who accompanied my hon. Friends the Members for Christchurch, Harrow, East and Cornwall, South-East on their visit to Tibet in October 1989, when it was still under martial law, reported that, despite the heavy military presence, the economy of Lhasa and the surrounding area appeared to be thriving, and that the general atmosphere seemed relaxed.
I am aware that there are many different views of Chinese efforts to modernise and develop Tibet, to which my right hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point referred, but it should be recognised that a genuine attempt has been made to improve conditions in the region.
Reference has been made to the status of Tibet. The Government have made clear many times their policy on the status of Tibet, but I take this opportunity to reiterate our position to the House. Successive British Governments have always regarded Tibet as autonomous, while recognising the special position of the Chinese authorities there. That continues to be our view, and that was recognised by the hon. Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley. Tibet has never been internationally recognised as an independent country, and no country regards it as independent today. We do not believe that independence for Tibet is a realistic proposal. We do not regard the situations of Tibet and the Baltic states as comparable. The Government, for example, have never recognised the legality of the incorporation of the Baltic states into the Soviet Union.
§ Mr. Foulkes
Will the Minister explain why, in answer to a question from the hon. Member for Staffordshire, South (Mr. Cormack), the Minister for Overseas Development said:Successive British Governments have regarded Tibet as autonomous, although recognising the special position of the Chinese authorities."—[Official Report, 19 February 1990; Vol. 167, c. 658.]Is that still the position of the Government? Does that equate with what the Minister has just said?
§ Mr. Sainsbury
It is exactly what I have just said. Successive Governments have always recognised Tibet as autonomous, while recognising the special position of the Chinese authorities there.
It would be of no service to Tibetans to encourage them to seek independence. The Chinese view is that, for many centuries, Tibet has been part of China. Their current position is that the Tibet autonomous region is an inalienable part of China, the rights, interests and religious beliefs of whose people are fully protected by China's constitution. We continue to believe that the most promising solution to the problem of Tibet, which has been highlighted by my right hon. Friend, is through dialogue between the Chinese Government and the Tibetan people, including His Holiness the Dalai Lama.
My right hon. Friend raised the subject of the conference on Tibet and in particular a recent conference held in London on Tibetan self-determination. The stated aim of the conference was to seek recognition of Tibet as a separate political entity. As I have said, the Government do not believe that Tibet's claim for independence is a realistic proposition and it would, therefore, have been inconsistent with our policy for Her Majesty's Government to be officially represented at that conference. For the same reason, we did not send a message of support.
My right hon. Friend referred to a message that Prime Minister Kaifu sent to a similar conference in Tokyo. My understanding is that it was a convention on Asian peace and that Mr. Kaifu's message made no reference to Tibet. On the other hand, the London conference was specifically billed as a consultation on self-determination for Tibet.
As the House will be aware, self-determination is an extremely difficult concept to define and there are many different interpretations of its meaning. I accept that, under the United Nations covenant, all people have the right to self-determination, but, as I have said, we do not believe that independence for Tibet is realistic; nor do we believe that United Nations' involvement would lead to a solution of the problem. Tibet has never been internationally recognised as an independant country. The most promising approach remains for consultation between the Chinese Government and the Tibetan people and we will continue to urge the Chinese Government to engage in such a dialogue and to work to resolve the problem. It offers the most promising avenue for an eventual settlement of this long and painful dispute.
The hon. Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley referred to the visit to Peking by the former Minister of State, my hon. Friend the Member for Warwickshire, North (Mr. Maude). My hon. Friend is at present in Hong Kong and later today will fly to Peking. This visit is part of the continuing dialogue that we have maintained with the Chinese in relation to Hong Kong and it in no way undermines the agreement between EC partners on the suspension of ministerial exchanges with 193 China. Partners have agreed that the United Kingdom and Portugal may continue to maintain senior level contacts with the Chinese because of the special considerations of Hong Kong and Macau.
Her Majesty's Government are as concerned as my right hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point about the situation between the Chinese and the Tibetans in Tibet. We do not by any means ignore that. We have consistently advocated the need for dialogue between the parties concerned. It is clearly deplorable if events and behaviour such as that described by my right hon. Friend are going on in the region. There is no excuse for human rights violations of that nature. The Government have repeatedly made our views known on this subject, both internationally at the United Nations and bilaterally with the Chinese Government. My hon. Friend the Member for Warwickshire, North will be in Peking shortly and will reiterate our concern and that of the general public about human rights not only in Tibet but throughout China.
At the same time, it would be wrong to deny that the Chinese have tried hard in recent years to put right many of the wrongs that they had committed since 1951, and particularly since 1959. It is ironic that these improved policies and greater relaxations have resulted in the demonstrations for even greater concessions which have occured since 1987. Those demonstrations led to the backlash and the imposition of martial law. Violence has bred violence in a classic pattern with which, unhappily, we are all familiar.
I must reiterate that, while we advocate dialogue and improved relations between Chinese and Tibetans and would like the Tibetans to play a greater role in Tibet, we do not believe that independence is a realistic option. We do not think that people in this country who promote that idea are doing the Tibetans a service. Let us instead see greater support here for that dialogue between Tibetans and Chinese which His Holiness the Dalai Lama has been trying to promote.
§ Sir Bernard Braine
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that reply, none of which comes as any surprise to me—I think that he put up as good a defence of the attitude of successive British Governments as might have been expected.
I do not think that the question of outright independence is really the point at issue. There are many instances around the world of major powers having a particular interest and involvement in weaker states on their borders. In a civilised society, that implies responsibility for what is done in the weaker state, but I do not concede for a moment the argument that there is a case for independence. I have given historic examples showing that the British Government have taken different views at different times, and I hope that they will take a different view at some future time, even if they are not prepared to do so now. Whatever view we have taken of other peoples in the past, we live today in a world that is changing and contracting very fast.
I remember the words of an astronaut—I cannot recall whether the spacecraft was Soviet or American—who, on returning to earth, was asked what his impressions had been. He said, "On the first day, we were all excitedly pointing out our countries to one another. On the second and third days, we were pointing out our continents. After 194 that, we were looking at a steadily diminishing earth. Two words came into my mind: commonality and interdependence."
It is extraordinary how, in the past year or so, our thoughts have turned not only to what has been happening high up in the atmosphere, or in outer space, but also to what is happening here on earth where we are destroying our environment as fast as we can. Of course we are all aware of this and steps are now being taken, but we all have a responsibility for mankind as a whole. If we do not recognise that now, we shall be forced to recognise it within the next decade. It is as plain as a pikestaff to anyone who looks at the world as it is today.
Let us consider the sudden and extraordinary happenings in Europe. Who would ever have dreamed it possible that Mr. Gorbachev would be telling Herr Honecker, "You will not use violence against demonstrators and you cannot count on Soviet troops to help you", and then tell the west? We remember what happened in Hungary in 1956, and in Czechoslovakia in 1968. Then, suddenly, we have a peaceful revolution. Things are changing very fast. We now live in one world, and we shall survive only in one world.
I am simply saying that people can argue however they like about whether Tibet has a right to total independence, or whether China has suzerainty, but those terms mean nothing if the stronger power does not accept the responsibility to behave decently towards the weaker. The Tibetans, of all people on God's earth, are opposed to violence. Their Buddhist faith leads them to think in terms of harmony with nature and they abhor violence. The Dalai Lama has repeatedly rejected violence. That was the essence of his remarkable speech accepting the Nobel peace prize, which I heard. He has not been received in this country. Why not? He is one of the great men of the world—he stands for ideals that a civilised nation should be proud to advance.
It is not sufficient to say that we take a constitutional stand, and that Tibet is China's responsibility. That is simply not good enough. One has to condemn actions such as those taking place in China and take such action as we can against those who have embarked upon a genocidal policy.
I am glad to hear that there have been some changes and even admissions that mistakes have been made, although there is not much evidence that Chinese rule in Tibet has slackened or weakened or that more consideration is being shown to the Tibetans. All the evidence reaching the west is to the contrary. The civilised world is gradually coming to realise that such behaviour is intolerable and those who perpetrate it must face the music. Sanctions could be used.
We must remember that the first victims of the aggressive Chinese policy are the Chinese themselves. One thinks of the poor students mown down in Tiananmen square—and elsewhere too in China, although we do not hear much about that. My heart goes out to the Chinese people. They are a great people, worthy of better government than they have had for centuries. We can see the success that they make of their lives outside China. Diligence, hard work, devotion and love of family characterise Chinese communities all over the world outside China.
We must remember China's desire for Taiwan to return to the land of the ancestors. A natural anxiety has been removed, for the time being, about its powerful Soviet 195 neighbour on one side and its powerful Japanese neighbour on the other, but the Chinese still need the good will of the world just as we need the good will of China. It is not much to ask that they should behave themselves in Tibet.
It is unfair that my hon. Friend the Minister has been called upon to answer this debate as this is not his subject, but he has brought to it his customary courtesy and I appreciate that. Although there are not many hon. Members present in the House, I hope that my hon. Friend will take away a real feeling that Parliament is concerned. This issue concerns not only this Parliament, but leading politicians throughout the world.
The Tibetan exiles in India have shown that they flourish in a free country. I have had the privilege of meeting many of them. They are successful because they are a virtuous and hard-working people and they have faith. If they have that in exile, one can bet one's boots that they would have it in their own country.
It is not sufficient to stand on the constitutional argument that it is really China's affair because it is not. From now on, the whole world is involved in what happens to people everywhere. That is my faith and I adhere to it. We shall return to this subject time and again until the west concerns itself with one of the most monstrous crimes to be committed against a whole people since the end of the second world war. Our memories of that should make us realise what is at stake.
§ Mr. Sainsbury
My right hon. Friend has made a powerful case. His words are on the record and I can assure him that they will be studied carefully.
My right hon. Friend referred to the remarkable events that are taking place in eastern Europe and the changes that have occurred in that area. Those changes have occurred as a result of dialogue and discussions between those involved. I believe that that is the way forward for Tibet.
My right hon. Friend also referred to the reception of the Dalai Lama. The Government have always recognised the Dalai Lama as a distinguished spiritual leader who commands great respect internationally for his advocacy of a peaceful solution to the problems of Tibet. The award of the Nobel peace prize to him last year reflects the recognition of his dedication to the cause of peace. The Dalai Lama is always welcome to visit this country and has already done so on several occasions.
As I said earlier, I believe that the best way forward to achieve a better respect for human rights, not just in Tibet, but throughout China, is through dialogue between the Chinese and the Tibetans and by the Chinese adhering more closely to the United Nations convention on human rights. That is something that we should like to see in many other parts of the world, too.