§ 7.1 p.m.
§ Viscount Mersey rose to ask Her Majesty's Government whether, in circumstances where the Dalai Lama is receiving the Nobel Peace Prize, they will make representations to the Government of China to secure a modification of their behaviour towards the people of Tibet.
§ The noble Viscount said: My Lords, I am grateful to have the opportunity to raise the subject of China and Tibet. In doing so, I hope that the Government and I will be on common ground in at least two respects: first, that the Dalai Lama deserves the Nobel Peace Prize; and, secondly, that the Chinese record on human rights in Tibet is probably getting worse and certainly not getting better.
I appreciate that the substantive part of my Question as to whether the Government,
will make representations to the Government of China to secure a modification of their behaviour towards the people of Tibet",
is difficult for them to answer. For instance, the Chinese foreign ministry regarded the Nobel Prize award last Sunday as a gross interference in Chinese internal affairs. The Chinese Ambassador to Norway boycotted the ceremony. The Chinese are sensitive about Tibet. If the result of my Question is to make the Chinese even tougher with the Tibetans than they have been hitherto, then it were better not asked. The Government in their answer must tread a diplomatic tightrope.
§ My Question falls naturally into four parts: first, how peaceful are the Tibetans?; secondly, how acquisitive are the Chinese?; thirdly, what right has China to be there?; and, fourthly, irrespective of their right to be there, what is their record on human rights?
§ I have spent a month in ethnic Tibet; that is, in Ladakh, a province of Kashmir. Thence comes my knowledge of the peaceful nature of the Tibetan people. I should perhaps say the Tantrist Buddist people because the Tibetans were a warrior race before the coming of the Buddha. They could scarcely 1364 be contained by the caliph in the west or the Emperor of China in the east; but that was long ago. Contrast that with the atmosphere on the north Tibetan plain in the first half of the century when all the animals and birds were tame. They had no reason to fear man as man would not harm them. The Tibetans would not take life of any sort.
In Ladakh we found peace, happiness and the most active religion that I have come across anywhere in the world. There were prayer flags, prayer wheels, chortens, stupas, and mani walls by the hundred. Indeed, I am relieved that I have not been to the Chinese part of Tibet as it would be sad to see those religious symbols destroyed and desecrated. Above all, we saw temples at Phuktal, Bardun, Mune, Kasar, Lingshet and Lamayaru. In them were many monks—a fifth of the population, I believe. The monks often showed us their libraries and they would usually point out a set of holy books and tell us that they had been saved and smuggled out of Chinese Tibet. Finally, in Leh we came across the Dalai Lama preaching to the multitude. The Dalai Lama believes that the Nobel Peace Prize has been awarded to the Tibetan people and not to him because, as he puts it, he is,
No one special: just a simple monk".
It is nevertheless worth quoting what that simple monk said about the Tianamen Square massacre. He said:
I do not believe the demonstrations were in vain, because the spirit of freedom was rekindled among the Chinese people and China cannot escape the impact of this spirit of freedom sweeping many parts of the world. The brave students and their supporters showed the Chinese leadership and the world the human face of that Great Nation of China".
§ Surely my noble friend will agree that a simple monk who can describe the awful Peking massacre in such charitable terms is a worthy recipient of the Nobel prize for peace.
§ I turn now to the acquisitive nature of the Chinese. I believe that my noble friend will also agree that the Chinese are exploiting Tibetan resources. They are mining gold, bauxite, copper, zinc and uranium and transporting them eastward. Surely my noble friend will also agree that the most serious resource that the Chinese are tapping is timber: the sub-tropical forest of eastern Tibet. That might have as serious an effect on the Indian sub-continent as does the destruction of the Amazon rain forest on South America, and indeed perhaps on the world with the now threatened greenhouse effect.
§ The Tibetan rivers flowing eastwards are log-jammed. In addition, 200 trucks an hour have been counted driving out of Tibet along the main road to Chengdu in China. Following deforestation, there is soil erosion and flooding. Sichuan was flooded in 1981. Yunnan was flooded last spring. The deforestation along the Brahmaputra could well have caused the several floods that have devastated Bangladesh in recent years. Altogether China is losing 2.5 million hectares of forest cover each year, and that includes forest from the so-called Tibetan autonomous region.
That leads me to my third question: what right have the Chinese to be in Tibet? A treaty was made in 823 AD between the wise rulers of China and the
wise rulers of Tibet. It is carved on a pillar in front of the Joh Khang, Lhasa Tibet's holiest shrine. It states:
Tibetans will live happily in the great land of Tibet and the Chinese will live happily in the great land of China".
For hundreds of years after that treaty the Tibetans produced the spiritual head of China in return for which the Chinese provided the Tibetans with the occasional army to repel, for instance, an invasion by the Ghurkas.
§ For the first half of this century Tibet was truly independent and we recognised it as such. We made treaties with Tibet in 1904, 1908 and 1913. In the Second World War the Americans asked whether they could fly over Tibet to supply China, but the Tibetans refused as they wished to remain neutral. All that spells out loudly and clearly that Tibet is an independent nation by right and in fact. However, the Chinese place a different interpretation on those matters and my noble friend will not therefore find the question easy to field. When the Chinese speak of autonomy, for instance, there are 17 different words for "autonomy" in Mandarin, each with a slightly different meaning. The word "suzerainty" is equally unclear.
§ A famous Dalai Lama gave presents to a Chinese emperor. Those presents were interpreted by the Chinese as a type of levy or tax. In Chinese eyes they made Tibet subservient to China. It will interest my noble friend to learn that George III also gave presents to China in 1793. That caused the Chinese to regard the British also as a nation subservient to China. For all I know, the Chinese may also regard the United Kingdom as a Chinese autonomous region.
§ The huge difference between us and the Tibetans is that the Chinese have not invaded us. Our most reverend Primates have not had to flee the country and our right reverend Prelates are not being tortured. Our human rights are respected. It is those facts that make the issue of whether China has any right to be in Tibet of academic interest only. What is far more important is surely that even if China had every right to be in Tibet for the past 4,000 years the Chinese would still not have the right to torture monks. They would not have the right to destroy monasteries. They would not have the right to sentence nuns to hard labour and they would not have the right to arrest, as they did only last Sunday, five school children for counter-revolutionary activities.
§ The abuse of basic human rights in Tibet is continuing and worsening. I have here the latest issue of the Tibetan News Update. I only need read the headings to make my point. On page 3 we find, "Demonstrations and arrests continue". On page 7 it says, "Tibetan faces death sentence". On page 8 it says, "Over 400 jailed, 80 sentenced". On page 9 it describes new torture techniques; on page 14, "China starts anti-religious campaign".
I wish to read another two excerpts because my noble friend will then see why I am asking this Unstarred Question. The first excerpt comes from the Nobel citation for the Dalai Lama:
The Nobel Committee wants to emphasise the fact that the Dalai Lama in his struggle for the liberation of Tibet consistently
has opposed the use of violence. He has instead advocated peaceful solutions based upon tolerance and mutual respect in order to preserve the historical and cultural heritage of his people.
The Dalai Lama has developed his philosophy of peace from a great reverence for all things living and upon the concept of universal responsibility embracing all mankind as well as nature".
The second excerpt comes from a report from Lhasa in that same newsletter:
Officials are using a new technique to extract confessions from prisoners, involving placing an iron rod in the prisoner's mouth and then tying it to his or her arms tied high up behind the back. The weight of the arms pulls on the mouth until the victim collapses on the floor. He or she is then constantly revived by being doused with cold water".
§ My noble friend must be as appalled by this as we all are.
§ Perhaps I may now make two practical requests. First, will he ask our right honourable friend the Prime Minister whether she will meet the Dalai Lama as she has met other Nobel prizewinners, Lech Walesa and Desmond Tutu? Such a meeting would be a simple mark of respect for a great and peaceful man. It would not be political—it would be the wrong forum for politics. The right forum for that would surely be the General Assembly of the United Nations. Were it possible to find there a solution that would please the Tibetans, it would incidentally give an enormous boost in confidence to Hong Kong.
§ Perhaps a simple reaffirmation of the 1959 declaration would do the trick. That calls for, "The Cessation of Practices which deprive the Tibetan Peoples of their fundamental human rights and freedom, including their right to self-determination". So my second request is: can my noble friend prevail upon our right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary to bring something of this kind about at the United Nations?
All around us we see new freedoms: in Poland, Hungary, East Germany and Czechoslovakia. Only in one place are matters getting worse; that place is Tibet. Yet that courageous man, the Dalai Lama, does not seem depressed. In an interview with Jonathan Mirsky of the Observer he said, about China:
We have a saying: A fire becomes brightest and hottest just before it dies
Let us hope that Chinese repression in Tibet is indeed in its death throes. Meanwhile, I wish to thank everyone in advance for taking part in this debate. I look forward to their contributions and in particular to my noble friend's reply.
§ 7.14 p.m.
§ Lord Ennals
My Lords, perhaps I may declare an interest as president of the Tibet:Society and president of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Tibet. But far beyond that, I think that all of us would wish to thank the noble Viscount for not only a courageous but I thought a brilliant presentation of the Tibetan case. He could not have timed his presentation to your Lordships' House better than now, so soon after his Holiness the Dalai Lama received the Nobel Peace Prize.
He referred to human rights. I can confirm what he said and add to it from the visit that I paid last year to Tibet. I reported on it in Beijing. I think that China's deplorable human rights record in Tibet 1367 ought to be condemned throughout the world and certainly must be condemned by the British Government, as the noble Viscount said, and by members of the European Community.
When I was in Lhasa, I was able to talk to many Tibetan people who told me of the misery of the circumstances under which they lived, not just poverty, living at a much lower standard of living than the Chinese who outnumbered them in terms of population. They told me of the abuse of human rights and the tortures to which they were subjected. I was shown some of the signs on the bodies of people who had been literally tortured. I knew very well that people were taken away almost every night that I was there. They were taken away, often never to appear again until their relatives were invited to identify the bodies at the mortuary. This was a terrible situation in which the people of Tibet—fine, courageous people—had been forced into a situation of fear and oppression.
I was there just a few weeks after a big demonstration on 5th March 1988. I was told by the Tibetans that there had been 10,000 people on the streets of Lhasa, and I was told how many had died. These were ordinary demonstrators and people simply viewing the demonstration, who had been shot by the police. I presented this case to the authorities and the Chinese said, "No, it was just a handful of troublemakers".
Within three days of that having been said to me, it was confirmed that there had been 10,000 people on the streets of Lhasa in peaceful protest against what was happening. It was mainly nuns and monks who suffered and died simply because they believed in human rights. They dared to say that they were as much entitled to independence as people in any other part of the world.
I saw many of the monasteries that had been razed to the ground during the cultural revolution. I saw the masses of Chinese troops armed and driving around in armoured vehicles, creating terror among the people of Lhasa. It was a sad situation. I reported as fully as I could in the report which I presented not only back in London but to the Chinese.
Matters have got worse. People continued to demonstrate. They demonstrated on the 40th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Human Rights and within a few minutes of some people raising banners which said, "Human rights", they were shot merely for standing up for principles which all of us here would be proud to support. Since 8th March 1989, following the succession of demonstrations, but before the events that brought China to life, Lhasa has been under martial law. There followed a series of peaceful demonstrations in which more troops were brought in to make quite certain that nothing happened and that everything was peaceful, as they claimed. The Chinese claim that it is peaceful in Tibet, but I am afraid that it is the peace of the grave.
The noble Viscount said this, and I believe that while the winds of change seem to have blown through the countries of eastern Europe into Africa, through Namibia where there has been a great move 1368 towards self-determination, within China and China's possession—the colonial territory of Tibet—things have moved from bad to worse. The noble Viscount spoke movingly of the Dalai Lama. I feel very honoured to know the Dalai Lama well and to consider him as a friend. He is immensely popular in Tibet. Any Tibetan who has an opportunity of speaking quietly in one's ear, or just of demonstrating with postcards how he feels, will show that he sees the Dalai Lama as one who will not only be his spiritual leader but one who will eventually, one way or another, lead the Tibetans to the right of freedom which is denied to them but which is proudly possessed by people in so many other parts of the world.
Not only is the Dalai Lama a statesman, but he is a modern man and realistic in his approach. The proposals that he made in his five-point peace plan were ones that could be the basis of any serious negotiations, if the Chinese were prepared to negotiate. Particularly since the announcement of the award of the Nobel Peace Prize, the Dalai Lama travels throughout the world. Wherever he goes he is treated with the respect that he deserves. He has been received by royalty, prime ministers, foreign ministers and presidents. I have been with him on some of those occasions. However, there is one place where he is not well received and that is in Britain. I feel ashamed that this is so. However, that was the situation before the Dalai Lama received the Nobel Peace Prize, and perhaps things will now change. I hope that the Minister will be able to tell us that that is the case when he replies.
When the Dalai Lama came to this country in April last year no Minister would see him. Ministers insisted that no official from the Foreign Office should see him, and they said that he could not be allowed in the country if he were going to make any kind of political statement. I believe that was a direct snub to the Dalai Lama. After all, our Foreign Office has received all kinds of people. The Foreign Office has received representatives of the PLO. Those people are not always known for their peaceful approach. The Foreign Office has also received representatives of the African National Congress. As I understand it, those people are not tied to peace. On the other hand, the Dalai Lama is a man of absolute peace, and he condemns in his own country acts of violence. I shall quote another paragraph from the speech made by the Dalai Lama when he received the Nobel Peace Prize. He said that he accepted the prize:on behalf of the 6 million Tibetan people, my brave countrymen and women inside Tibet, who have suffered and continue to suffer so much. They confront a calculated and systematic strategy aimed at the destruction of their national and cultural identities. The prize reaffirms our conviction that with truth, courage and determination as our weapons, Tibet will be liberated".I endorse those words. I should be proud to save them and use them myself. I submit that Britain should play a much more active role in seeking a peaceful solution to the grim situation which we all know, and which the Foreign Office knows, exists in Tibet. After all, as we were reminded by the noble Viscount, Britain has a long, historical link with Tibet. It has basically been one of recognising Tibet 1369 as an independent country. As the noble Viscount said, in 1904 we signed a treaty with Tibet, and in 1914 the two countries signed trade and boundary agreements. The Tibetans have always looked to Britain because they think that here we shall understand their situation. I am afraid that has simply not been so.
To be absolutely fair, I should say that the British Government have carried out some actions. The British Government protested to China at the excesses at the time of the demonstrations in Lhasa. They protested at the imposition of martial law. They said that there was oppression by the Chinese and they have acted with the other 11 members of the Community in calling on China to change its policies. Britain has also spoken out in favour of opening talks between the Dalai Lama and the Chinese authorities. It would be a natural continuation of that concern for the British Government to take some positive initiative. As the noble Viscount said, the issue must come to the United Nations again. We recognise that the United Nations has already passed three resolutions in years past calling for a change of circumstances in Tibet. The time has come for that to happen again. The time has come for Britain to take a new initiative, together with the other members of the Community, in order to persuade China that it should be part of the modern world. After all, what exists in Tibet is not just a form of colonialism but a form of apartheid. There is no doubt that the people of Tibet are treated as second class citizens in their own country.
Now the Government have an opportunity to act. The Dalai Lama has been recognised as one of the great men of this world and of this generation. It would be generous for the Government to applaud and congratulate the Dalai Lama on what he has stood for and the way in which he has acted. I hope that the Government will invite him to London. That is perhaps the best thing to do. I hope they will invite him to London so that perhaps Her Majesty the Queen, but certainly the Prime Minister, can say how proud we are to have known and to have been linked with a person of that quality.
The new situation that the Nobel Peace Prize has brought about gives the British Government, as the noble Viscount said, an opportunity to take an initiative which would perhaps enable the people of Tibet, who so much revere the Dalai Lama and who share with him the joy in the receipt of the Nobel Peace Prize, to have not only hope for their own future, which they already have as they are a determined people, but also hope that Britain might see where its own interests lie. The thought that our policies over Tibet could be dictated from Beijing is one that is deplorable and must be condemned in all parts of the House. I again thank the noble Viscount for raising this issue on the floor of the House. I hope we shall obtain a positive response from the Minister.
§ 7.27 p.m.
§ Lord Avebury
My Lords, I too wish to congratulate the noble Viscount, Lord Mersey, on his forceful and effective presentation. I also wish to thank the noble 1370 Lord, Lord Ennals, for his consistent and permanent advocacy of the cause of the Tibetans which he espouses with so much skill and effectiveness in this House and outside in his role as president of the organisation that he mentioned. We are very grateful to him for keeping the cause of the 'Tibetans alive when it has not been fashionable.
We are also grateful to the noble Viscount, Lord Mersey, for giving us this opportunity of discussing the matter on what is an appropriate occasion. Not only is it a few days after the award to the Dalai Lama, as has been mentioned, but also it is very close to the anniversary of the events outside the Joh Khang when, as the noble Lord, Lord Ennals, has just reminded us, unarmed, peaceful demonstrators were shot. Among those people was a monk who walked out into the middle of the square raising a flag. A Chinese policeman coming from the opposite end of the square levelled his pistol and shot the monk between the eyes, just because he raised the flag. Then carnage was unleashed around the square at all the demonstrators and anyone who happened to be standing there. I spoke to a Dutch girl who was shot through the shoulder. The bullet went straight through her chest and came out through her back. She was very nearly killed and doctors told her that she was extraordinarily fortunate to survive. Many others of course did not survive and they lay dead in the square after that horrible event of a year ago.
We have also been reminded by the noble Viscount, Lord Mersey, and by the noble Lord, Lord Ennals, of the events in Tianamen Square which opened the eyes of the world to how the Chinese behave, not to subject peoples but to their own citizens. I attended a meeting of the Westminster group of the United Nations Association of Great Britain and Northern Ireland yesterday evening. The meeting was addressed by Kate Adie. She brought to life again those horrible events when the students were massacred in Tianamen Square with the aid of tanks, armoured personnel carriers and heavy machine guns. The troops embarked on an absolute orgy of killing before the horrified gaze of the whole world. We all saw on our television screens those peaceful, unarmed demonstrators being crushed beneath the tracks of military vehicles and mown down by gunfire. The millions of ordinary Chinese people who had dreamt of democracy and freedom and who had seemed to be on the way to attaining it through a peaceful development similar to that which has occurred in other parts of the world woke up to a nightmare of savage communist repression.
Because we have been used to thinking of China as an ally in the Cold War and because the free world so much wanted to believe that economic reforms in the People's Republic would lead to political liberalisation, we were taken by surprise. However, it had been predicted. The former honorary secretary to the Parliamentary Human Rights Group, Roberta Cohen, wrote in her study The People's Republic of China: the human rights exception in some detail as to why China had been exempted from the human rights scrutiny which we apply to all other autocracies. Those were a lack of hard information; the huge number of victims in the People's Republic; reverence for China's ancient civilisation; 1371 the desire for normalisation of relations; the belief that China's sensitivity to criticism—which has been mentioned—meant that any reference to human rights' violations would make matters worse; the absence of any human rights lobby in China itself; and, in particular in the case of the UK, the fear that we could jeopardise the peaceful transition of sovereignty over Hong Kong.
Ms Cohen predicted that many non-governmental organisations would continue to focus on those countries in Asia to which they could send missions and trial observers, engage in debate with the government, work with local dissidents and more easily spur change.
As a corollary to that myopia the outside world has for many years chosen to ignore the plight of the Tibetans, whose sufferings have been even more dreadful than those of the Chinese people themselves. In addition to savagely repressing any signs of peaceful dissent by individuals and groups, the Chinese occupation forces have unleashed a programme of ethnocide, to use Leo Kuper's term. They are deliberately and systematically trying to extinguish Tibetan culture, language and religion and to overwhelm the Tibetan people in their own land by huge avalanches of Han Chinese immigrants.
In March, following peaceful demonstrations by Tibetans, the Chinese police and military killed at least 30 people in Lhasa and wounded several hundred using automatic weapons. Then all foreigners were expelled from the territory, which was sealed off from the outside world. But we know from accounts by refugees and just a few travellers that since then many Tibetans have been summarily executed, that over 1,000 have been detained without trial and severe torture has been inflicted on many of them, as the noble Lord, Lord Ennals, mentioned, including monks and nuns. The Chinese have nevertheless achieved their objective of minimising the criticisms of their Tibet policies in the media of the free world because journalists have been denied free access to the territory.
Since the international community turned its back on Tibet, the people have continued to assert their identity and the Chinese aggressors have continued to commit further crimes against the Tibetan people. On 30th November—as the noble Lord, Lord Ennals, mentioned—five Tibetans were sentenced to between 17 and 19 years imprisonment for demanding independence for their country. I should like to read to your Lordships how Lhasa Radio, controlled by the occupation forces, reported the sentencing, which was said to have been handed down not in a courtroom but at a mass rally:The crimes committed by Ngawang Punchung and other criminals demonstrates that so-called human rights, freedoms and democracy played up by separatists both at home and abroad are nothing but a pack of deceitful lies. Deliberately planning to form counter-revolutionary organisations, putting up posters, spreading rumours and collecting information, they frenziedly conducted criminal activities to split the motherland. It is quite apparent that the aim of their crimes was to attempt to separate Tibet from the motherland by exploiting international anti-China forces. The severe punishment imposed on them is richly deserved".1372 At least those persons received some form of trial, apparently. That is more than can be said for many other patriots who have been imprisoned. On 4th October six nuns were given three years' hard labour for demonstrating in the Barkhor on 22nd September. On 14th October six nuns were arrested near the Joh Khang temple for chanting slogans in favour of Tibetan independence. Towards the end of October four monks were given three years' hard labour for similar reasons. A fifth man, said to have been identified as the ringleader, was remanded pending a trial which would lead to heavier sentencing.
According to Dr. Blake Kerr, who interviewed 25 Tibetan refugees, the torture of prisoners is routine. The new kinds of torture inflicted on detainees have been referred to. Dr. Kerr heard accounts of people being beaten with a variety of weapons; being hung for hours by their wrists, ankles or thumbs; immersed in very cold water; and attacked by guard dogs. Nuns are subjected to sexual torture, including the use of electric cattle prods inserted into their vaginas. John Gittings wrote an account in the Guardian of 8th November of the torture of women protesters; while Tom Aston, another British journalist, described the use of a new and more sophisticated electric baton with four elements instead of the previous two.
Why is the coverage in Britain of those atrocities so sparse? If any one of them had occurred in South Africa or the Soviet Union one could just imagine the furore, and rightly so. Yet when they happen every week in Tibet there is virtual silence. One cannot help thinking that the principled stand taken by His Holiness the Dalai Lama on using only peaceful means of securing change has tended to reduce the coverage of the problem in the outside world.
Television in particular reports acts of violence while ignoring peaceful arguments, thus encouraging the use of violence as a means of securing political change. We are treated to pictures of bomb craters in Bogota or Lisburn but we do not hear the voice of the Dalai Lama gently appealing to the world community to act so that his people's agony might be brought to an end. I did not see any reference at all in television programmes on Sunday to the speech which the Dalai Lama made on receiving the Nobel Peace Prize. I am ashamed that we should cut him out of our screens in that way. I believe that the producers who made those decisions should think again about the way in which they concentrate on violence while ignoring the peaceful advocates of change.
In 1987 when Vanya Kewley was trying to interest the commissioning editors of the BBC and independent TV companies in pursuing the stories of genocide which were brought by refugees from Tibet, she was told that it was not news. "It's not exactly screaming off the world's headlines, darling" was one reaction. As the noble Lord, Lord Ennals, has mentioned, the Palestinians get coverage becaues some of them let off bombs at airports. The Sikh extremists are reported because they blew up an Air India jet, killing all the passengers. The Tibetans are ignored because they follow the Buddha's doctrine of non-violence, compassion and loving kindness.
1373 What is even more deplorable—as has been said by both noble Lords who have spoken so far—is that our Government should turn their backs on the Dalai Lama himself. His Holiness has been received by the United States Congress, the European Parliament and many other heads of government and parliaments, as the noble Lord, Lord Ennals, has reminded us. There is no doubt whatsoever that he commands the loyalty, respect and love of his own people. He has been feted by the authorities in Norway as the holder of the Nobel Peace Prize. Yet when he comes here the British Government do their best to silence him and pretend that he does not exist.
Yet they can forget the murder committed by the Chinese authorities very quickly, as we see from the visit of two United States officials to Beijing over the weekend. I believe that that was misguided. I think that it was also misguided of our own Government to send a Foreign Office official to Beijing. That visit has not been officially announced but I should like to ask the noble Lord who is to reply whether it is true that a Foreign Office official has clandestinely been to Beijing and if so why it was thought necessary to do so in such a furtive and underhand way.
The Government maintain that more can be done to ameliorate the sufferings of the Tibetan people by quiet diplomacy than by open criticism. They also say that open criticism of China's policy is counter-productive because it elicits a furious reaction on the other side which injures the process of dialogue. The corollary of that is that we must ignore the Dalai Lama and the threats that the Chinese have made against the Norwegians show what may happen if we do not. The Norwegians have been courageous enough to stand up to those threats and ignore them. But could the plight of the Tibetans be any worse than it is already? Can China do any harm to the free world if we stand up collectively to her strident bullying? The Chinese economy is in a desperate plight, thanks to the mismanagement of economic reforms and the regression to communist central planning which is being abandoned as a certain recipe for stagnation throughout the whole of the Soviet bloc. The Chinese need Western technology and management, while there is nothing that we need from them.
The most remarkable characteristic of the Tibetan scene is that, as Chinese attempts to eradicate the language, religion and culture of the Tibetan people have intensified, so has the sense of national identity of the people. Thus, in spite of the brutal reaction of the authorities in Lhasa to any manifestation of Tibetan nationalism, there are still many individuals and groups who are prepared to endure long periods of imprisonment and torture as the price of declaring their beliefs. They raise the Tibetan flag, shout independence slogans and recently have even distributed an independent manifesto. They assert their right to self-determination which they are supposed to have under Article 1 of the UN International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights of which the United Kingdom is a signatory.
The policy of successive British governments has been to regard Tibet as autonomous while 1374 recognising the special position of the Chinese authorities there. That special position historically reflected the ancient compact, which has already been mentioned, between the Mongol emperors and the Dalai Lama, under which spiritual advice was given in return for military protection. That relationship continued by mutual agreement after those factors no longer existed; but, for all practical purposes, it came to an end when the Manchu dynasty was overthrown in the revolution of 1911. At that point Tibet had achieved de facto independence, as we recognised implicitly by entering into treaties with Tibet without the approval of the Chinese, as has been mentioned.
Can a nation which has already achieved its sovereignty revert to dependence on a foreign state? That is apparently so, according to the Government. I want to quote one sentence from a letter which I received from the noble Lord, Lord Brabazon of Tara. I told him that I would mention it, but I am sorry that he is not in his place to hear me do so. It presumably reflects the Government's policy. The noble Lord said:while the principle of self-determination is accepted, the UN and the international community have left undefined the criteria by which any particular claim could be justified. Ultimately it has to be resolved on the political level".In other words, if morality points one way and expediency another, the latter must always prevail. I would propose, as an alternative to that policy, that the United Kingdom should say how claims to self-determination are to be evaluated, and I would suggest some rules for consideration. Incidentally, contrary to the Minister's assertion, the United Nations has not been totally silent on the matter. A number of resolutions in the General Assembly have always upheld the,right of peoples under colonial and alien domination to self-determination".Although the decolonisation committee has confined its attention to territories which were formerly dependencies of European powers, nothing in the wording of the resolutions imposed such a constraint. It would be absurd to demand the exercise of a particular right only in the case of persons whose oppressors hailed from one particular corner of the globe. Alien domination is practised in Africa and Asia by powers indigenous to their own continents and it is time that we turned our attention to those cases.
Where peoples are under colonial and alien domination, they try to make their claim for self-determination heard. So the first criterion is that there should be appeals by individuals or organisations to the outside world on behalf of the people in question. For that purpose, clearly there can be no validation of credentials, as there would be in the case of trying to obtain a seat at the United Nations, because that is precisely the question to be determined. But first, and before any democratic test is applied, such as a plebiscite or vote of an assembly elected by universal adult franchise, certain questions would need to be addressed. Two of the most important questions are as follows: are the people distinct from those who govern them, 1375 ethically, linguistically, in religion and culture, and were they at any time in the past self-governing?
There can be no dispute over those questions in relation to the Tibetans. They are obviously different from the Chinese in every respect. They are ethnically separate; their language is quite different from that of the Chinese; their religion is unique and plays a major role in the lives of the people; and their culture is entirely different from that of the Chinese. They were undoubtedly internally self-governing, to a greater or lesser extent, for centuries, and for 40 years Tibet was an independent state. If it is argued, as the Chinese do, that Tibet was a dependency of the Chinese emperors, the Tibetans are entitled to the same rights of self-determination as any other former colony.
After the last war, the world passed through an age of decolonisation, now virtually complete. That brought to an end the empires of the European powers with the sole exception of the Soviet Union. We are now entering a new era in which other empires crumble and fall. The external territories of the Soviet Union have become independent overnight and many of the republics of the Soviet Union are starting to break away. In Western Asia, Armenians and Kurds are asserting their separate identity. In Africa the empire created by the Amhara in the 19th century is disintegrating and the white masters of South Africa are preparing to yield power. China cannot be the only major power on earth to dominate other peoples and to be immune from international criticism for her conduct. As a former imperial power, we should advise the authorities in Beijing that one cannot rule another people indefinitely against their will and that violence and repression merely stiffen their resolve. As a famous son of Ireland told us 74 years ago, and as a Tibetan might say to the Chinese today:Life springs from death, and from the graves of patriotic men and women spring living nations".
§ 7.47 p.m.
§ Lord Willoughby de Broke
My Lords, I share the hope of my noble friend Lord Mersey and of the noble Lords, Lord Ennals and Lord Avebury, that the award of the Nobel Peace Prize to the Dalai Lama will provide an opportunity for review of government policy towards China and Tibet. I ask the Government to study more closely the activities of the governing power in what is in theory the autonomous region of Tibet, whichever of the 17 definitions of my noble friend Lord Mersey we choose to use.
The Tibetans feel that they are in danger of becoming a disregarded minority in their own country. They feel swamped by the huge numbers of Chinese settlers which have, by some estimates, reached some 7.5 million people against the native Tibetan population of 6 million. The infrastructure to support those incomers is seen not as a benefit to Tibet but rather as a threat to its autonomy and culture. Most school exams are in Chinese. Most jobs require a knowledge of Chinese. University places require a knowledge of English, which is not 1376 taught in Tibet. Hence, large numbers of Tibetan children are sent to China for their secondary education, losing their Tibetan identity.
Beyond that, Tibetans bitterly resent the restrictions upon religious worship and teaching. The persecution of those who objected to those restraints led to the disturbances of the last three years, culminating in the declaration of martial law in March this year. As has been amply demonstrated in the debate, there has since been more than enough evidence to show that there are serious and continuing breaches of human rights taking place in Tibet today. I recently had an opportunity to look at some transcripts of interviews with ex-prisoners and they make chilling reading—a catalogue of beatings, torture, starvation and detention without trial, all contrary to guarantees enshrined in the Chinese constitution.
We are privileged to live in a free country and we rightly condemn abuses of power and abuses of human rights wherever they occur, be it in South Africa, the Soviet Union or South America. I trust that we will continue strongly to condemn these same abuses when they occur in Tibet, for, as the noble Lord, Lord Ennals, correctly pointed out, the Tibetans see us as their particular hope—the Western power with which they have historically had the closest links.
I therefore hope that Her Majesty's Government may be willing to meet the Dalai Lama in his capacity as Nobel prizewinner with a view to establishing constructive dialogue between China and Tibet. I hope that they will be encouraged by these words taken from the address of the chairman of the Peace Prize Committee at the award ceremony:It would be difficult to cite an historical example of a minority's struggle to secure its rights in which a more conciliatory attitude has been adopted than in the case of the Dalai Lama".Without some progress the prospect of Tibet is grim. The Dalai Lama has steadfastly preached non-violence, but there is an increasingly militant movement among young Tibetans who have never known a free Tibet. Without a rapprochement of some sort there is nothing more certain than that the cycle of repression, violence and further repression will continue to its sad conclusion.
§ 7.51 p.m.
§ Lord Grimond
My Lords, we have listened to four most impressive speeches on the need to develop a new policy towards China. I particularly want to thank the noble Viscount, Lord Mersey, for raising this vital matter, and for the way in which he deployed the case against China and in favour of Tibet. We have also heard from the noble Lord, Lord Ennals, at first hand of some of the horrors which have been occurring, and also from my noble friend Lord Avebury, who has a long record of defending human rights.
I have no desire to repeat what the noble Lords have said, but I want to take up one thing which the noble Viscount, Lord Mersey, said. He quite reasonably said that he thought that the Government might argue that they would only make things worse if they took up a stern attitude against China. That 1377 is an argument which, if they use it, will be disastrous. We have been through this; it is appeasement. It is all very well to smile on the Government Front Bench, but we have not been smiling since we appeased Hitler; we have not been smiling since we appeased Stalin; and we will not be smiling if we appease China. It never works. It has never worked in history and it will not work now.
There is in my mind—and I think in the minds of many people—a fear that this Government will bring shame upon this country and shame upon it for the sake of what they believe will be the solution for Hong Kong. At the back of this situation lies their attitude over Hong Kong and their determination that, whatever happens to the poorer people of the area, the capital that they invested in Hong Kong will be saved. It is to my mind a most ignoble attitude, and I trust that we shall be told that it is not so.
The case has clearly been made out that genocide—that overworked word—is being practised against the Tibetans. It has clearly been shown that the Chinese Government have deported large quantities of children to China and that they have settled large quantities of Chinese in Tibet. Martial law has been in force and atrocities—vouched for by the noble Lords, Lord Ennals and Lord Avebury—have been committed. There is, therefore, no case, as has been said, for appeasing China.
We must ask the Government to be quite clear about certain matters. Have they represented to the Chinese Government that their conduct is not only against human rights but against the law of nations of practically all time? The Tibetans are an exceedingly peaceful people. It cannot be alleged that the Chinese are in any way threatened by Tibet. Have the Government represented at the United Nations that that organisation might take steps in this situation?
That is my first question. My next question is why are they supplying arms to China? My third question is whether they will make it quite clear that their policy is not to appease China at all costs and in all situations, because that is what it appears to be. If we do not get much clearer answers on these matters now than we have done, it will be quite apparent to this country that in our name and the name of this country, the Government are prepared to perpetrate any despicable act to ensure, as they think—though they will fail—that the capital invested in Hong Kong may be preserved.
§ 7.55 p.m.
§ Baroness Elles
My Lords, in expressing my gratitude to my noble friend Lord Mersey not only for tabling this Unstarred Question but for the eloquent way in which he presented the case on Tibet, we could not have had a better introduction to this very difficult problem. It also gives those of us here in this House tonight an opportunity to congratulate His Holiness most warmly on his award of the Nobel Peace Prize. It should be noted that both the King of Norway and the Norwegian Prime Minister attended. Indeed, it may be asked who else 1378 must meet the Dalai Lama before our own Prime Minister is prepared to meet him? The Pope met him and received him in the Vatican in 1988. Other great and distinguished presidents around the world have received him. The speeches that he has made have been tabled as formal resolutions both in Congress and the Senate of the United States. One begins to wonder what it is that is stopping our own Government—which is known for its defence of liberty; known for its defence of human rights; known for its despair of violation of human rights wherever they might be. We have a fine record, and I think we should be looking at this to see what more can be done for the Tibetans.
Let us remember that this award was given just 50 years after his country was invaded; 40 years since the Dalai Lama left his country with several thousand fellow Tibetans—years during which he has not ceased to struggle for the freedom of his people and his country; but with a weapon unknown to any other freedom fighter, that of non-violence. That has been rigorously observed even while his people were being oppressed by martial law. His own personal suffering was visible. When anybody met him one knew what was happening to his own people.
What political opportunities are open to the Dalai Lama to pursue? In June 1988 he addressed a large number of Members of the European Parliament and others in the Parliament in Strasbourg. There were over 300 people there. Apparently it was the biggest press conference ever held and for the first time the speaker—the Dalai Lama—had massive applause, which I am told had never happened before. These were people from 12 member states. All political parties were represented at that press conference.
The Dalai Lama chose Strasbourg as a symbol of reconciliation. It is a centre which, after the last war, represented the agreement between the Germans and the French not to fight each other any more. It was a symbolic choice of his. He offered to the Chinese Government the retention of rights over defence and foreign policy, subject to the Tibetans being autonomous in their internal affairs. That was a very generous and brave offer. Although there was an indication that the Chinese Government would meet the Dalai Lama for talks in a place of his choosing—he suggested Geneva—nothing has happened. It should be said that this offer to negotiate was not necessarily approved by the people of Tibet, suffering and dying for the cause of Tibetan independence. It was a courageous proposal; but since there has been no response can that offer still lie on the table? That will be a matter for the Dalai Lama and his people to decide.
It is not only the people who are suffering. My noble friend Lord Mersey touched on that. Graphic reports of the change in the landscape by massive deforestation are being received. If any evidence was needed it is the silting up and breaking of the banks of the Brahmaputra and Irriwaddy rivers which rise in the mountains of Tibet as well as the Yangtse and the Meekong. Indeed, there was a proposal published in yesterday's Financial Times which might be undertaken by the UN and other agencies to deal with the floods which occur in Bangladesh.
1379 However, no shoring up along the lower reaches of these rivers will stem the floods unless a massive replantation programme is started in Tibet and the ceasing of the chopping down of forests. That is an aspect with which I believe not only the United Kingdom should be involved, with its new greeener than green colours for world safety, but one on which the Twelve member states of the European Community should offer a constructive programme to the Chinese Government in order to stop this catastrophe influencing, as it does, vast areas of Bangladesh which the European Community is being asked every year to assist.
That is surely a practical proposal. The European Community should be pressing the United Nations environmental programme to look at the problem with detachment and to ask what we should be doing to stop this flooding. Without dealing with the situation in Tibet—and I am speaking of the environmental rather than political issue—there will be no solution to the problem.
The proposal of the Dalai Lama—that Tibet could become an area of environmental safety, the world's largest nature reserve and a zone of peace which would in no way harm the Chinese—should surely not be neglected or derided. The critical geographical position of Tibet would be guaranteed as a neutral area with the Chinese having military and foreign policy decisions.
Many of us have been to China and have been the recipients of hospitality. Although not many noble Lords have touched on this point, many in this House will have received hospitality from the Chinese, and our admiration of the cultural and scientific achievements of the Chinese people over the centuries has increased. The events in Eastern Europe have shown—and other noble Lords have referred to this point—that it is possible to have a peaceful evolution to new and more successful forms of democracy and economic policy. It is time that China too recognises that in a world which attaches such importance to human rights and their protection it should review its policies and contribute to an area of greater peace and stability.
I believe that it is worthwhile reminding the Government of General Eisenhower's famous saying: history has shown that it is never the weak who preserve freedom but only the strong. That is the message for Her Majesty's Government.
§ 8.2 p.m.
§ Baroness Ewart-Biggs
My Lords, a very important and poignant subject is before us this evening. We are very grateful to the noble Viscount, Lord Mersey, for bringing it before us, and for giving us an opportunity to express our very deep admiration to His Holiness the Dalai Lama on being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize and for all the work that he did to earn the prize. Like the noble Baroness, Lady Elles, I should like to seize the opportunity to offer my congratulations.
The noble Viscount, my noble friend and many other speakers have presented a very comprehensive picture of the situation in Tibet, and of the position vis-à-vis China and of Her Majesty's Government's 1380 policy both towards Tibet and China. I should merely like to highlight some of what has been said and to touch on two other aspects of this very troubling situation.
First, the situation within Tibet gives rise to many worries, as has been shown in the debate. The noble Viscount, Lord Mersey, has described environmental problems. I should like to say a word about the state of deprivation shown by some statistics that I have from UNICEF. These show that in Tibet the figures for child mortality are 100 children per 1,000 births, compared with 36 per 1,000 in China—that is three times greater. The illiteracy level in Tibet is 73 per cent. compared with 31 per cent. in China. Again the figure is three times greater. UNICEF is also worried about the total lack of mother and child health facilities in many parts of Tibet. It gives cause for great anxiety. One asks oneself how this has been allowed to happen.
Apart from the concern about the standard of life of the people in Tibet, universal concern has been expressed in this House this evening and from many different areas about the violation of human rights. As so often, Amnesty International has brought us some very truthful reports of what is happening there—of arrests, torture and executions since the imposition of martial law in Lhasa on 7th March. The situation has been described in very poignant terms by many speakers today. Some terrible examples have been given of the violation of human rights, of torture, of imprisonment and of police brutality.
Can the Minister tell the House what representations Her Majesty's Government have made to the Chinese Government with respect to these continued human rights violations? Can he also state whether he has received any indication from the Chinese Government about a possible lifting of martial law in Tibet.
The point has been put very strongly today. Surely we must be consistent in our view and in our reaction towards violation of human rights wherever they may occur. The noble Lord, Lord Avebury, has made very clear that we express our outrage at the violation of human rights in many areas of the world, but how is it that we have not expressed it in relation to Tibet? Surely there should always be condemnation of imprisonment of political prisoners and of all the torture and brutality that have been described today.
That leads to my second point—this country's relations with the great nation of China. It has been described in very great detail. We all know that good relations with that country are vital to Great Britain. We have a very common interest which other countries do not have. We share an interest and concern for the future of Hong Kong, as the noble Lord, Lord Grimond, said. However, our rightful preoccupation about the continued wellbeing of the people of that colony should not intrude on our policies relating to other territories in that part of the world. Ultimately Hong Kong's future will depend so much on the Hong Kong people. Our responsibilities to them should not disqualify us from making our views about Tibet known to China.
1381 The noble Lord, Lord Grimond, devoted his entire speech to making that point very clear. We know that China is very sensitive to criticism. Without any disrespect, I could compare the country to a very neurotic woman who says, "If you blame me for anything, I shall have a nervous breakdown". However, other countries have taken a more definite line regarding China's action towards the people of Tibet, notably Canada, Costa Rica, Norway and Holland. West Germany has indicated that it believes there should be dialogue between China and Tibet. It is quite clear that they may well move towards persuasion for that to happen.
Another reason for such dialogue is in order that both sides of the story should be told. Both China's intentions in Tibet and the desires of the people would then be disclosed. As we in this country know only too well, and as the noble Lord, Lord Willoughby de Broke, has said, every unstable situation is a breeding ground for terrorism. Without dialogue with Tibet the danger of an escalation of terrorism—either from some other source or from a militant movement of young people growing impatient in Tibet—might well arise.
My last point relates to Britain's position vis-á-vis the Dalai Lama. As every speaker has said, His Holiness the Dalai Lama has earned worldwide respect for his long, painstaking, non-violent campaign for the liberation of his country. In this uncertain world, where violence and conflict are so close to the surface in so many situations in so many countries, should we not all unreservedly recognise and applaud the dedicated work for peace that His Holiness has been pursuing for so long? Is it not a fact that Her Majesty's Government say that they are in favour of the use of peaceful means to resolve the difficulties of the world? Therefore, why do they turn their face away from the one world leader who, at every level of his life and thought, stands for peace? My noble friend Lord Ennals has asked the Minister that question in unequivocal terms.
The Dalai Lama's speech to the European Parliament was one example. His reception was described by the noble Baroness, Lady Elles. His reputation at an international level could not be higher. That was reflected by the award of the Nobel Peace Prize. Therefore why will we not honour him also? Why will not even our press reflect the enormous and well-deserved honour that has been given to His Holiness the Dalai Lama?
Merely because I find them totally relevant to the kind of person that the Dalai Lama clearly is, I should like to quote lines from a poem written by a 7th century Indian poet. I should like to do so not only because they are beautiful but because they are absolutely true. The Indian poet said:Not by a radiant jewel, not by the sun nor by fire, but by conciliation alone is dispelled the darkness born of enmity".In our heart of hearts we all know that conciliation is the only path towards creating better understanding, tolerance and peace. That is what the Dalai Lama stands for. By supporting his stand for non-violence we shall give way to the whole concept of resolving international disagreements through 1382 peaceful negotiation rather than through armed conflict and violence.
§ 8.12 p.m.
§ Lord Reay
My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Mersey for raising the question of Tibet. It is a matter of importance to a considerable body of opinion in the UK and he introduced it in a most powerful, interesting and restrained speech. Our main concern in recent months has been to respond to the tragic events of 3rd and 4th June in Peking. But we acknowledge the continuing problems in Tibet and it is right that your Lordships should consider Her Majesty's Government's response to the situation.
Perhaps I may refer first to the person of the Dalai Lama, who earlier this week received in Oslo the Nobel Peace Prize. Her Majesty's Government have always recognised the Dalai Lama in his role as a distinguished spiritual leader, dedicated to the cause of peace. He is welcome to visit this country, and has done so on many occasions. His Holiness enjoys the reverence of the Tibetan people, and has won widespread international renown for his consistent advocacy of a non-violent solution to the problems of Tibet. The award to him of this year's Nobel Prize is the ultimate confirmation of the high respect in which he is held internationally.
Even before the award of the peace prize to the Dalai Lama, Her Majesty's Government were taking seriously the very understandable public concern in this country about the human rights situation in Tibet. Both in public and in private, on many occasions the Government have made very clear to the Chinese authorities that they share this. When the Chinese Government imposed martial law in Lhasa in March this year, we joined our European partners in expressing our dismay at the loss of life and violence there and our hope that exceptional measures would not be unnecessarily extended.
We shall continue to make our views known. But we shall do so in a careful and considered fashion, one that we believe will be the most effective in securing an actual improvement in the Chinese authorities' human rights performance in Tibet. We should certainly wish to avoid any action or statement that might exacerbate the situation or lead to any escalation of violence.
We have no clear picture of precisely what is happening in Tibet. The imposition of martial law and of travel restrictions in that remote and isolated part of the world has made the task of monitoring the situation difficult. It is inevitable that information from different, often partisan, sources will tend to exaggerate one or other aspect of the situation. That abuses of human rights have occurred in Tibet is beyond doubt but the extent is unclear. Moreover, when discussing Tibet I think that it would be unwise to take just one view and see the contribution of the Chinese towards Tibet in a purely negative light. Over the past few years the Chinese authorities have substantially increased development aid to Tibet with the aim of making it economically self-sufficient. These policies have remained unchanged despite the demonstrations. In 1383 recent years the Chinese have also shown greater sensitivity to Tibet's special needs and traditions; for example, in permitting a higher level of religious activity and encouraging the use and teaching of the Tibetan language.
It is encouraging that the Chinese chose to invite three Members of another place—the Members for Christchurch, Harrow East and Cornwall, South East—to visit Tibet in October. Their visit also provided the opportunity for a member of the British Embassy to accompany them to Tibet. He reported that, despite the heavy military presence, the economy of Lhasa and the surrounding area appeared to be thriving and that the atmosphere was generally relaxed. Some may consider that Chinese efforts to modernise Tibet have not been very relevant or effective. But it must be acknowledged that the Chinese have invested a great deal of effort in a genuine attempt to improve conditions in the region.
§ Baroness Elles
My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for giving way. Will he ask the British diplomat who visited Tibet how many Tibetans benefited from the improved economic efforts of China? We know from our sources—I believe that many noble Lords in all parts of the House can confirm it—that very little money goes to help the people of Tibet who are becoming second-rate citizens.
§ Lord Avebury
My Lords, in view of what the Minister said about being careful to evaluate partisan evidence, is he aware that the three Members of another place who went to Tibet were led by Mr. Robert Adley, who is a well-known advocate and friend of the Chinese People's Republic? He has never voiced a single word of criticism of them and actually made remarks favourable to the Chinese action in Tianamen Square.
§ Lord Reay
My Lords, at the moment I do not wish to go further into that question.
We must consider our response to the situation in Tibet in the light of the events that took place in Peking on 3rd and 4th June. Those horrible events, as the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, called them, created a heightened level of concern about human rights in China generally. Following the brutal repression of peaceful demonstrators in Peking, we and our partners in the European Community took a series of measures intended to bring home to the Chinese authorities the degree of shock and outrage that their actions had precipitated. We have emphasised that respect for human rights is an essential part of the pursuit of the policy of reform and openness which we and other countries in the West have sought to support and encourage.
I turn to some of the points raised by noble Lords. My noble friend Lord Mersey and almost every other 1384 noble Lord raised the question of why we could not receive the Dalai Lama. As I said earlier, the Dalai Lama is welcome to visit this country. However, he is regarded by some as being the leader of the Tibetan government in exile, which is not recognised by any government and with which successive British governments have had no dealings. For this reason we continue to be of the view that a meeting with Ministers would be open to misinterpretation.
§ Lord Reay
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Ennals, and I think the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, and perhaps others, referred to the Dalai Lama having been received by other foreign governments. But we know of no European or other Western leaders who have met the Dalai Lama, except for a few in a strictly private capacity.
My noble friend Lady Elles raised the question of what the Dalai Lama said in his speech at Strasbourg. That is something which we consider is a matter for the Dalai Lama and the Chinese Government. The noble Lord, Lord Avebury, and my noble friend Lord Mersey also raised the question of self-determination for the Tibetan people. We believe that all peoples have the right to self-determination, but that this right can be exercised in several different ways. We do not believe that independence for Tibet is a realistic proposal and it would be no service to the Tibetans to encourage them to seek independence.
My noble friend Lord Mersey referred to the first part of this century, when he said we had made treaties with Tibet. But even then the special position of China was recognised, and we did not deal with Tibet as an independent state.
§ Viscount Mersey
My Lords, one of those treaties was a tripartite agreement between China, ourselves and the Tibetans. Tibet was most certainly an independent state in our eyes at the start of this century.
§ Lord Reay
My Lords, that is not the conclusion that I draw. But this is a historical matter and I dare say that further debate on it should be pursued in another forum. My noble friend Lord Mersey and the noble Lord, Lord Ennals, told some harrowing and moving stories about the ill-treatment of prisoners and others. My noble friend Lord Willoughby de Broke also referred to that matter. It is unfortunately the case that the detention of prisoners without trial, the physical abuse of them and stories about them are common throughout China. To the extent that allegations of torture are true, of course we condemn them. It would be unrealistic to suppose that Chinese treatment of prisoners in Tibet is better than elsewhere in China.
The noble Lord, Lord Averbury, and my noble friend Lord Willoughby de Broke raised the matter of damage done to the Tibetan culture. The Government regret damage that has been done to the Tibetan culture in the past. The Chinese Government have themselves acknowledged that serious mistakes were made in Tibet, particularly during the cultural revolution. We understand that 1385 China's nationality policies, adopted in 1979, encouraged minority races to maintain traditions. The Chinese Government have commissioned the restoration of more than 500 monasteries and temples in Tibet which were destroyed in the cultural revolution in the last few years.
§ Lord Reay
My Lords, after the March demonstrations, the Chinese affirmed that they would not change their policies of promoting economic and cultural development in Tibet, while preserving freedom of religion and respecting local customs. The noble Lord, Lord Grimond, asked about the selling of arms to China. In fact, one of the measures which was imposed by the United Kingdom in conjunction with our European colleagues in June was an embargo on the trade in arms and that policy remains in force.
Lord Willoughy de Broke
My Lords, I believe that there was a sale, if not of arms certainly of related equipment, to wit radar, sanctioned in September. I wonder whether my noble friend is in a position to confirm that or otherwise in spite of the agreement in June signed by the European Council in Madrid.
§ Lord Reay
My Lords, I am afraid that I am not in a position to confirm that or otherwise. But I can assure my noble friend that I shall look into it.
The noble Lord, Lord Grimond, raised the situation of Hong Kong as being an explanation for the alleged special treatment that China was receiving on human rights. We believe it is clearly important, in highlighting our obligations to the people of Hong Kong and our commitment to the implementation of the 1984 joint declaration, that we maintain an atmosphere in our relations with China in which a working dialogue can continue. But this has not prevented us from making clear our concern about human rights in Tibet and in China generally, nor in conjunction with our European Community colleagues in taking concrete steps to bring home these concerns. My noble friend Lady Elles—
§ Lord Reay
My Lords, these are measures as the embargo on arms sales and other measures which were included when the European Community made its demarche to the Chinese Government.
My noble friend Lady Elles raised the important environmental problems of flooding, deforestation and so on. These are very important issues indeed which are extremely relevant today; and we shall consider the points that she has raised.
It is our intention that the Chinese should realise that if they wish to enjoy our continued wholehearted support for the modernisation of China, they will need to take account of international concern and show a greater understanding of the need for respect for human rights in China as a whole, including Tibet. At the same time, it is not our intention to 1386 isolate China but rather to encourage it back to the forward looking path it has until recently been following.
In this context, despite all that has happened in the past few months both in Peking and in Lhasa, we continue to believe that the best way forward in Tibet is for constructive dialogue between the Chinese authorities and the Tibetans themselves, including the Dalai Lama. Both the Chinese authorities and the Dalai Lama have accepted the value in principle of such a dialogue, although they have so far been unable to agree on terms. It is unfortunate that the events of June in Peking may have cast a shadow over the prospects for an early start to the talks. We shall however continue to do what we can to encourage the Chinese Government in this dialogue, which we believe offers the most promising prospect for solving the problems of Tibet.
§ Lord Ennals
My Lords, before the Minister sits down, did I really hear him aright? Did he say that if the Nobel Peace Prize winner, His Holiness the Dalai Lama, should come to London, as the noble Lord the Minister said he had every right to do, he will not be received by a British Minister? Did the noble Lord really say that?
§ Baroness Ewart-Biggs
My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, I wonder whether he could answer the question that I put to him. It was whether there was any indication from the Chinese Government that they may lift martial law in Tibet.