Dr Julian Lewis: May I congratulate my hon. Friend [Mark Pritchard], not only on securing the debate, but on getting the tone right? I am sure that those of us who remember the era of Mao Tse-tung can see how gradually but significantly China has modernised and, to an extent, liberalised, but does my hon. Friend agree that the persecution of organisations such as Falun Gong and the repeated allegations of horrors, such as the harvesting of organs from people who have been executed, are still a stain on China’s reputation, which we must do everything, by increasing links, to encourage it to abandon?
[Mark Pritchard: My hon. Friend speaks with a great knowledge of history and makes excellent points, both on religious persecution of the Falun Gong and on organ harvesting. Both those things are wrong and do not befit a modern society in any country, in any part of the world. If China is to be taken seriously as a modern society that is listening to the international community and to its own people, it will take action to remedy both those issues. I will touch on religious persecution later on. I am glad that he mentions organ harvesting. Time is limited in this debate, as he knows. ...]
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Dr Lewis: Just before my hon. Friend leaves human rights, did he notice that in the recent political assembly that was held in China, there was talk of doing away with the labour camps? I do not know how seriously that is meant. I do not know whether my hon. Friend has yet taken a view, but I hope that the Minister will shed light on that in summing up.
[Mark Pritchard: Of course, the other place with labour camps – some large enough to contain 20,000 people – is North Korea, so it is rather odd that the so-called open and now modern society in China would have similar camps. If there is to be any credibility in the statement from the plenary session, which I will mention later, we must have a timetable on when those labour camps will be phased out and when they will close. The sooner, the better, because they are not befitting of a modern society in today’s world.]
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[The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mark Simmonds): I turn now to the important issue of human rights, which has been raised by a number of hon. Members. It is right to say that our prosperity, security, values and global interests are clearly interconnected. As my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary has said, we must have a foreign policy based on our values, and the Government believe that respect for human rights is good for economic growth. We want China to continue to succeed. We believe that the development of an independent civil society and the application of human rights under the rule of law are essential for China’s long-term prosperity, along with the free flow of ideas that is an essential part of the growth of a knowledge-driven economy. That is why we welcome the reforms announced during the recent third plenum to deepen judicial reform, end re-education through labour camps – a point raised powerfully by my hon. Friend the Member for New Forest East – and increase reproductive rights.]
Dr Lewis: The Foreign Office does not always receive praise when praise is due. Looking back to the era of the closing stages of the Soviet Union, the Foreign Office showed great skill in the way in which it interlinked progress on human rights with other issues of contact between the two countries. Will the Minister confirm what seems to be the case, namely that there is a good institutional memory of the techniques employed in that era, which can be applied now in trying to take matters forward with China?
Mark Simmonds: My hon. Friend makes, if I may say so, a typically intelligent and perceptive point. He is absolutely right to make that comparison and to comment on that interlinking, as well as the importance of engagement and external lobbying to ensure a transformation over time in these important areas. I assure him that the expertise that was gained in the Foreign Office from the positive activities and outcomes at the time he referred to is infusing and informing the direction of policy at the moment on engagement with China.
On the specific point my hon. Friend made about the ending of re-education through labour camps, although I acknowledge that we are still waiting for the detail about the time frame under which we hope that will be delivered, we welcome the progress that has been made. The new leadership is serious about both economic and financial reforms, and those other reforms. We hope that the authorities will plan not just to abolish reform through labour camps but to end all forms of arbitrary and extra-judicial detention. ...