7 October 2020
Sir Iain Duncan Smith leads debate on China’s labour programme in Tibet

Sir Iain Duncan Smith MP leads a on China’s rapid expansion of the labour programme in Tibet and calls for Magnitsky sanctions including travel bans and asset freezes against individual Chinese officials responsible for human rights abuses in Tibet and Xinjiang.

Sir Iain Duncan Smith (Chingford and Woodford Green) (Con)

I beg to move,

That this House has considered reports of China’s rapid expansion of the labour programme in Tibet co-published by the Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China.

It is a great pleasure to see you in the Chair, Mr Hollobone. Having wiped my microphone, I feel like I am ready to go. Today’s debate is about the recent report on China’s rapid expansion of mass labour programmes in Tibet. This paper was co-published by a leading human rights adviser and scholar, Adrian Zenz, with a group that I am a member of called IPAC—the Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China—and there are others in the room who are also part of that group. It includes both left and right parliamentarians in 17 countries who are concerned about the behaviour of China across a range of issues. As I say, Adrian Zenz is a scholar in this area, and he has previously published a paper with IPAC on the forced sterilisation of Uyghur women, and I will touch on that issue shortly.

Adrian Zenz has uncovered this material through existing Government papers. That is the interesting thing: none of this is secret. In a sense, it is quite open, and these Government papers spell out exactly what has been going on. The findings are shocking, although it is important to note that, with all the other debates about China, which I will touch on in my conclusion, Tibet has, funnily enough, been rather forgotten. It has been an issue for a while, and then it has disappeared, and nobody seems to talk about it. What this paper has done is reminded us that, over a longer period than for anything else, the Chinese authorities have been bearing down on the human rights of the indigenous population in Tibet.

The findings of the report are particularly interesting, because they show that there has been mandatory—I use this term advisedly—vocational training, which basically means driving out the sense of identity of the people in Tibet. Alongside these programmes, there are forcible labour transfer schemes. Those are slightly gentle words, but what they mean is that people are being taken from one place and put into camps, a bit like—well, a lot ​like—the Uyghurs we uncovered, who are forced to do hard labour in all sorts of areas and without proper pay or support.

Over half a million labourers were collected together into these camps in the first seven months of 2020. Local government officials are required by the Government to meet quotas for what they term recruitment to the scheme—it is nothing like any concept of recruitment that we might understand. It basically means that they have to get people in certain categories into those camps as quickly as they can. This process is overseen by strict military management, which includes enforced indoctrination and intrusive surveillance of participants. Labourers may also be forcibly transferred from their homes to work all over China. In other words, this is not just about camps in Tibet; people are being moved around to fulfil requirements elsewhere. Of course, this process has close similarities with the training and labour transfer in the Xinjiang Uyghur autonomous region, which I will touch on.

The Government’s attempts to dilute Tibetan identity are really critical. That is being done through forced cultural assimilation, and the same pattern is going on in a number of areas. Interestingly, the Government documents state that these programmes aim to reform Tibetan cultural “backwardness”. That is an interesting concept and a relative concept, and of course its relativity is defined by those in power, which is to say the Communist party of China. That aim is achieved by the Government enforcing the learning of Mandarin and weakening, however they can, the religious influence that exists among those who claim to be indigenously Tibetan.

This is not an isolated incident. We have seen this pattern of eradication—or attempted eradication—of ethnicity across China. We know from the parallel report that was published a little earlier on the Uyghurs that at least 1 million Uyghurs are in mass arbitrary detention in Xinjiang. There are almost 400 prison camps in the region, with more still under development. It is disgraceful, but we understand that western fashion brands use supply chains where forced labour is prevalent. I am sure that will apply in due course, if not already, in Tibet. The Government-sponsored forced sterilisation and birth suppression in the Uyghur populations, which we believe do exist, would meet the genocide criteria—we have yet to get the UN to even look at that, but it is the key. Civil servants are also placed in Uyghur homes to monitor behaviour, and children whose parents are detained are being taken from their families and placed in state facilities.

But it is not just the Tibetans and the Uyghurs; it is now also the Christians. Party members who profess a faith are now subject to disciplinary procedures, with the arrest and detention of Christian leaders such as Pastor Wang Yi of the Early Rain Church, who was detained in December 2018 and sentenced to nine years in prison for

“incitement to subvert state power”.

Mr Alistair Carmichael (Orkney and Shetland) (LD)

These acts of repression never happen all at once. It is never a single thing that happens immediately. Does the right hon. Gentleman share my concern about reports that we are now hearing from southern Mongolia about ​the start of the same process of cultural and linguistic oppression of the local population? If we do not call it out, we will probably see the same thing happen there.

Sir Iain Duncan Smith

It is a pleasure to give way to the right hon. Gentleman, who came early to this issue. He has been calling it out for some time, and I congratulate him on that. I agree with him. We have to look at the starting point. People took their eyes off Tibet, but we can see now what is happening. People did not want to talk about the Uyghurs, but we have advanced. Repression is happening everywhere.

My point about the Christians is that it has been going on for a long time. There are threats, for example, to withhold state support from low-income Christian families who do not give up their religious belief, and there is a similar experience among Catholic churches. It is not only about churches that the Government do not consider to be registered; it is also even churches that they might consider to be registered.

The Falun Gong has experienced the most appalling behaviour. The 610 Office is the security agency charged with solely persecuting the Falun Gong. If detainees do not renounce Falun Gong beliefs, they are subject to re-education through labour. There are reports of beatings, solitary confinement, 24-hour monitoring, rack torture, tiger bench torture, water torture, stress position torture, forced feeding for those on hunger strike and forced injections of unknown drugs, and now, most shockingly of all, there are confirmed stories of organ harvesting from those who have been incarcerated.

Liu Guifu, a Falun Gong practitioner from Beijing, was twice sent to RTL camps—retraining camps—in Beijing. She reports being deprived of sleep, not allowed to use a bathroom or drink water. She was forced to consume faeces and toilet water, and was given unidentifiable drugs to make her lose consciousness. I urge the Government to call that out.

I also urge the Government to do a series of things so that the UK becomes a lead advocate in all of this. First, we need to look at mandatory sanctions with regard to global human rights abuses: sanctions such as travel bans or asset freezes. The officials responsible should have Magnitsky arrangements applied to them for the use of forced compulsory labour in Tibet and in other areas, too. The Government should also open a way for similar judgments to be issued on cases regarding abuses against Xinjiang’s Uyghurs and other minorities in China that I have touched on.

I urge the Government to support amendment 68 to the Trade Bill in the Lords to nullify trade arrangements past and future if the High Court makes a preliminary determination that a proposed trade partner has perpetrated genocide. I can tell the Government now that, should such a new clause come to the Commons, I will absolutely support it. I also urge the Government to consider that, to meet GDP targets. China’s economy needs to grow by some 7.5% a year. Under the cover of that, China is being given the capacity to behave in the way it does by western companies and Governments, which are turning a blind eye.

It is worth reminding ourselves that, beyond even the human rights abuses, China is now in breach of World Trade Organisation rules endlessly across the piece. It incentivises companies through illegal discounts, tax ​breaks and subsidies. Even Volkswagen reported that it had to buy a quota of components from local Chinese suppliers or pay more than double the standard import tax on such parts, which violates the WTO rules that everybody else is meant to obey. China favours exporting finished products, which means that it basically forces companies to manufacture and produce.

The supply chain risk profiles are all in the report, and they are there for us as well. The supply chains in Tibet, Xinjiang and other regions are linked to forced labour, and the Government have to make it clear to British business that it is unacceptable to be in the slightest bit involved with those chains. I also ask the Government to demand reciprocal access to Tibet and other regions, such as Xinjiang, in order to allow for independent international investigation into the reports of forced labour, and to call for a UN special rapporteur on Tibet.

The peculiarity of the situation is that if China were any other country in the world, every Government would call it out. They would demand change. Imagine if it were a country in Europe, Africa or anywhere else—there would immediately be demands and debates in the UN. That does not happen. Far too much of what we think and do about China is now influenced massively by the concern about getting goods, manufacturers, investment and so on organised.

China is involved in occupying the South China sea. The UN has said that China has no right to it at all, yet it is demanding and controlling whole areas. It has been involved in border disputes—aggressive behaviour—recently with India, in which Indian soldiers have been killed.

Then there is the situation in Hong Kong. How much more can we say about Hong Kong? China is abusing what is going on and has dismissed an international agreement with regards to the legalities, leading to the incarceration of many peaceful protestors and their shipment to China for prosecution, where they will certainly not get a fair trial. By the way, I asked the Government what they think of British judges being employed still on the bench in Hong Kong. Surely it is time that we said, “Enough!” They can no longer give cover to what is going on in Hong Kong. It has to stop, for goodness’ sake.

There is one other action that the Government can take. The winter Olympics are planned to be in China. Many of us believe that, if it were any other country, there would now be calls for the Olympics to be moved. I simply say to the Government that they will have to take a stance on this issue pretty soon.

Overall, we are dealing now with a country that appears to have bullied and threatened its way through all of this. It is imposing the most dreadful and terrible things on many of its people, it is abusing human rights, and many people now believe that it might even be guilty of a form of genocide. I simply say to my Government that it is time for them to stand up. It is time for this Government to lead, and it is time for this Government to act.


Sir Iain winds up at the conclusion of the debate

Sir Iain Duncan Smith

I thank my hon. Friend the Minister for his comments at the end of this really powerful debate, featuring many right hon. and hon. Members from both sides of the House. It is clear from the debate that there is now a growing strength and unity of feeling across all parts of the House of Commons that the policy—as referenced by the Opposition spokesman, the hon. Member for Aberavon (Stephen Kinnock)—initiated by the then Chancellor and Prime Minister of a Government in which I served, which was referred to in turn as “Project Kowtow”, can no longer exist. We now need to bear down on Chinese abuse.

The point of the debate was to highlight the latest abuse in Tibet, but more than that, across the board, I urge my hon. Friend the Minister to take the following points forward. We must make sure that Magnitsky sanctions are applied to those mentioned in the reports, as well reports on Xinjiang and the Uyghurs and all those other areas as well, particularly Hong Kong. It is time now to call them out and put those sanctions in place; we have spent too long thinking about it.

We need to condemn those companies involved with and linked to modern-day slavery and abuse in China. The Government should call out those companies. The way to act here is to agree to amendment 68 to the Trade Bill in the House of Lords, which would immediately stop that activity. I ask my hon. Friend to tell those in the Government that it is time to take a position on the Olympics, no matter what.

I hope that the calling out of those abuses in Tibet for a long time by many of my right hon. and hon. Friends, including my hon. Friend the Minister, will let the Government know that we can no longer just say that we want a good and constructive relationship with China. We want an honest relationship with China—one in which, when something is wrong, we say it is wrong. In this case, if genocide and abuses of human rights are taking place, we now, as a Government and as a people, must call them out and take action.