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Tibet-UK-Parliament-2014Dharamshala: - Members of Parliament of the United Kingdom debated the issue of Tibet and freedom of expression in the House of Commons on International Human Rights Day, 10 December, highlighting the ongoing repression and the condition of Tibetan political prisoners.

"During the debate, the UK government's policy on Tibet and its relationship with China was criticised. The government's response was considered 'weak', offering no indication it was willing to take a more robust approach on Tibet and human rights, and worryingly seemed to use language that would appease, or even pander to, the Chinese government," said Tibet Society, a Tibet support group based in London, UK.

Fabian Hamilton MP led the debate and outlined the main issues of concern on freedom of expression in Tibet. He also highlighted the political prisoner cases of Tenzin Delek Rinpoche and imprisoned Tibetan musicians Lolo, Kalsang Yarphel and Pema Rigzin. Mr Hamilton noted, "There is no doubt that the Chinese government use a mix of systematic oppressive measures, propaganda and disinformation to stifle free expression and to present a positive image of their actions in Tibet to the outside world."

Mr Hamilton called on the UK government "to challenge China's policies in Tibet, in particular where the Chinese government are flouting international standards on human rights and civil liberties" and to "strengthen policies towards China and Tibet, and to be more robust, with a clear stance and directive regarding human rights, civil society and democratic rights".

Tim Loughton MP added, "The climate within the Tibetan autonomous region can be likened to that of a military occupation." Mr Loughton called on the UK to be a "critical friend" of China, and stressed the need for "transparency of dialogue" with China. He said, "When speaking freely in the House [of Commons], we must say loud and clear that the Tibetan people's struggle is a struggle for democracy and free speech in which all of us have an interest."

Kate Hoey MP noted the threat the Chinese government's Confucius Institutes have on freedom of speech in the UK and around the world. Ms Hoey called on the government to take a tougher stance with China on the issues of Tibet and human rights and asked, "What dreadful thing would the Chinese government have to do in order for our government to start standing up to China?"

Jim Shannon MP referred to religious persecution in Tibet, saying it is "politically motivated and consciously implemented [by the Chinese government] as a policy to realise political aims." He said, "We must do all that we can... to persuade China to change its oppressive ways in its bid for political support."

Martin Horwood MP noted the Tibetans' peaceful approach to seeking a solution continues to be "met with incredibly aggressive language and a heavy-handed and oppressive response from the Chinese authorities". He also questioned whether the UK's policy on China was "too focused on trade, investment and the economic benefits" and asked, "Do we need a more sophisticated and developed policy towards China?"

The opposition responded via Kerry McCarthy, calling on the government to raise Tibet "as an issue of concern" in all forms of engagement with China. Ms McCarthy added the government needs a "more strategic engagement that allows the UK to raise human rights concerns and to meet the Dalai Lama without fear of being frozen out".

Foreign Minister Hugo Swire began his response by acknowledging the issue of Tibet deserved more attention and suggested a further debate. Mr Sire also confirmed that the case of Tenzin Delek Rinpoche had been raised with Beijing and urged "consideration of parole on medical grounds".

However, the rest of Mr Swire's response lacked real conviction and detail. Mr Swire reiterated the government's policy of recognising Tibet "as part of the People's Republic of China", adding, "We do not support Tibetan independence."

Mr Swire noted that the UK had raised human rights issues during the UK-China human rights dialogue, at the United Nations, through the EU and in the Foreign Office annual human rights report. However, there was no detail as to what had been raised and, more importantly, China's response to these concerns.

In response to criticism on the UK's trade policy with China, Mr Swire said he "utterly rejects" the notion that "there is a binary choice between human rights and investment in doing trade with China". Such a statement seemed to indicate a lack of understanding of the asks being made, i.e. to integrate human rights measures into trade deals.

Mr Swire referenced the UK's National Action Plan on Business and Human Rights saying, "Our overseas business risk guide for China provides information on key risks, including human rights risks." Perhaps unsurprisingly, he neglected to mention the guide's current lack of substantial information regarding the human rights situation in Tibet.

Following the debate, Fabian Hamilton met with Tibetans and supporters in attendance. Supporters aired their frustration at the government's response calling it "weak" and an "exercise in PR".

"Tibet Society welcomes the government's call for medical parole for Tenzin Delek Rinpoche and for acknowledging the need for further debate on Tibet within Parliament. However, Tibet Society is disappointed at the lack of any substantial move towards strengthening policy towards Tibet. We are also concerned that the government's response contained language that may have been aimed to appease or pander to the Chinese government," the group said in a statement.

"Tibet Society will work with Mr Hamilton and other supportive MPs to follow up on matters raised and will continue to press the UK government for a more robust and substantial policy towards Tibet and human rights."

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