MPs call for closer ties with China

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The Independent Online
BRITAIN should set up an independent commission to protect human rights in Hong Kong after 1997 and widen the circle of Foreign Office diplomats with a specialist interest in China, an all-party committee of MPs said yesterday.

These are two of a range of recommendations in a Commons Foreign Affairs Select Committee report which gives strong backing to the efforts of Chris Patten, the Governor of Hong Kong, to introduce more democracy in the colony before it reverts to Chinese rule. 'To be seen to give in to China would have undermined the authority of the Governor and the government of Hong Kong to such an extent that the stability of Hong Kong . . . would be at risk,' the reports says.

It argues for closer contacts at all levels with China - which, it emphasises, is Britain's biggest new market and the next superpower. But it also suggests that Britain should play a leading role in trying to advance human rights in China, for example by opening a debate with Peking on self-determination for Tibet. China's attitude to Tibet 'may contain a warning for Hong Kong', the MPs say.

The MPs admit that 'Britain cannot guarantee much protection to the people of Hong Kong' after the Chinese takeover in 1997 but adds that the establishment of an independent statutory human- rights commission for the colony is 'possible, legal and desirable'.

The Committee refers to criticism of Foreign Office officials that they have an 'excessive tendency to see everything from China's point of view'. The MPs say 'it is not in Britain's interests for there to be only a small pool of diplomats with expertise in China'. It proposes that the FCO consider increasing the number of Chinese- speakers - particularly of Cantonese - among diplomats.

The report adds: 'China has opened its doors to the world; no one's interests will be served by rebuffing the People's Republic. Contact must be sought, understanding enlarged, discussion developed and collaboration strengthened. The only way forward for all nations, in shaping and building relations with this giant . . . is one of patience and positive effort.'

Other recommendations include:

Reviewing the status of the Taiwan Representative Office in Britain, including possible extension of some diplomatic privileges;

Giving full British citizenship to 7,000 non-Chinese ethnic-minority residents of Hong Kong;

Supporting an expansion of British Council work to regions of China not presently covered;

Government support for attempts to extend BBC World Service broadcasts - including television - to China despite hostility, and some jamming, by Peking.

More teaching about China in British schools and universities.