That Seanad Éireann:
- calls on the Government to consistently and strongly:
- speak out against ongoing and sustained breaches of fundamental human rights in the People’s Republic of China; and
- support the freedoms and liberties of the people of Taiwan;
- reiterates its view that no force should be used in any attempted unification of China with Taiwan;
- condemns utterly the treatment of the Uyghur population of Xinjiang province by the government in Beijing;
- requests that the Government deals with the people and government of Taiwan on a basis similar to that adopted by most EU member states, including the use of the EU Representative Office in Taipei;
- rejects any attempts to curtail or end dealings by members of the Oireachtas with the people and government of Taiwan; and
- condemns all efforts to isolate the people and government of Taiwan from participation in international organisations and joint international humanitarian initiatives.
I propose to share my time with Senator Boyhan. I will speak for 14 minutes and he will have two. This motion is important because it deals with sensitive issues between the Irish State and the People's Republic of China. It also involves our relationship with the people of Taiwan. I thank the spectrum of Members of this House, members of all parties and none, who agreed to sign this motion. It is not tabled just in my name or in the names of members of the Independent Group.
The motion calls on the Government to consistently and strongly "speak out against ongoing and sustained breaches of fundamental human rights in the People’s Republic of China". I will indicate at this point that I will support Senator Malcolm Byrne's amendment regarding Tibet. It also calls on the Government to consistently and strongly "support the freedoms and liberties of the people of Taiwan" and states that Seanad Éireann "reiterates its view that no force should be used in any attempted unification of China with Taiwan", "condemns utterly the treatment of the Uighur population of Xinjiang province by the government in Beijing" and "requests that the Government deals with the people and government of Taiwan on a basis similar to that adopted by most EU member states, including the use of the EU Representative Office in Taipei". It also states the House "rejects any attempts to curtail or end dealings by members of the Oireachtas with the people and government of Taiwan" and "condemns all efforts to isolate the people and government of Taiwan from participation in international organisations and joint international humanitarian initiatives."
I was privileged to travel to Taiwan to witness and see for myself how its last general election was conducted. Although I was expecting that a democratic process of that kind would be different in other parts of the world, I found that, in Taiwan, there was a massive turnout of voters in polling stations right across the country. There was great engagement by the people and massive rallies for the various parties. There was a total commitment to ensuring the election was fair and free. That is something no other person in China is permitted to participate in at this time. There are no free and fair elections in the so-called People's Republic of China. The people are given no direct say. It is a dictatorship run by the Communist Party of China, which claims to act in the interests of the people. It is a one-party state.
Aside from that, there is also the enormous issue of how members of the Uighur people, the Muslim minority in Xinjiang province, have been treated by the Beijing Government. I will very briefly paint a picture of what has happened to them. A massive assault has been launched on their cultural, religious, ethnic and social existence. An article in The Guardian this week clearly exposes how this goes straight to the top, to President Xi. He called for radical measures to crush what he considers to be a separatist threat in that province and for the strongest measures to be taken to ensure that no religious or minority tendencies in any way threaten the integrity of the People's Republic of China. For ordinary Uighurs, this means families being broken up, people being brought to so-called re-education camps and interned in what we would call prisons and women having their reproductive rights greatly circumscribed by Chinese authorities. All of this is done with the avowed purpose of controlling the growth of the Uighur population in Xinjiang province. This is only five or seven years after the ending of the one-child policy in China.
They now realise that their horrifically inhuman attacks on their own people's reproductive rights have led to a crisis with an ageing population. One section of the Chinese people, the Uighur population, has been specially set aside as a group whose reproduction rate is considered in China to be a threat to the people's republic. People have been the subject of mass deportations and have been sent to work as quasi-slave labourers in other parts of China. Families have been broken up and their civil and political rights, as they existed in a tiny and vistigial way in modern China, have been completely trampled. I do not compare this with what happened in Nazi Germany, but it amounts to a form of cultural, religious and ethnic genocide deliberately being perpetrated by the Beijing Government.
Where are we in all of this? We are involved in two ways. We have diplomatic relations with the People's Republic of China and for that purpose we accept the one China policy. That involves the Chinese assertion that the de facto division between mainland China and Taiwan is not legitimate and that there is an aspiration for unity of all the Chinese people, including the people of Taiwan. Our Government generally endorses that position. I presume, however, we do not support the notion that any force could be used in an any attempted reunification of China with Taiwan. President Xi has explicitly endorsed the possibility of using force to end the Taiwan problem. Wwe must make it very clear that we stand with those countries in the free world that absolutely and categorically reject such use of force and who stand with the people of Taiwan to say that any reunification of China and Taiwan can only be done by peaceful means. We accepted that principle in 1998 when we decided that peaceful means were the only way to Irish unity.
When I visited China as a Minister, I was forcefully struck by the changes under way at the time. The former Secretary of State of the United States of America, Mr. Henry Kissinger, published a book on China. I remember discussing it with him. His view was that if China were to be integrated into the international world of trade from an economic point of view and were to prosper as a result, an emerging middle class in China would essentially change the nature of the country and make armed conflict between China and other states impossible. For a while it seemed his optimism was well placed. Now, however, we have a different China that is following an approach of wolf diplomacy. It retaliates against countries that query its human rights record and threatens trade relations with those countries.
When I visited in Taiwan, I spoke with diplomats from many other countries stationed in representative offices. I also visited the European Union's representative office in Taipei. It was shocking to be told that Ireland especially among all the European Union member states had least to do with the European Union's representative office in Taipei. It had closed whatever trade mission we had there and it was the one country that stood out as being most afraid in any way of crossing the path of the Chinese Government by having any visible presence in Taipei or Taiwan. That is shameful. It is really shameful because other members of the European Union have their representative offices there and the European Union has a representative office that we, in effect, boycott. It is sad cowardice.
I will mention briefly the freedom of Members of the Oireachtas, including those in this House, to engage in political dialogue and friendly relations with the Taiwan representative office in Dublin. It exists here but it is deeply unfortunate that the Ceann Comhairle, in his capacity as Chairman of the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission, wrote to Members of this House urging them to bear in mind the damage they would do to Ireland's interests by engaging at all with Taiwanese representatives in Dublin or having any ongoing political dialogue with them. That is deeply regrettable but happily it was purely his own personal decision and he has no function under the Constitution to tell Members of this House or the Lower House what they should and should not do in terms of human rights and foreign policy. The letter he wrote made very clear to me, as a recipient, the warning that I might damage Ireland's national interest by seeing a democratic process in operation in Taiwan and that I might damage our trading interests. I accept our significant trading interest with China, but that does not mean I must avert my eyes or close my mouth when it comes to the abuse of human rights in China.
I put on record that the People's Republic of China has had a very interesting path of development. It has gone through terrible periods of vicious suppression of its own minorities, with tens of millions of people dying in various campaigns promoted under the leadership of Chairman Mao. I am long enough around here to remember - most Members of the House are not - a time when I was at university when contemporaries were breaking up lectures, waving the little red book, as the Irish end of the cultural revolution. They were beating up lecturers in Trinity and UCD for having views on history and pharmacology that offended Chairman Mao's diktat. I remember all of that.
China's record is not one we should admire. It has done great things by embracing internal capitalism to alleviate the poverty it inflicted on its people but now we have come to the point where it is exerting influence across the world while at the same time engaging in massive suppression of minorities within its own state and threatening to take away the freedoms of the people of Taiwan. The time has come for Members of the Oireachtas, freely and without any downward pressure from anybody, right or wrong, to express our views on these matters and call on the Government to strengthen its stance as a member of the United Nations Security Council against the abrogation of human rights in China.