MPs: Government must take a “stance” on Winter Olympics in China

Wednesday, 7 October 2020

Sir Iain Duncan Smith MP led calls today for the UK Government to take a stronger stance on the Chinese Communist Party. The call came during a debate in response to recent findings that over half a million Tibetans had been forced from their lands into a labour transfer programme. [1][2]

During the course of the debate, the MPs called for the passage of a reciprocal access bill for Tibet, raised the possibility of Magnitsky sanctions on CCP officials and called for the UK Government to take a stance on the 2022 Winter Olympics, which are due to be held in China.

In his opening remarks, Smith, who called the debate, highlighted key recent findings on Tibet, noting that between January and July 2020, over half a million rural Tibetans and nomads were forced into a labour transfer programme that entails military management and indoctrination sessions. Smith noted that this was an attempt “to dilute Tibetan identity” through “forced cultural assimilation”, and highlighted Chinese government documents stating that the programmes aims to reform Tibetan cultural “backwardness”.

Smith concluded his opening remarks by drawing MPs’ attention to the upcoming 2022 Winter Olympics:

“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.”

Smith’s remarks came one day after Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab responded to a question by the Foreign Affairs Select Committee about the UK boycotting the Winter Olympics in China, for which there has been growing demand among Tibetans and other peoples under CCP rule. In his response, Raab stated:  “Generally speaking, my instinct is to separate sport from diplomacy and politics, but there comes a point when it is not possible”.[3][4]

Several MPs added their voices to today’s debate, including the MP for Bath, Wera Hobhouse, who called for the Government to bring Magnitsky sanctions against members of the CCP behind human rights abuses in Tibet, and on MPs to adopt a Private Member’s Bill from Tim Loughton MP on reciprocal access to Tibet, which would see sanctions imposed on CCP officials who do not allow representatives of the British Government to visit Tibet. 

Meanwhile Tim Loughton, Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Tibet, highlighted the effects of the labour transfer programme on Tibetans with an analogy:

“Last year, all the goats in western Tibet, especially in the Tingri region, were wiped out. Tibetan nomads and farmers are now being turned into menial labourers and are concerned by the sudden change of their traditional nomadic or farming lives. This is the equivalent of the Westminster Government telling Welsh farmers to kill all their Welsh lambs and retrain as Ikea shop assistants, for example. It is extraordinary. Why can we not call this out for what it is? It is absolutely appalling.”

Sam Walton, Chief Executive of Free Tibet, said:

“The debate today was encouraging, demonstrating that a growing number of MPs from across the aisle are concerned about China’s human rights abuses in Tibet and want action. They have identified that previous governments’ policies on China have simply not worked, and that a change is long overdue. The reciprocal access bill, mention of Magnitsky sanctions and the demand for a stance on the upcoming Winter Olympics remind us that the UK does have leverage over China and that they can use it to bring about real, constructive change for Tibetans. This debate must be the beginning of a new approach by the UK to Tibet.”




For further information:

John Jones, Campaigns and Advocacy Manager, Free Tibet +44 (0)777 068 1938 |


Notes for editors

1.The full transcript of the debate can be found here: