Foreign & Commonwealth Office Questions

22nd February 2017

Alok Sharma answers MPs’ questions on issues including Japan and Myanmar.

Japan

 

7. What assessment he has made of the strength of UK relations with Japan. [908809]

 

We maintain excellent relations with Japan. We have close defence co-operation, and the recent visit by RAF Typhoons was a very visible demonstration of that co-operation. Japanese businesses employ 140,000 people in the UK, which shows our strong economic ties.

 

Does my hon. Friend agree that North Korea’s recent ballistic missile test, in violation of UN Security Council resolutions, shows how important it is that we maintain strong military and security relationships with our friends in Japan and South Korea, as well as strong trade relationships?

 

The actions of North Korea are a direct violation of multiple Security Council resolutions and a threat to international peace and security, not least to our friends in Japan and South Korea. Last week, as the House will know, the North Korean ambassador was summoned to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, where we made clear the UK’s concerns. Japan is of course our closest security partner in Asia, but we also enjoy close co-operation with South Korea, and we stand shoulder to shoulder with our allies.

 

Does the Minister agree that the innovative technology sector is very important for trade between Japan and the United Kingdom, in which we in Northern Ireland excel? Will he ensure that the sector is promoted very heavily in Japanese-United Kingdom relationships for the benefit of the Japanese workforce, but particularly of those who are developing the sector here?

 

As I have said, we of course enjoy very close trade relations with Japan. When I was in Japan last year, I met Japanese companies. The hon. Gentleman will be aware that the biggest ever acquisition in the UK out of Asia was the acquisition of ARM Holdings by SoftBank for £24 billion.

 

Will the Minister engage with his Japanese counterpart to get the latest assessment of Japan’s attempts to resolve its dispute with Russia over the Kuril Islands?

 

We of course maintain close links with Japan—and, in fact, with all our allies—on matters related to security, and we continue to have dialogues across a range of issues, including those that my hon. Friend has raised.

 

Last week, the Scottish Government’s external affairs Minister visited Japan to boost foreign investment, but the hard Tory Brexit is causing a cloud of uncertainty. Given the pending EU-Japan free trade agreement, will the isolationist hard Brexit agenda leave the UK trailing behind?

 

Along with ministerial colleagues, I talk regularly to Japanese businesses to hear their views. May I just say that, since the date of the referendum, a huge amount of investment from Japan into the UK has been confirmed? I have referred to the ARM Holdings deal, but, as the hon. Lady will know, Nissan has reconfirmed the super-plant in Sunderland. If that is not a vote of confidence in the UK, I do not know what is.

 

Myanmar

 

11. What recent assessment he has made of the progress of the transition to civilian democratic rule in Myanmar. [908813]

 

Burma has made welcome progress towards democracy since embarking on reforms in 2011. It has lifted media censorship and released political prisoners, and held legitimate elections in 2015. The military remains powerful, however, and under the constitution is granted 25% of the seats in Parliament. Clearly, we want to see a transition to full democracy.

 

The National League for Democracy, in power at the moment, continues to lock up those of its own activists who have spoken against the excesses of Burma’s military and its treatment of ethnic minorities. Will the Minister make it clear to the Burmese Government that it cannot be recognised as genuinely democratic if it keeps putting its critics behind bars?

 

Human rights are vital, of course, and we always ask any Government to make sure that they are observed. More broadly, the issues right now are stopping the violations, securing humanitarian access and delivering accountability in parts of Burma where it is lacking, and those are precisely the points my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary pressed the Burmese Government and the military on when he visited Burma last month.

 

Burma’s Rohingya Muslims were banned from voting in last year’s elections, and have since been excluded from dialogue between the military and other ethnic minority groups. Endemic violence against the Rohingya has recently been described by UN officials as ethnic cleansing that may amount to crimes against humanity. Did the Foreign Secretary raise the plight of the Rohingya with Daw Suu and the generals on his recent trip to Burma?

 

Yes, he most certainly did.

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Topical Questions

 

T2. A report published by Physicians for Human Rights, an independent non-governmental organisation, states that recently, during the conflict in Indian-occupied Kashmir, Indian authorities responded to protesters—who were unarmed—by killing 87 of them and injuring 9,000. What representations have our Government made to the Indian authorities about that excessive use of force? [908829]

 

We discuss a wide range of issues with the Indian authorities. As for the specific issue raised by the hon. Lady, earlier in the year the state Government of Jammu and Kashmir ordered the establishment of special investigating teams to look into deaths of civilians and the involvement of police personnel during the five-month-long unrest in Indian-administered Kashmir, and we will of course monitor their reports closely.

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T7. Will the Government support the UN special rapporteur’s call for a full UN inquiry into abuses against the Rohingya Muslims by the Burmese army at the UN Human Rights Council this month? This is a specific question. [908834]

 

The UN high commissioner for human rights has issued a substantive report on the widespread human rights violations, and of course the UN special rapporteur also referred to violations in her recent press briefing. A full report is due in March. In the light of these two reports, the UK will consider, with international partners, the scope for further enhancing scrutiny of the military’s actions in Rakhine. I can confirm that I will be attending the Human Rights Council.

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