The West must unite to resist Chinese bullying against those who meet Tibet’s leaders

The following quote is an article by Edward Lucas, International Editor of The Economist, that was originally published online by European Voice.

The Tibet season has opened again, with a dire warning to the British government that Prime Minister David Cameron’s temerity in meeting the Dalai Lama last year had blighted relations. Only an apology can mend matters. The communist authorities in Beijing like to think that they can boss other countries around on this score. When Nicolas Sarkozy, then French president, met the Tibetan leader in 2009, France was forced to issue a humble joint statement implying that it would do no such thing again. In 2007, after Germany’s Angela Merkel met the Dalai Lama, Germany did the same.

These are tough times for Tibetans, not just because of their despair at occupation of their homeland, but because of Western pusillanimity. Under the last Labour government, Britain (for no good reason) dropped its position of recognising only Chinese “suzerainty” over Tibet, not de jure rule. Now Cameron is being asked to kow-tow if he wants to restore Chinese trade and investment. Estonia, where President Toomas Hendrick Ilves commendably met the Dalai Lama in 2011, has had the same icy treatment.

Chinese bullying is working. It is ever-harder for Tibetan leaders to get meetings when they travel in Europe and the United States (though the country’s émigré political leader, Lobsang Sangay, did have a reasonably successful trip to Washington DC this month).

This is a test of European and transatlantic political will. If Europe and the US adopted a common position (something on the lines of ‘we will meet with anyone we choose to, regardless of diplomatic bluster’), then the Chinese protests would be fireworks not cannons. China can afford to pick off individual countries, punishing them with a ban on high-level meetings and visits, or even trade and investment sanctions. But it cannot do that to the entire West.

The burden of responsibility and solidarity lies particularly heavily on the countries that have living memories of communist rule and foreign occupation. The Tibetan flag is banned by the Chinese authorities, just as owning a flag in the colours of the pre-war republics guaranteed harsh punishment in the Soviet era. The Baltic states were wiped off the map by the Soviet Union, which criminalised any expression of national sentiment. Migration and russification countered Baltic “nationalist” tendencies; now Beijing is destroying Tibetan identity with huge Han Chinese settlement. The bogus rhetoric of communist ethnic harmony (be like us and we can all be happy) and modernisation are almost identical. The sense of near-hopelessness is similar too. Only 30 years ago the restoration of Baltic independence seemed an impossible dream.

A similar duty lies on Poles, Czechs, Slovaks, Hungarians and other former captive nations. Indeed, anyone who cared about freedom in Europe during the Cold War should care about Tibet now, for the same reasons. Members of the European Parliament, of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, of national legislatures and governments, and everywhere else in public life (universities, think tanks, even media outlets) should make a point of arranging meetings with Tibetan representatives and doing so publicly and proudly. It does not require great moral courage to schedule a meeting and publish a photo. But once everyone is doing so, the ability of the Chinese embassies to feign outrage, and to impose punishments, is greatly limited. Instead of letting timidity ratchet down towards defeat, collective action ratchets resistance upwards towards victory.

The importance of this goes far beyond Tibet. If Europe cannot stick up for principle and defend itself against bullying when the stakes are relatively low, what chance is there that it can do so when the stakes are higher?

More and more do Western democratic countries silently accept the occupation and subsequent colonization of Tibet and the eradication of Tibet’s culture. Human Rights seem most often only to matter for powerful Western countries if there is a political or geopolitical interest in a certain area of the world for them. Tibetans suffer from the unbalanced human rights treatment of powerful Western countries like the US, UK and Germany. This is just unacceptable and really hard to bear. The tendency to ignore the Tibetans’ plight seems to be the current state of politics in the West.

The USCIRF Annual Report 2013 lists China as the “Country of Particular Concern”, the findings include:

The Chinese government continues to perpetrate particularly severe violations of the freedom of thought, conscience, and religion or belief. Religious groups and individuals considered to threaten national security or social harmony, or whose practices are deemed beyond the vague legal definition of “normal religious activities,” are illegal and face severe restrictions, harassment, detention, imprisonment, and other abuses. Religious freedom conditions for Tibetan Buddhists and Uighur Muslims remain particularly acute, as the government broadened its efforts to discredit and imprison religious leaders, control the selection of clergy, ban certain religious gatherings, and control the distribution of religious literature by members of these groups. The government also detained over a thousand unregistered Protestants in the past year, closed “illegal” meeting points, and prohibited public worship activities. Unregistered Catholic clergy remain in detention or disappeared. Falun Gong face some of the most intense and violent forms of persecution. Adherents are tortured and mistreated in detention and are pursued by an extralegal security force chartered to stamp out “evil cults.” The Chinese government also continues to harass, detain, intimidate, and disbar attorneys who defend members of vulnerable religious groups.

Tsering Wöser calls to Save Lhasa!: “Our Lhasa is on the verge of destruction; this is absolutely not a case of crying wolf!”, and recently The University of Sydney has withdrawn its support for a talk by the Dalai Lama. Tibet activists and Tibet supporters assume that the University has caved into pressure from China.

There were some brave actions by politicians and countries in the past. For instance Switzerland objected the influence from China when they threatened them with economic consequences in case Switzerland welcomes the Dalai Lama. In 2008 the President of the German Bundestag, Norbert Lammert (CDU), objected the pressure the Chinese embassy in Berlin exerted on him and also the Chancellor of Germany, Angela Merkel, ignored the threads and protests by China against a meeting with her and the Dalai Lama. However, all of this seems to be past now as recent developments in Switzerland and some other newspaper arcticles make clear. The only halfway brave ally as a nation for Tibetans seems to be now only the U.S.A.

While politicians usually protest easily with respect to attacks against themselves or their allies, the only person I recognized who protested against China’s verbal abuse of the Dalai Lama was Desmond Tutu:

Finally, we ask that China stop naming, blaming and verbally abusing one whose life has been devoted to peace. His Holiness the Dalai Lama, a Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, is not simply a holy man. He is recognized throughout the world as one of our few true moral authorities. He is a teacher who has shown us all how to live our lives with compassion, non-violence and love.”

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  Last edited by tenpel on June 6, 2013 at 11:21 am