Is the Dalai Lama bad for the West? – A Round Table Discussion

A Roundtable Discussion with Dr Dibyesh Anand (University of Westminster), Dr Shao Jiang (Researcher), Dr Martin Mills (University of Aberdeen), Jonathan Mirsky (journalist), Dr. Tsering Topgyal (University of Birmingham)

Department of Politics and International Relations, University of Westminster

Is the Tibetan cause a luxury that the West can ill afford in times of economic crisis? Is good relation with China a reward that necessitates silence about Tibet? Do the efforts to reassure and engage with China on this matter promote a democratic country’s overall interests? Should economic imperatives trump political morality and security priorities? Could it be that the Dalai Lama being bad for Western economy is itself a myth that is generated by Chinese public diplomacy and uncritically accepted as common sense by international media?

In recent years, governments in democracies including in the UK, USA, India, Canada, South Africa, Japan and in continental Europe have sought to balance their purported commitment to human rights in Tibet with their desire to work closely with rising economic powerhouse of China. Chinese pressure on the leaders of foreign states to distance themselves from the Dalai Lama is well known. However, there is a new phenomenon that raises serious questions about the efficacy of sovereign democratic states to stand for principles of human rights. This phenomenon is the widespread notion that the empathy for Tibetans is a liability, that the Dalai Lama is bad for business. Foreign leaders seeking a share of Chinese economic growth not only reiterate their acceptance of Chinese sovereignty over Tibet, but also go to great lengths to assure Beijing of their desire to prioritise economic cooperation over everything else.

The Tibet question is politically sensitive and complex. At the heart of it lies the fate of millions of Tibetans currently living under Chinese rule while their leader the Dalai Lama and several other key religious figures are exiled. A source of hope for the Tibetans has been the international profile of their cause and global image of the Dalai Lama. Their hope is that one day, China will realise that it is in its interest to negotiate sincerely with Tibetans for a mutually acceptable resolution. How does the rise of China and democratic states’ approach toward it affect the Tibetans?