November 26, 2008
China has postponed its 1 December Lyon summit with the EU saying it was unhappy that Tibet’s exiled spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama would be visiting Europe at the same time. According to the EU, the decision was based “on the fact that the Dalai Lama will be visiting several EU countries and will meet with heads of state and government as well as presidents of European institutions,” French President NicolasSarkozy will meet the Dalai Lama in Gdansk, Poland, at a gathering of Nobel Peace Prize winners. Sarkozy has always said he’ll meet the Dalai Lama not as a head of state, but as spiritual leader. So much for the Sino-European “strategic partnership”.
It might have been thought that two major entities with such a close relationship, who agreed sometime ago to enter into a strategic partnership could have prevented this happening, as it has been a running sore for many years. I have extensively blogged on Tibet and the Dalai Lama (eg 22 July and 28 June 2008) but on 25 November wrote that the EU and Chinese officials prepare for the bilateral summit in Lyon on 1 December with a large black cloud overshadowing them, in the shape of the Dalai Lama. “It is not beyond doubt that the Chinese will cancel the summit.”
The gulf of misunderstanding between China and the West over Tibet and the Dalai Lama is huge and misperceptions abound. No agreement is possible on the alleged rights and wrongs of both sides. The biggest single problem, whether historical or contemporary, is to separate fact from distortion , whether its source is Tibetan, Chinese or Western. How can the same man be a charismatic Nobel Prize Winner and the Devil incarnate? But anything seen as a threat to China’s territorial integrity is hypersensitive.
Tibetans are one of the biggest regional, ethnic grouping in China, 2 620 000 according the the 2000 census. Half live within Tibet itself, and most of the remainder in minority communities in the four neighbouring provinces of Gansu, Sichuan, Qinghai and Yunnan. Tibet itself occupies one eighth of Chinese territory, more than twice the size of France, but there are 55 ethnic minorities in China, and several regions whose separatist feelings might be roused by what happens in Tibet.
No progress has been made, or is likely to be made in negotiations between Beijing and the Tibetan exiles. The Dalai Lama’s affirmation that he does not seek Tibetan independence is widely known, and believed. What he means by “meaningful autonomy” for the Tibetan people living in Tibet and the adjoining provinces is unclear. At the same time, some clarification of what Beijing means by an “autonomous region” is desirable. Does the region in practice enjoy any more autonomy than a ‘province’? Beijing in any case believes that autonomy will lead to independence.
China has not dissociated EU governments from the irresponsible behaviour of the European Parliament, media and protest groups. .The EU has failed miserably to coordinate its own approach, and use the collective authority that would result, and encourages Beijing to deal at its whim with different leaders. .Merkel seeing the Dalai Lama in the Bundeskanzleramt, Brown at Lambeth Palace and Sarkozy in Gdansk is pathetic. Everyone should decide together whether or not the meet the Dalai Lama. Talk about seeing him as a religious leader does not explain why a leader of only 3 000 000 meets so many western leaders so frequently. And what do they talk about? Religion?
It’s important to remember that all 27 Member States are committed to the territorial integrity of China and accept that Tibet is part of China. But if they decide that they all wish to meet the Dalai Lama at least let Bejing cope with a combined voice.
With the onset of economic depression, the vulnerability of the world’s financial system, climate change, energy security, terrorism ,,,, our leaders should not be distracted from working together by Tibet and the Dalai Lama.
Noone – the Tibetans, the Han Chinese, the US and UK in particular, can be proud of their.past behaviour jn Tibet. Short memories of history are dangerous, but so are long ones. It is essential that the Chinese do not see the Tibet isue as a continuation of their humiliation by the West. As Confucius said, “Forget injuries, never forget kindnesses”.Author : Stanley Crossick