December 6, 2008
I’ve posted blogs recently on “The shadow of the Dalai Lama” (25 November) and “Lyon EU-PRC summit off: what happened to proportionality? (26 November). Beijing has made it clear that this “postponement” of the summit does not affect the ongoing meetings and discussions at all levels between China and the EU. Beijing is ‘punishing’ Sarkozy and not the EU.
You will recall that 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 Nicolas Sarkozy will meet the Dalai Lama in Gdansk, Poland, at a gathering of Nobel Peace Prize winners.
Until March of this year, there was no thought about Tibet in main political circles in China and Europe. The riots seem to have caught Beijing completely by surprise.
Western leaders meeting the Dalai Lama has been a bone of contention throughout the year and there is no sign of any let-up. My, perhaps naïve question is: How can one contemplate a Sino-European strategic partnership when we can’t see eye to eye on matters such as Tibet?
The gulf of misunderstanding between China and the West over Tibet and the Dalai Lama is enormous and misperceptions abound. This subject is highly sensitive to all Chinese, whereas it is not on the radar screen of most Europeans. Even highly intelligent, Chinese scholars, who also feel deeply concerned, find it difficult to appreciate that their European counterparts have no interest in it. Tibet goes to the very touchstone of Chinese sovereignty and anything seen as a threat to China’s territorial integrity is hypersensitive.
It is not enough for the Chinese to accept that all 27 Member States are committed to the territorial integrity of China and accept that Tibet is part of China. Their leaders must not meet the Dalai Lama and in any discussion, our Chinese friends feel that they must explain the history and justify Beijing’s policies. Most Europeans accept today’s reality. No agreement is possible on the alleged rights and wrongs of both sides. The Chinese regard meeting the Dalai Lama as interfering in their internalaffairs: Europeans believe that their leaders have the right to meet the Dalai Lama and that this is a question of sovereignty for them.
There is no obvious compromise Each side sees differently the problem and its context. The Dalai Lama is regarded by Bejing as a political leader in exile seeking independence for the Tibetan, people. In Europe he is generally regarded as a peace-loving spiritual leader and Nobel Prize winner. Western leaders insist that it is as a spiritual leader they see him. This, as I’ve said before, 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?
The Dalai Lama has for some considerable time renounced the claim for independence and proposes a “middle way” compromise of autonomy. The problem lies in the meaning of autonomy.
Tibetans are an ethnic grouping of 2 620 000 according to the 2000 census. Half live within Tibet itself (TAR – “Tibet Autonomous Region”), 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.
The terms of the Dalai Lama’s proposal for “genuine autonomy for the Tibetan people” are set out in a memorandum delivered to the PRC on 31 October. It should be noted that autonomy is not only being sought for Tibet itself, but that the right of Tibetans to govern themselves be recognised and implemented throughout the region (Gansu, Sichuan, Qinghai and Yunnan) where they live in compact communities.
Set out below are some of the proposals:
- Principal language of the Tibetan autonomous areas to be Tibetan.
- Distinct Tibetan cultural heritage to be protected.
- Tibetans to exercise genuine autonomy with regard to the education of their nationals.
- Tibetan people to be given the right over the environment and to follow their traditional conservation practices.
- They must be sufficiently involved in decision-making on utilisation of natural resources such as mineral resources, waters, forests, mountains, grasslands.
- Only nationality of the autonomous region to have the legal authority to transfer or lease land.
- Competence of autonomous areas to conduct trade with foreign countries.
- Regional autonomous organs to have the competencies and resources to cover the health need of the entire Tibetan population; as well as to promote the traditional Tibetan medical and astro system strictly according to traditional practice.
- Responsibility for internal public order and security of autonomous areas.
- Right of autonomous organs of self-government to regulate residence, settlement and employment or economic activities of persons who wish to move to Tibetan areas from other parts of PRC.
- Power to conduct exchanges with foreign countries in culture, art, education, science, public health, sports, religion, environment, economy and so forth.
- Right of Tibetans to create their own regional government and government institutions and processes that are best suited to their needs and characteristics.
- Boundaries of the national autonomous areas may need to be modified.
These proposals were unequivocally rejected by Beijing during the eighth round of talks between the PRC and the Dalai Lama’s representatives. It is hard to see any possible progress in the bilateral talks. No compromise appears possible between the giving of a degree of autonomy to the Tibet Autonomous Region and the right of Tibetans to govern themselves throughout this region and Gansu, Sichuan, Qinghai and Yunnan. This does not mean that greater autonomy for the TAR is not possible nor that other conditions might not be improved.
The Dalai Lama’s authority was endorsed at the recent five-day meeting in Dharamsala, India, that brought together Tibetan exiles from all over the world. However, more ominous signs are appearing. Younger Tibetans at the Dharamsala summit had more radical ideas and the meeting also concluded that if China made no effort to meet the demands for autonomy, then calls for independence and self-determination, would be put forward. Violence was not discussed but there was no need to do so.
So where do we go from here?
It’s hard to see what has been achieved by Beijing as result of the “postponement” of the summit: indeed it has probably united Europe in its resolve not to allow China to ‘divide and rule’. The motivation may have been directed at President Sarkozy but the action was taken against the EU, hardly what might be expected from a “strategic partner”. It also plays into the hands of China’s critics who characterise the action as “Communist bullying tactics”.
- First, the PRC and EU should set up a small team of senior officials and external Chinese experts, to report on how Tibet and the Dalai Lama are seen from China and from Europe, as a first step in removing misperceptions and increasing our mutual understanding as to how we each see the subject and the context in which it is seen.
- Second, in the short-term the two sides seek – without any public diplomacy – to find a modus vivendi. How is it that President Bush decorated the Dalai Lama at the White House with the Congressional Gold Medal, apparently without negative consequences?
Whatever happens, 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.Author : Stanley Crossick