December 8, 2008
My recent blog was headed, somewhat melodramatically:”Will the Dalai Lama wreck the Sino-European relationship?” Two happenings have increased my concern.First, Beijing is clearly not ready to begin to normalise relations with France. On the contrary, China has again strongly protested to France over President Sarkozy’s meeting with the Dalai Lama in Gdansk. Sarkozy responded that there was no need to dramatise things.” But yesterday (according to Xinhua), Chinese Deputy Foreign Minister He Yafei summoned the French ambassador, Herve Ladsous, “and lodged a strong protest,” saying that the meeting “grossly interfered in China’s internal affairs”. “It also severely undermined China’s core interest, gravely hurt the feelings of the Chinese people and sabotaged the political basis of China-France and China-EU relations.” he said. France’s junior minister for human rights, Rama Yade, is unlikely to have soothed China’s angry reaction by saying that France can meet whomever it wants and that it is not worth turning the situation into a “psychodrama”.
More worrying is the spread of the dispute beyond intergovernmental circles. Several, government-controlled Chinese newspapers have warned that a boycott of French products is likely to follow. In spring 2008, millions of text messages were circulated, calling for a boycott of Carrefour, before the official reaction that such a boycott would be contrary to Chinese interests as Carrefour sold virtually only Chinese products. It was also reported that official travel agencies were discouraging tourism in France. Inevitably, warned the newspapers, there will be an important price to pay for such a deceitful provocation which touches “the national unity of China and its vital interests” (People’s Daily). The extent to which press reporting may be government inspired may be unclear, but there is no doubt about the popular anti-French reaction.
Second, the Dalai Lama on 5 December while addressing Parliament, “appealed to the European Union and the Parliament to use your good offices, sparing no efforts, to persuade the Chinese leadership to resolve the issue of Tibet through earnest negotiations for the common good of the Tibetan and Chinese peoples.”
He argued that the 31 October Memorandum (summarised in my post of 6 December) “puts forth our position on genuine autonomy and how the basic needs of the Tibetan nationality for autonomy and self-government can be met.” “Unfortunately, the Chinese side has rejected our memorandum in its totality, branding our suggestions as an attempt at semi-independence and “independence in disguise and, for that reason, unacceptable.”
Thus the Dalai Lama is asking the EU, as well as Parliament, to persuade the Chinese to resolve the Tibet issue, which the Chinese regard as an exclusively domestic one.
The indications are that the Dalai Lama and the Tibetans in exile intend to raise the pressure internationally. How much longer will the EU go on behaving in its present uncoordinated manner?
Both happenings have their own implications. The use of product boycotts (except as part of a UN approved boycott) is to be universally deplored. As in this case, such boycott would not in the interests of those boycotting, and also invites retaliation. It is to be expected that this principle be vigorously opposed by the EU.
Is it conceivable that EU leaders continue to see the Dalai Lama but make no public comment on the substance of the dispute? For the first time, the details of the Dalai Lama’s settlement proposal are publicly known. Europeans continue to support Tibetan autonomy. Parliament and others should be asked whether they agree that the memorandum is a fair proposal or, as claimed by Beijing, it goes far beyond autonomy. The key factor is probably whether or not any autonomy should apply only to the Tibet AR or to the Tibetan people.Author : Stanley Crossick