BRUSSELS, Belgium, 10 September 2016
First, I would like to thank the organizers of the conference and say how happy I am to be here today. I am also honoured to speak a few minutes before His Holiness the Dalai Lama about this very important issue: The future of Tibet. I also would like to address special thanks to the Representative of the Dalai Lama and his office with whom I have been cooperating very well. The Tibet Office is providing us with updated information on the situation in Tibet and this is very useful for our everyday work.
There are in the European Parliament many supporters of the Tibetans and their fight for freedom and I am proud to be one of them. My involvement in the Foreign Affairs Committee as the coordinator of my political group, the EPP, and my position of first Vice-Chair of the Sub-Committee on Human Rights allow me to engage actively on the Tibetan issue whenever I can. We have been following closely China’s Human Rights abuses in the recent years and it is true to say that, there has been a dramatic deterioration in the respect for Human Rights in China, affecting not only Tibetans but also Christians, Uyghurs, Falung Gong, and so many others. In the report that has been adopted in December 2015 on EU-China relations, the European Parliament condemned the worsening of the humanitarian situation in Tibet and we put the focus on several key points:
- The rejection by the Chinese government of His Holiness’ ‘Middle-Way Approach’ that seeks a genuine autonomy. While the last round of peace talks took place in 2010, Beijing does not seem to be ready to resume these talks. Moreover, the objective of the Chinese government to reduce the influence of His Holiness the Dalai Lama seems very clear. I believe that there is no other option but dialogue and we need to keep calling the government to re-enter into a dialogue with the Tibetans urgently. I say urgently because unfortunately too often the Tibetan crisis is not considered as urgent because of the so many open conflicts that the EU has to deal with in its neighbourhood. An inclusive dialogue would be the best chance to resolve the crisis peacefully in Tibet.
- The restriction on freedom of movement is also a key problem that should be addressed. During my visit with a delegation from the European Parliament to Nepal last year, I had the chance to visit the UNHCR-run Tibetan Reception Centre and to meet with the few Tibetans that were lucky enough to get there. During the last few years, the number of Tibetan refugees in Nepal has collapsed: Until 2008, about 2000 of them were able to cross the border each year and now there are around 80. The reason is simple: China is preventing refugees from reaching the border.
- The third element is the adoption by China of its counter-terror law in December 2015 in spite of international concerns that the government will be using the excuse of national security to increase its crackdown on Tibetans. The drafting of this law in vague terms allows putting any peaceful act under the definition of terrorism. Unfortunately, our fears are justified because there is a raise of imprisonments and tortures. The rationale behind this kind of repressive laws is that Tibetans are seeking for independence thus threatening the territorial integrity of China. The way I see it is that the reality is the other way around. China’s repressive policy is threatening the very identity, culture, religion and language of Tibet. Not allowing Tibetans to gather, to pray, to exercise their freedom of though and speech are violations of basic Human Rights that should not be tolerated. We cannot hope for stability if there is no respect for Human Rights. The new Chinese laws on foreign NGOs were also severely criticised in the European Parliament because trying to restrict the space of civil society is unacceptable. China is not the only country adopting such laws, we all know very well that several countries use them to target NGOs as “foreign agents” so they can better control them. Nobody could seriously believe that Tibet’s request for autonomy represents a threat to the Chinese government’s authority so we need to keep calling for the revisions of these laws. The government needs to realise that as restrictive as a policy can be, it will never be able to kill the hope for freedom of an entire people. Even though, and that leads me to my next point, the loss of hope is something that too many Tibetans experience with self-immolations.
- Some Tibetans are still engaging in self-immolation practices to protest against Chinese policies. This is a very worrying trend that should be interpreted for what it is: a cry for change. The increase of self-immolations is a clear sign that the Human Rights situation is worsening and that Tibetan monks are still being detained arbitrarily. Besides, I have been reading that self-immolation could be considered a crime in the future and this will only lead to more repression. Punishing people for expressing support for the Dalai Lama or for even expressing solidarity with individuals who committed self-immolation is a blatant violation of basic Human Rights.
After reviewing some of the key problems of the situation in Tibet, I would like to reflect with you today on what we can do to change things. I think that our first priority should be to link Tibet with the other aspects of our relationship with China. There is a strong desire from China to cooperate internationally on a wide range of issues, from counter-terrorism to integration into global economic and financial governance systems. This desire provides us with opportunities to get our message out. We have been using and investing in quiet diplomacy for too long and we need to admit that it failed. We did believe that this quiet diplomacy would allow us to achieve some progress regarding the Human Rights situation in Tibet. It is time to change the method and to publicly condemn the policies of the Chinese government towards the Tibetans and engage in a stronger public diplomacy on Human Rights issues. The adoption by several governments of a joint statement in March 2016 at the United Nations Human Rights Council condemning China’s escalating repression is positive example that should be followed. At the EU level, we also need to put Tibet on every agenda of the EU-China Human Rights dialogue so we can make China accountable for the non-respect of its international human rights obligations.
While China has just organised the G20 summit on 4-5 September trying to project this positive and attractive image telling us all about the Chinese power and place in the world, we were not convinced. We need to remind China that being an economic power will never be enough. To be able to convince the world of its power, it needs to respect the principles of democracy, rule of law, and Human Rights. Because this is how we judge a democracy: by the way it treats its minorities.
Again, thank you for allowing me to speak today, and I am looking forward to listening to the other speakers and of course to His Holiness in a few moments.
About the author
Cristian Dan Preda is the Vice Chair on the Human Rights Sub-committee and Member of the Foreign Affairs Committee, European Parliament.