China, Europe and the Dalai Lama

China, Europe and the Dalai Lama

The recent Chinese over reaction to French President Nicholas Sarkozy meeting the Dalai Lama in Poland is but part of the broader challenge that the international community face in terms of its relationship with China. How can governments adhere to basic human values while adjusting to political necessities?

In the light of the recent high profile visit of His Holiness to Belgium, the Czech Republic and Poland, I am reproducing here an editorial I wrote for the Tibetan Bulletin, the official journal of the Tibetan Government-in-Exile in 1994 on a similar theme. This makes me feel that although things change, they are constant.

Bhuchung K. Tsering

Sending the right message
Tibetan  Bulletin
July-August 1994

The recent visit to Europe by His Holiness the Dalai Lama is but the latest indication of a perceptible change, over the years, in the nature of interactions between him and leaders of the countries he visits. Unlike past situations, when political leaders shied away from the very idea of meeting His Holiness – obviously on account of Chinese pressures – today, more and more heads of state and government, as well as senior political leaders, are not only coming forward to meet His Holiness, but are also taking a keen interest in the Tibetan issue, particularly in its political aspects.

Governments have been monitoring the Tibetan issue, especially the initiatives by His Holiness for a peaceful solution to the Tibetan problem, and are coming out in support of the idea of direct negotiations between Dharamsala and Beijing. During the recent visit, the Belgian Prime Minister and commissioners of the European Union categorically assured His Holiness of all support for a constructive dialogue with China. The Italian President and Prime Minister were equally supportive of His Holiness’s efforts at peaceful solution of the Tibetan problem.

While assuring us of all backing, these countries have nowhere said that they would stop their present contact with China. We believe this is the right approach. At no time have Tibetans called for the isolation of China, even though there are people who strongly believe that only total sanctions against China will force it to reform. If China is to develop, democratise and become an open society, it is necessary for the country to join the mainstream of the comity of nations. Only then will the ordinary Chinese citizens, who are the real masters, become exposed to many aspects of life which have so far been denied to them by the current authoritarian leadership.

However, China should not be given carte blanche to enjoy all the facilities offered by the world without raising the quality of life of Chinese citizens or of those people whose nations are presently under Chinese subjugation. The present Chinese leadership claims that human rights are secondary to economic development. But, man does not live by bread alone, and so an attempt at the material development of individuals, even if it takes place, cannot justify the denial to them of more important rights, such as freedom of political thought, expression and the right to liberty. In this, the outside world can play a significant role.

While continuing its relationship with China, the international community should take appropriate action to pressurise the Chinese leadership to usher in democracy, and to give the basic right of self-determination to nations presently under their occupation. Above all, unlike a democratic country where the government in power can claim to derive its just power from the consent of the governed, the authoritarian Chinese government cannot lay claim to such an authority. Therefore, it is important that the international community study the political implications of its action concerning China, as well as to gauge the feelings of Chinese citizens as well as the aspirations of people under China’s subjugation.

Our attitude to the issue of granting Most-Favoured-Nation (MFN) trading status to China is based on the above premises. We believed that a conditional MFN would, while not denying the Chinese masses the opportunity to develop themselves, send the needed message to Chinese leaders. In fact, last year’s presidential executive order, which then accompanied the renewal of MFN to China, was a step in this direction. However, now President Bill Clinton has chosen to de-link human rights from the MFN issue. Although, the Clinton Administration has reiterated its commitment to take up the issue of Tibet with China through other channels, the unconditional renewal of MFN will certainly be demoralising to Chinese democrats.

Democracy in China is essential for world peace. Therefore, the international community has a moral responsibility to encourage the Chinese democrats. If the outside world gives them the wrong signals, it may prove disastrous – not just to China, but to the whole world.

It is in this context that we say: Help develop China by all means, but with the right message.

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