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"We Tibetans are looking for a legitimate and meaningful autonomy, an arrangement that would enable Tibetans to live within the framework of the People’s Republic of China."

Carr's Challenge on Tibet

March 15, 2012

By ABC's Stephen McDonell

Here's a question: What do incoming Foreign Minister Bob Carr and Communist Party delegates sitting down at China's National People's Congress have in common?

The answer is that they all agree the Dalai Lama is "cunning" and "mischievous" - what's more, they agree that the Australian Prime Minister should feel an obligation "not to meet him".

Bob Carr also believes it's an "outrageous suggestion" to claim that Tibetan areas beyond the official Tibetan Autonomous Region could be part of Tibet, especially an independent Tibet. These are the same areas where a steady stream of people have been self-immolating in protest at Chinese rule - there were three last week.

Mr Carr wrote about this in his blog last year and the Chinese Communist Party would be positively thrilled to know that this man has become Australia's Foreign Minister.

When you go along to China's annual session of parliament, the National People's Congress, and ask delegates about problems in Tibet the answers are like a mantra.

The "Dalai Lama Clique" is to blame; the Dalai Lama is a "wolf in sheep's clothing", this is an internal matter for China etc.

So when you read a document as a kind of open letter to Prime Minister Julia Gillard at the time of a visit by the Dalai Lama entitled "Don't meet this cunning monk" you might think it was penned by the same local Communist Party officials who in 2008 promised to use the Olympic Torch to "smash the Dalai Lama Clique"… but no it was written by none other than our incoming Foreign Minister, Bob Carr.

In this article, penned last year, Mr Carr citizen argued that the Prime Minister should feel obliged to not to meet the Dalai Lama because he is a "cunning" person who has a "mischievous agenda in pursuit of theocratic power".

At this point, officials at the Chinese Embassy in Canberra - if they weren't already aware of the article - will be breaking out their best bottle of baijiu and inviting Bob Carr around for a celebratory banquet. In Bob Carr's blog article he goes well beyond the 'Tibet is a part of China and there's nothing anyone can do about it' type argument. He defends the entire legitimacy of the current state of affairs saying that:

"Tibet has been part of China since the Manchu Dynasty."

On this point, many historians would ask him why the People's Liberation Army felt the need to march in there and take Tibet by force in 1951?

The truth is that Tibet had long and complex relationship with China's emperors well before the Manchu Dynasty - often as a vassal state - but the new Foreign Minister sees things in Tibet as very straightforward.

For example, he says it as an "outrageous claim" to define Tibet as including the ethnic Tibetan areas that spill over the border of the official Tibetan Autonomous Region into Sichuan, Qinghai, Gansu and other provinces. He sees this as a kind of whacky attempt to "antagonise the Chinese".

These are the areas where Tibetans have been self-immolating at an alarming rate: two dozen over the last six months, according to exile groups. Just last week there were three cases: an 18-year old man, a mother of four and a teenage girl.

Mr Carr likens Tibetan independence with allowing Western Australia to secede from Australia. Yet Eastern States military police are not dragging away West Australians to be tortured for advocating independence; nor are the residents of Perth thrown in gaol for their religious beliefs; nor is Western Australia a completely locked down police state, separated from the outside world, requiring special permission to enter and out of bounds to reporters from overseas.

The new Foreign Minister says these are his ideas as Bob Carr personal citizen and now he will toe the government line but surely, as Foreign Minister, he will be helping to form the Government line.

The former Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd, for all his faults, at least had the gumption to stand up at Peking University and, in a speech to the country's young elite say that "in Tibet there are indeed human rights abuses". For this he's been criticised by Australian diplomats and some China watchers for "lecturing to the Chinese".

So does Bob Carr's appointment mean we are now in for a period of apologist approaches to Tibet - not unlike that of the Labor government in the 1980s towards Indonesia regarding East Timor and West Papua?

People who live under what they consider to be oppressive regimes don't expect the Australian Government to call for their independence but then again they don't expect us to actively barrack for the team with its boots on their head.

As a journalist, I am not advocating one approach or another to Tibet. I'll leave that to the activists, to the experts and to governments but it is quite instructive to see the mindset of the man who will be taking over the foreign affairs reigns in terms of his world view.

The most important aspect of his argument is that it is not in Australia's interests for the Prime Minister to meet the Dalai Lama. It's not worth upsetting our No. 1 trading partner for the sake of Julia Gillard meeting somebody who Bob Carr sees as sinister and in pursuit of a completely unjustified cause.

Apart from the last bit of this argument with which some would disagree, whatever happened to Australia taking actions because they are simply the right thing to do.

Then there is the long-term view of Australia's interests. Is it more important to not disrupt a steady flow of iron-ore sales to China or to defend the innate right of every human being to live in a free society without daily oppression?

This may sound trite but it is a serious question for Australia to come to terms with as our relationship with China becomes more and more important.

If I am permitted to briefly share my opinion, I don't think that it hurts Australia-China trade one little bit to defend human rights. At the height of the Canberra Beijing Stern Hu Meltdown the two countries signed a major gas deal. The Germans and Americans don't feel the need to compromise and the trade keeps flowing. China has big shoulders and will do business no matter what.

It also goes without saying that I don't think we should lose track of the massive achievements of the Chinese Government in recent decades.

Over to you Foreign Minister - Good luck dealing with this large and complex place.

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