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"I believe that to meet the challenges of our times, human beings will have to develop a greater sense of universal responsibility. It is the foundation for world peace."

Tibet issue a litmus test for European Union

July 8, 2013

by Elena Gaita

July 3, 2013 - The Tibet issue is a litmus test for the European Union, Lithuanian MEP Leonidas Donskis observed as the Baltic country assumed the six-monthly rotating presidency of the Council of the EU this week. Since February 2009, some 120 Tibetans have set themselves on fire in one of the biggest waves of self-immolation as political protest globally in half a century.

Tibetans are on the frontline of a life and death struggle to protect their religious identity. Yet despite enduring almost unbearable oppression since the Chinese took over Tibet more than 60 years ago, Tibetans have not turned to violence, and remain steadfast in their peaceful resistance due to the influence of their revered exiled leader the Dalai Lama. Donskis said: "Tibet is a role model of soft power, and we celebrate the Dalai Lama as a similar historic figure to Sakharov, Vaclav Havel, and Nelson Mandela. The EU should act in a much more decisive way [to support Tibet]."

The people of the Baltic states know what it is to face political persecution under an occupying power. It would be an appropriate moment, under a Lithuanian presidency, for the EU to facilitate genuine engagement between the Dalai Lama and the Chinese leadership on Tibet's future. Like the Dalai Lama, the EU is a recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize. This gives the EU even greater authority in its reconciliation and peace-building work and now is the time for this to be applied to the crisis in Tibet.

While the EU has occasionally voiced its concerns about the degradation of the human rights situation in Tibet and the high number of Tibetan self-immolations, these statements have yet to be matched by concrete action. Ultimately, the EU and China can only become real strategic partners when genuine and concrete improvements on human rights take place in Tibet as well as in the rest of China. This is a necessary precondition for stable EU-China relations.

Under Lithuania's presidency, it would be appropriate for the EU to issue a statement of solidarity in common response to the bullying of the Beijing leadership of European leaders who show the moral integrity and courage in meeting with the Dalai Lama. In the United Kingdom, 10 Downing Street defended Prime Minister David Cameron's right to meet whomever he wants after Britain and China's relationship plunged into the deep freeze when the PM met the Dalai Lama last year. It is not up to the Beijing leadership to dictate a political agenda to democratic European countries, and surely the EU should assert this.

A common approach on such meetings in the EU makes sense given the anticipation in Vilnius of the Dalai Lama's visit in September. There is widespread popular support for the Tibetan cause in Lithuania, and Lithuanian MEPs have spoken out in the European Parliament about the need to take a stand against China on Tibet. Unlike some other European countries, members of the Lithuanian parliament met the Tibetan Prime Minister Lobsang Sangay during his recent visit to Vilnius.

The International Campaign for Tibet also recommends under Lithuania's presidency a more robust EU stand on reinforcing international cooperation on Tibet with like-minded countries, particularly by using the coming Universal Periodic Review on China in October to press the Chinese government on the situation in Tibet.

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