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What did France give away on Tibet?

April 14, 2009

Posted by Todd Stein
ICT Blog
April 9, 2009

On the eve of the G-20 summit (April 1), the
governments of France and China issued a
joint  "press communiqué" in which France stated
its adherence to a one-China policy and its
position that Tibet is a part of China.

Many saw this as French capitulation to the
emergent China bully, with President Sarkozy,
tail between legs and communiqué in hand, paying
a premium for re-acquisition of "normal
relations" with Beijing following his (mon Dieu!)
meeting with the Dalai Lama last December.  They
question what, if anything, Sarkozy got in return.

On the face of it, the communiqué did not break
new ground. It simply restated France’s position
on the status of Tibet that goes back 40-50 years.

But read a little further and the picture gets
more complicated, and potentially more
ominous.  The communiqué says, "France refuses to
support any form of ‘Tibet independence.’" We
know what this means to China, as they have
labeled the Dalai Lama’s efforts to create
genuine autonomy for Tibetans within the People’s
Republic of China as "semi-independence" or "disguised independence."

Apropos, the Foreign Ministry quickly conflated
French rejection of "any form of Tibetan
independence" with their campaign to stop "the
Dalai Lama engaging in activities overseas aimed at splitting the motherland."

You can bet Chinese Ambassadors around the world
are already inside foreign ministries making the
case against any more visas for the Dalai Lama
(see the latest from South Africa) by citing
France’s agreement to reject the form of
independence advocated by the Tibetan leader.

But what does this language mean to Paris?  We
don’t know; the government has declined to offer
its interpretation.  With this silence, the
Chinese view prevails. And as long as it goes
unchecked by the French government, it weakens
not only the French position on Tibet (supporting
a negotiated solution) but also the Dalai Lama’s
efforts to maintain international support for a
solution based on genuine autonomy.

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