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"As long as human rights are violated, there can be no foundation for peace. How can peace grow where speaking the truth is itself a crime?"

"Tibet issue" a thorn in China-Europe ties

June 19, 2009

    By Gao Zugui

    (Source: China Daily)


    BEIJING, June 19 -- Earlier this month, the Dalai Lama launched a new campaign of "exiled publicity" in Europe, which severely tests China-Europe political relations.


    Looking back, we will find there did not exist a "Tibet issue" in the early period of China-European Union (EU) relations. In its first strategic document on ties with China, drafted by the European Commission in 1995, Tibet was not touched upon. The position remained unchanged when the Commission mapped out another policy in March 1998 on the establishment of a full partnership between the EU and China.


    Unfortunately, in less than a decade, the so-called "Tibet issue" - an internal affair of China - has developed into one of the biggest issues causing friction and serious tensions between China and the EU. This has been caused by a string of complicated factors, but that China and EU relations have entered a stage of recurrent friction has contributed to the emergence of the Tibet issue on the agenda of Sino-EU bilateral relations.


    From a strategic perspective, China's national strengths and international influence have been steadily increasing over the past decade. In particular, the country's status as the world's third largest economy and its contribution to this year's world economic growth, undoubtedly have exerted a certain impact on the international standing of some old developed European nations such as Britain, France and Germany.


    An emerging China has added to Europe's ambivalence when dealing with the Asian nation for the benefit of its own interests. Against this backdrop, the smooth bilateral relationship China and the EU boasted in the 1990s is facing more and more challenges, with political, economic and trade disputes and points of friction increasing. Clashes and quarrels between overseas Chinese and local residents have also increased.


    As the sense of anxiety and crisis among these old developed European countries grow over their marginalization in global affairs, or being caught up with by a rapidly developing China, it seems inevitable for these countries to do what they believe will be useful to retain their advantages.


    The "Tibet issue," in the eyes of Europeans, is an issue of human rights, religious and journalistic freedom and protecting native cultures, and far from one linked to China's core national interests such as sovereignty and territorial integrity. Due to such preconceptions and wrong perceptions, European countries usually abandon all caution when it comes to the Tibet issue and related matters. Besides, some European politicians have ulterior motives and the vicious intention of containing and checking the emergence of China as a global power.


    On April 17, the European Council on Foreign Relations published a report on the assessment of the forces between China and the EU, explicitly pointing out the EU should no longer exercise any restraint on China's human rights and citizenship issues. Instead, the report believes, the EU should combine issues such as protecting freedom of religion and promoting so-called political reconciliation with the Chinese central government to reinforce, and not weaken the EU's stance on the so-called issue of human rights in China. The report states that European leaders and its parliament should issue a statement refusing to accept Beijing's "imposition of restrictions" on their meetings with some political and religious figures, including the Dalai Lama.


    The changes in the policies of some European countries toward China as well as the increased tensions have obviously offered the exiled Dalai Lama clique - which is soliciting international backing for its confrontation with the Chinese central government - a rare chance for gaining Europe's support.


    With the rise of China's global influence and more countries becoming appreciative of its policies, the Dalai Lama clique and some international anti-China forces find the space for their anti-China activities to be shrinking. As a result, a sense of crisis is rising among these forces. For the sake of their survival, these anti-China forces have to strengthen their own ties and move to build new ties with some Tibet-related non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in the US and the EU. According to incomplete statistics, there are some 200 Tibet-related NGOs operating in Europe with about 200,000 members. Their frequent engagement and increasing interactions with European politicians have added to tensions in Sino-EU relations.


    The author is director of the Center of Strategic Studies, China Institute of Contemporary International Relations

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