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British FS's Plea for Human Rights and Autonomy in Tibet During his Chinese Visit

July 19, 2010

Ben Dunant
The Tibet Post International
July 15, 2010

Dharamshala -- British Foreign Secretary William
Hague, during a meeting with his Chinese
counterpart Yang Jiechi in Beijing on Wednesday
14th July, called for "autonomy and human rights
in Tibet". This being his virgin trip to China
since assuming his position, he seized the
opportunity to voice what are, allegedly, his
long-held concerns over the frequent abuses of
human rights in Tibet. After making conciliatory
overtures to Jiechi towards establishing a closer
working relationship between their respective
nations, Hague said, "We want to see long-term
stability for Tibet, which in our view implies
work on human rights and greater autonomy." An
objection to Chinese state tyranny was,
therefore, couched tactfully in terms of China's
national interest, with a stress laid on the
"stability" that remains crucial to such a vast,
diverse nation undergoing rapid social and economic changes.

Hague's demand sits awkwardly upon the
controversial statement of his predecessor, David
Miliband - "Like every other EU member state, and
the United States, we regard Tibet as part of the
People's Republic of China," Miliband said in a
written ministerial statement issued on October
29th 2008, backing the One China policy adhered
to by many of the world's most powerful
democracies including America and, the host of
the Tibetan Government-in-Exile, India. This was
an historic about-turn for Britain on Tibet, an
abandonment of a position held for 94 years - its
colonial roots being in British India's concern
for an independent Tibet to act as a buffer state
against their Chinese and Russian enemies - which
recognised China's "special position" and
"suzerainty" in Tibet, but not Chinese
sovereignty, and was entrenched in international
law, with the UN Security Council recognising it
as distinct from other "provinces" of China.
Miliband, however, declared this distinction and
the very notion of "suzerainty" to be outdated.

Miliband's statement received huge criticism from
a broad coalition of academics, Free Tibet
activist groups and the Tibetan
Government-in-Exile, who asked what Faustian
prize China offered in return. Thubten Samphel,
the latter's spokesman, said his government was
"greatly disappointed. For the British Government
to change its position at this stage to us seems
counter-productive." The Free Tibet Campaign
claimed the British government was "rewriting
history". Robbie Barnett, a British-born
historian of Tibet at Columbia University, said
that Miliband's statement gave away the only
leverage the outside world had to influence
events in Tibet. Miliband did, however, pledge
his firm support towards His Holiness the Dalai
Lama's mission for greater regional autonomy
within China, and strongly backed talks between
the Chinese Communist Party and envoys of His
Holiness, the latest round of which had just
wound up in Beijing - talks which later proved to
be abortive, with China conceding nothing.

It would appear that, despite loud support for a
free Tibet among their citizens, the governments
of Europe and America have aligned themselves
with His Holiness the Dalai Lama's Middle Way
approach: under this pragmatic, concessionary
proposal, the Chinese government would retain
control of diplomacy and defence, but allow Tibet
to be governed by an elected body. However, with
substantial business interests in and an
increasing financial dependency on the rocketing
economy of China, it is naïve to expect more from
these governments that the odd principled
statement, like that from Hague, with no concrete
political or economic pressure to follow; the
sanctions declared frequently against the Burmese
military junta are very unlikely to be repeated
here. Such is the reality of a global power shift
from West to East, in which the ‘moral authority'
of Euroamerica becomes increasingly impotent and
rising states like China become ever less
accountable to international law. Tibet, it often seems, is on its own.
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