G20 Unite for Tibet

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A New Global Approach Since 2008 there has been a dramatic intensification of Chinese state control across Tibet in the form of a violent crackdown. In August 2013, the New York Times reported that Chinese Communist Party cadres had been filling meeting halls around China to hear warnings, believed to have been issued by Xi Jinping, that “Power could escape their grip unless the party eradicates seven subversive currents coursing through Chinese society.” The ‘seven perils’ include “Western constitutional democracy”; promoting “universal values” of human rights, Western-inspired notions of media independence and civic participation.1 Meanwhile Tibetans in Tibet continue to nonviolently resist China’s rule in ongoing protests against a wealth of failed Tibet policies including discriminatory education, environmental destruction, restriction on fundamental human rights including religion and freedom of speech and loss of Tibetan cultural identity. In August 2014 paramilitary police open fire on a crowd of Tibetans who were peacefully protesting the detention of a respected village elder; at least six Tibetans died from the incident and many more were injured.2 In the past five years the situation has caused more than 130 Tibetans across the plateau, young and old, to set fire to their own bodies in protest against China’s rule, most of whom have died.3

The G20 summit is an opportunity for world leaders to directly address Xi Jinping over his Party’s failed policies in Tibet. After more than 60 years of occupation by China, the reality of the situation in Tibet is an increasingly tragic cycle; the more China tightens its grip, the stronger the Tibetan spirit of resistance becomes, and the more each new wave of protest provokes a brutal military, judicial and propaganda crackdown. Conversely, the international community’s response to the suffering of the Tibetan people under China’s rule is the exact opposite; with China’s economic and political rise, explicit support from Governments has fallen away, from the days of United Nations resolutions (the last such in 1965, prior to the People’s Republic of China joining the Security Council4) to the muted expressions of concern today, Governments have been bullied and threatened into silence by an increasingly intransigent China. We believe there is a diplomatic solution. By standing together, our governments can improve the situation for Tibetans. Working in unison, governments can pressure China more strongly to end its dangerously provocative policies in Tibet, and let China know that bullying and playing divide and rule with individual nations that support Tibet is unacceptable. We further urge G20 leaders to immediately adopt a new approach to seeking progress on Tibet, through the creation of a coordinated, multilateral initiative that will advance international policy on Tibet.

Sonam Zoksang

The Dalai Lama meeting with Barack Obama as Senator in 2005. As US President, Barack Obama has met the Dalai Lama twice, most recently in 2011.

Taking a common approach to international issues is not a new idea. There are numerous examples of multilateral action, such as the UN -sponsored referendum in East Timor, the South Sudan comprehensive peace agreement and the recent Syrian peace talks. Yet despite China’s long-standing occupation of Tibet and chronic human rights abuses there, Tibet is rarely a topic for coordinated action. We call on like-minded governments to meet regularly and discuss Tibet policy, and actively work together at all opportunities, such as at the United Nations Human Rights Council, within the EU and other multilateral fora.5 Beijing’s long-term strategy is to outlast Tibetan resistance and silence international criticism, but in spite of the overwhelming suffering Tibetans face, their spirit and resolve is stronger than ever. Public support for the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan people’s nonviolent movement also continues to grow around the globe. There is considerable political empathy for Tibet, now it needs to be matched by collective diplomatic action. Likeminded Governments will increase their leverage over China on Tibet if they speak in one voice. As journalist Edward Lucas wrote in the European Review, if Western Governments “adopted a common position (something on the lines of ‘we will meet with anyone we choose to, regardless of diplomatic bluster’), then the Chinese protests would be fireworks not cannons. China can afford to pick off individual countries, punishing them with a ban on high-level meetings and visits, or even trade and investment sanctions. But it cannot do that to the entire West.” 6 This report highlights China’s aggressive foreign policy that is intended to silence Governments over Tibet, describes how it is in G20 leaders’ interests to adopt a coordinated approach to China on Tibet, and de-bunks the myths around the alleged consequences for those nations acting in accordance with their core values and democratic principles.


Ian Cumming / Office of Tibet

A fresh approach is needed Since 2008, China’s security clampdown and failed policies have led to a rapidly deteriorating situation across Tibet. It is vitally important that Governments find new ways to influence China over its failed policies in Tibet. A recent report7 published by Chatham House documents how, from 1990 to 2004, China mobilized immense diplomatic and economic resources to support its “foreign-policy imperative” of ensuring that resolutions critical of China’s human rights record at the UN Commission on Human Rights (now the Human Rights Council) were defeated. The report quotes a US human rights expert: “A colleague used to say that more roads than one could count were built in third world countries that happened to be members of the Commission on Human Rights, because of the introduction of the annual China resolution.”

The Dalai Lama meeting with David Cameron, as Leader of the Opposition, in May 2008. As British Prime Minister, David Cameron most recently met the Dalai Lama in May 2012.

Although the Human Rights Council remains an important forum for multilateral action on Tibet – for example in making recommendations for China’s forthcoming Universal Periodic Review – diplomats acknowledged that China’s offensive and the composition of the Council made countryspecific resolutions impractical. In a directly related development, a number of key Governments began bilateral human rights dialogues with China in the mid-1990s, including the US, Canada, UK, Australia, Germany, Norway, Switzerland and the EU. Almost 20 years later, as critics point out, these dialogues have produced little, if any, positive improvements in the human rights situation in China and Tibet.8 Canada and Switzerland have since suspended their dialogues, citing lack of progress; Norway’s is thought to be suspended following Liu Xiaobo’s 2010 Nobel Peace Prize, and China has dragged its feet over its human rights dialogue with the EU, effectively reducing its frequency to once a year.

Chinese officials have been unrelenting in their efforts to entrench the predominant view that, by showing support for Tibet, a country risks damaging the bilateral economic relationship. 3

The bilateral dialogues enabled China to successfully push discussions about human rights behind closed doors, regularly threatening cancellation of these talks if there was any attempt to renew criticism of its human rights record at the UN Human Rights Commission or Council. The US was the sole nation to continue to table China resolutions until 2004; during this time it experienced only short-term hiccups in its Sino-US human rights dialogue, demonstrating that the two strategies were not mutually exclusive. China meanwhile has offered other nations, such as Poland, a dialogue on human rights, since from China’s point of view it remains a successful strategy to silence criticism. Given the “notoriously problematic” 9 bilateral dialogues, and limitations on the effectiveness of certain mechanisms in the Human Rights Council, Governments need to urgently find other means to build leverage over China to end its repressive policies in Tibet.

Hollow Threats

In April 2013 China created a diplomatic spat with the UK over Prime Minister David Cameron’s meeting with the Dalai Lama in May 2012. China reportedly cancelled high-level visits in retaliation for this public show of support for Tibet, including Cameron’s intended trip to greet Beijing’s new leaders; however in January 2013 China Daily reported that trade with the UK in 2012 was up 7.5%, with British exports to China jumping more than 15%.12 The same pattern has been observed with a number of other G20 countries. In 2007 the US awarded the Dalai Lama the Congressional Gold Medal, the US’s highest civilian honour. Furthermore serving Presidents have met with the Dalai Lama at the White House on numerous occasions. While China expressed its deep displeasure at all these demonstrations of support, the two nations have continued to share a robust economic relationship.13 Australia has the same records to proof 14 and, among non-G20 nations, even Norway, which incurred China’s wrath over Liu Xiaobo’s Nobel Peace Prize in December 2010, produced a 14% increase in exports to China the following year.15 Sean Gallup / Getty Images

The Dalai Lama meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in The Chancellery, Berlin in 2007.

A further foreign policy imperative for China is to prevent Government leaders from meeting the Dalai Lama. In recent years Chinese officials have been unrelenting in their efforts to entrench the predominant view that, by showing support for Tibet, a country risks damaging the bilateral economic relationship. China is quick to lodge protests when any leader meets with the Dalai Lama or raises human rights concerns about Tibet;10 however evidence that shows a correlation between a Government’s support for Tibet and the strength of its economic ties with China is limited at best.11


Given the dramatic media headlines claiming Prime Minister Cameron’s Dalai Lama meeting could cost the UK “billions”,16 a further question deserving closer

Office of the Prime Minister, Canada

examination is the economic value of high level bilateral visits. Government insiders have privately concluded that only a small percentage of the deals discussed during Presidential or Prime Ministerial meetings actually comes to fruition. China analyst Kerry Brown wrote: “we may now have entered an age of the withering away of the official visit, where business people, academics and others are just allowed to get on with it.” 17 International Governments must recognise that China’s threats to reverse or cancel trade ties are hollow. China is in need of the support of its G20 partners, just as G20 countries share the need for a relationship with China. However it is a relationship of interdependence, and Governments must be on equal terms with China, and ensure that core values and democratic principles are not compromised.

The Dalai Lama meets Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper in 2007. Prime Minister Harper met the Dalai Lama most recently in 2012.

Don’t give in to China’s bullying As long as Governments allow, China will continue to make “virtual threats” as a tactic to dissuade leaders from meeting the Dalai Lama, issuing statements of support for Tibet and applying real diplomatic pressure that cannot be ignored by Beijing. The power of China’s threats comes from how they are perceived rather than the reality. As long as Government leaders show they are willing to kow-tow, Beijing will press for greater concessions and attempt to punish those who chose to uphold principled positions on Tibet and human rights. In June 2013, China threatened to repossess Vienna’s pandas, a full year after the Austrian Chancellor Werner Faymann dined with the Dalai Lama.18 And whilst British officials maintained that David Cameron had no intention of apologising to China for his own meeting with the Dalai Lama, an ingratiating statement from Mr Cameron to the House of Commons19 did enough to secure forgiveness and pave the way for an expected visit to China this September. It is also worth noting that the UK’s change of position on Tibet in 2008 clearly did not buy China’s long-term approbation.20 The solution lies in greater solidarity among Governments to prevent China’s bullying. Although G20 members are a diverse group of nations, the majority have democratic values to uphold and should, along with the European Union, respond to China’s behaviour with a strong united front, making it clear that picking on their members and other countries, especially less influential nations, is unacceptable.

Visible coordinated diplomatic action on Tibet is a viable approach that would give Governments leverage over China that does not currently exist. 5

A New Robust Solution: Now is the time for world leaders to jointly call China’s bluff over Tibet. Governments must urgently change the way they engage with China over Tibet since current strategies, including bilateral human rights dialogues, have failed to deliver long term benefits for the Tibetan people. A multilateral policy on the human rights situation in Tibet should be part of a consistent, principled, common approach in which all countries are subject to the same international human rights standards, regardless of such factors as their status in the United Nations, or their potential as markets. Visible coordinated diplomatic action on Tibet is a viable approach that would give Governments leverage over China that does not currently exist. The combined voices of many of the world’s most prominent Governments would have a greater likelihood of generating concessions from China over its policies in Tibet, while the multilateral nature of this approach would provide participating Governments with stronger measures of protection from China’s punitive reaction. We urge Governments of G20 nations to establish a multilateral forum for Tibet, in order to better coordinate diplomatic initiatives, including joint démarches, vigorous action in appropriate international fora, and supportive programmatic assistance. With China’s diplomatic and economic threats more hot air than genuinely harmful, and with voluntary gestures of selfcensorship doing little to secure even short-term benefits in the bilateral relationship,21 the only solution is for nations to act together in accordance with their core values and democratic principles. The worsening situation in Tibet, where more than 130 Tibetans have set themselves on fire, warrants urgent attention and action from world Governments that goes far beyond statements of concern. We call on G20 leaders to devise a new robust mechanism that has the potential to bring about genuine progress in ending the 60-year occupation of Tibet, whilst safeguarding each other’s diplomatic relationships with China. For Tibet, the situation has never been more critical. It is time to Unite for Tibet.

The solution lies in greater solidarity between Governments to prevent China’s bullying.


Notes: 1.

The warnings were contained in a memo referred to as “Document 9”; see http://www.nytimes.com/2013/08/20/ world/asia/chinas-new-leadership-takes-hard-line-in-secret-memo.html

2. See http://standupfortibet.org/learn-more/ for details of the self-immolation crisis in Tibet. 3.

See International Tibet Network statement http://www.tibetnetwork.org/sites/default/files/ InternationalTibetNetworkStatementonTawuShootings.July9_.pdf


1965 United Nations resolution on Tibet – http://tibetjustice.org/materials/un/un6.html


G8 Foreign Ministers’ meeting statement, 11 April 2013 https://www.gov.uk/government/news/g8-foreignministers-meeting-statement


The Tibetan Test, Edward Lucas, European Voice, 16 May 2013 http://www.europeanvoice.com/article/imported/ the-tibetan-test/77253.aspx. The article can also be viewed at http://standupfortibet.org/the-tibetan-test/ (reproduced with permission).


“China and the International Human Rights System” by Sonya Sceats with Shaun Breslin, 2012 http://www. chathamhouse.org/sites/default/files/public/Research/International%20Law/r1012_sceatsbreslin.pdf


Human Rights Watch “China EU Talks Sliding towards Irrelevance”, 2012 http://www.hrw.org/news/2012/05/25/ china-eu-rights-talks-sliding-toward-irrelevance and Dui Hua, “Rights Dialogue: Tough Words, Few Results”, 2011 http://duihua.org/wp/?p=1189


See Note 7.

10. Daily Telegraph “David Cameron’s Rift with China could cost UK billions, 6 May 2013 http://www.telegraph.co.uk/ news/politics/david-cameron/10040319/David-Camerons-rift-with-China-could-cost-UK-billions.html 11. A recent study, “Paying a visit: The Dalai Lama Effect on International Trade” (http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers. cfm?abstract_id=1694602) using data drawn from 1991 to 2008, attempted to relate short term dips in exports to China to Government meetings with the Dalai Lama. The dips the authors found disappeared within two years, however other factors that might have affected trade during this period were not adequately considered. 12. http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/china/2013-01/13/content_16108853.htm 13. See http://www.census.gov/foreign-trade/balance/c5700.html and http://articles.washingtonpost.com/2012-03-11/ world/35449392_1_export-figures-china-boom-john-frisbie 14. http://www.dfat.gov.au/geo/fs/chin.pdf 15. http://www.ncchk.org.hk/trading-and-business/introduction-2/bilateral-relations/ 16. See Note 10. 17. ‘Does upsetting China matter?’, Kerry Brown, CNN, 14 May 2013 http://globalpublicsquare.blogs.cnn. com/2013/05/14/does-upsetting-china-matter/. Whilst China linked David Cameron’s apparent lack of welcome in China directly to his meeting with the Dalai Lama, another explanation is the UK Government’s inadequate relationships with China’s new Party Leaders. The Telegraph quoted Alistair Michie, deputy chairman of the 48 Group, as saying. “None of our leaders has a personal relationship with any of the new Chinese leaders, and relationships are key to doing business with China.” [See Note 10.] 18. See http://austriantimes.at/news/General_News/2013-06-04/48959/China_threatens_to_take_back_ Sch%F6nbrunn_pandas 19. See http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/politics/david-cameron/10042095/No-apology-from-Downing-Street-overDalai-Lama-meeting.html and http://blogs.channel4.com/gary-gibbon-on-politics/cameron-olive-branch-to-china 20. See Note 6. 21. See Note 6.


This report has been compiled by a Campaign Working Group made up of Member groups of the International Tibet Network. The Campaign Working Group is charged with devising and implementing a globally coordinated campaign to generate strong, multilateral diplomatic action for Tibet by key Governments, resulting in increased pressure on China to alleviate the current crackdown in Tibet and address legitimate Tibetan grievances. Campaign Working Group members are; Associazione Italia-Tibet, Australia Tibet Council, Students for a Free Tibet, US Tibet Committee, Tibet Action Institute, Tibet Initiative Deutschland, Tibet Society, Tibetan Programme, The Other Space Foundation and Tibetan Women’s Association.

September 2013


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