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A New Global Approach: Unite for Tibet G8 lead the way On 11 June 2013, an unidentified nun from eastern Tibet set herself on fire as an act of protest against China’s rule; she is just one individual among well over 100 other Tibetans to have taken this extreme action, most of whom have died 1. 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 Council 2) to the muted expressions of concern today; Governments have been bullied and threatened into silence by an increasingly intransigent China. Now, on the eve of the 2013 G8 Summit, we call on the world’s most influential leaders to adopt a new approach to addressing China; not only over its policies in Tibet, but over the myriad of ways in which China abuses fundamental human rights. This report calls for a coordinated, multilateral initiative on Tibet and addresses why it is in G8 leaders’ interests to adopt such an approach, debunking much of the hysteria around the apparent consequences for nations acting in accordance with their core values and democratic principles.

With the global economy at the centre of the G8 agenda, a “united front” to China is critical. Taking a common approach to international issues is not a new idea. There are numerous examples of multilateral action, such as the international diplomatic collective ‘Friends of Syria’, and of G8 Governments working together; yet, in April 2013, G8 Foreign Ministers failed to even mention Tibet, despite expressing joint concern about at least 20 other nations and regions 3. With the global economy at the centre of the G8 agenda, a “united front” to China is critical. 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.” 4

A fresh approach is needed With the situation in Tibet having sharply deteriorated since 2008, it is vitally important that Governments find new ways to influence China over its failed policies in Tibet. A recent report 5 published by Chatham House documents how, from 1990 to 2004, China mobilized immense diplomatic and economic resources to support the “foreign-policy imperative” of defeating China resolutions at the UN Commission on Human Rights (now Human Rights Council). 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.” 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.

Although the Human Rights Council remains an important forum for multilateral action on Tibet – for example in making recommendations during China’s forthcoming Universal Periodic Review – diplomats acknowledged that China’s offensive and the composition of the Council made country-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 6. 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. The bilateral dialogues enabled China to successfully push discussions about human rights behind closed


Ian Cumming / Office of Tibet

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. In fact, the US, which continued to table China resolutions until 2004, experienced only short-term hiccups in its Sino-US human rights dialogue, showing that the two strategies were not mutually exclusive. Given the “notoriously problematic” 7 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 on China to end its repressive policies in Tibet.

Hollow Threats

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.

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 8; however evidence that proves a correlation between a government’s support for Tibet and the strength of its economic ties with China is limited at best 9. 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% 10. The same pattern has been observed with a number of other G8 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.

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

While China expressed its deep displeasure at all these demonstrations of support, the two nations have continued to share a robust economic relationship 11. Non-G8 western countries such as Australia have the same records to proof, and 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 12. Given the dramatic headlines claiming Prime Minister Cameron’s Dalai Lama meeting could cost the UK “billions” 13, a further question deserving closer examination is the economic value of high level bilateral visits. Government insiders have privately concluded that only a small percentage of the deals talked about 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.” 14 International Governments must recognise that China’s threats to reverse or cancel trade ties are hollow. China is in need of the support of G8 countries, just as G8 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.

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 or issuing statements of support for Tibet. 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. Most recently China has threatened to repossess Vienna’s pandas, a full year after the Austrian Chancellor Werner Faymann dined with the Dalai Lama 15, and whilst David Cameron has rightly refused to apologise to China for his own meeting with the Dalai Lama, it is worth noting that the UK’s change of position on Tibet in 2008 clearly did not buy China’s approbation in any meaningful way. 16 The solution lies in greater solidarity between Governments to prevent China’s bullying.

Sean Gallup / Getty Images

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


G8 nations, including the European Union, must 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.

Office of the Prime Minister, Canada

A New Robust Solution: Now is the time for world leaders to jointly “call China’s bluff”. As Kerry Brown points out, “It’s true that upsetting China might not always have an impact on trade, but perhaps we can think of smarter and better ways of getting our point across to key groups within China on the political and social value issues that matter most to us. That, after all, is one of the main points of diplomacy, isn’t it?” 17 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.

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

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 G8 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 self-censorship doing little to secure even short-term benefits in the bilateral relationship 18, the only solution is for nations to act together in adherence to their core values and democratic principles. The worsening situation in Tibet, where there have now been close to 120 self-immolations, warrants urgent attention from world leaders. We call on G8 leaders to devise a new robust mechanism that has the potential to bring about genuine progress on 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.

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

Notes: 1. See for details of the self-immolation crisis in Tibet. 2.

1965 United Nations resolution on Tibet –


G8 Foreign Ministers’ meeting statement, 11 April 2013 attachment_data/file/185944/G8_Statement_Document.pdf


The Tibetan Test, Edward Lucas, European Voice, 16 May 2013 the-tibetan-test/77253.aspx


“China and the International Human Rights System” by Sonya Sceats with Shaun Breslin, 2012


Human Rights Watch “China EU Talks Sliding towards Irrelevance”, 2012 china-eu-rights-talks-sliding-toward-irrelevance and Dui Hua, “Rights Dialogue: Tough Words, Few Results”, 2011


See 5.


Daily Telegraph “David Cameron’s Rift with China could cost UK billions, 6 May 2013 news/politics/david-cameron/10040319/David-Camerons-rift-with-China-could-cost-UK-billions.html

9. A recent study, “Paying a visit: The Dalai Lama Effect on International Trade” ( 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. 10. 11. 12. 13. See 8. 14. ‘Does upsetting China matter?’, Kerry Brown, CNN, 14 May 2013 http://globalpublicsquare.blogs.cnn. com/2013/05/14/does-upsetting-china-matter/. While China has encouraged the linking of David Cameron’s apparent lack of welcome in China directly to his meeting with the Dalai Lama, a more likely 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 8.] 15. See Sch%F6nbrunn_pandas 16. See 4. 17. See 14. 18. See 4.


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

Chris Greenberg

The Dalai Lama receiving the US Congressional Gold Medal, in a ceremony attended by President George W Bush, in October 2007.


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.

June 2013

A New Global Approach: Unite for Tibet - G8 Lead the Way  

Released to coincide with the 2013 G8 summit in Northern Ireland, this report calls on G8 leaders to lead the way on a new diplomatic initia...

A New Global Approach: Unite for Tibet - G8 Lead the Way  

Released to coincide with the 2013 G8 summit in Northern Ireland, this report calls on G8 leaders to lead the way on a new diplomatic initia...