The British Government has issued an important statement on Tibet that is a strong assertion of support for the dialogue between the Chinese Government and envoys of the Dalai Lama. The envoys have been pressing the Chinese for a resolution of issues that would lead to a solution for Tibet based on genuine autonomy for the Tibetan people within the People’s Republic of China. The British Government statement, issued by Foreign and Commonwealth Office Minister David Miliband on October 29, was issued on the eve of the eighth round of the dialogue (November 4 and 5 in Beijing).

“These talks are hugely important for the future of Tibet. They provide the only forum in which there is any realistic possibility of progress to resolve differences between the parties involved,” the statement read.

“The British statement is a welcomed departure from the quiet diplomacy that has allowed China to stall and obfuscate its intentions for the dialogue. The statement also responds to the growing frustrations among Tibetans, including the Dalai Lama, about engaging China in fruitless talks while the situation in Tibet remains unchanged and so very difficult,” said Mary Beth Markey, VP for International Advocacy at the International Campaign for Tibet.

The Miliband statement signals a rising multilateral approach on Tibet.

“No government which is committed to promoting international respect for human rights can remain silent on the issue of Tibet or disinterested in a solution to its problems… Like every other EU member state and the United States, we regard Tibet as part of the People’s Republic of China. Our interest is in long term stability, which can only be achieved through respect for human rights and greater autonomy for the Tibetans.”

In squaring its position with that of the EU, Miliband included a controversial element in the statement about Britain’s early-20th century recognition of China’s “suzerainty” over Tibet, a concept Miliband called “outdated” and “anachronistic.” (This adjustment in Britain’s position is known to have been welcomed by the Chinese government). British recognition of China’s suzerainty over Tibet was, significantly, conditioned on Tibetan autonomy. Miliband’s statement calls for “greater autonomy for the Tibetan people” than currently exists in Tibet.

It should be noted that the British Government recognition of China’s “special position” in Tibet pre-dates the founding of the People’s Republic of China in 1949. The Miliband statement speaks to Tibet’s current, not historic, status: “we regard Tibet as part of the People’s Republic of China.”