John Howard

John Howard

Australian Prime Minister John Howard has announced that he is visiting China from August 17 to 19, 2003, but Tibet does not seem to be among the issues he will be raising with the Chinese leaders.

In his statement on August 5, 2003, Howard said, “The focus of my visit will be to meet with the new Chinese leadership, including President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao, who assumed office early this year.”

Howard added, “My visit will also provide a timely opportunity to discuss international issues, including key regional security concerns. China has been playing a crucial role in bringing North Korea to the negotiating table along with other key players. China’s continued positive involvement will be vital if efforts to achieve a durable and peaceful solution are to succeed. I hope to discuss with China’s leaders how this process might be taken forward.”

There is no mention of raising the Tibet issue or even human rights or religious freedom issues during Howard’s meeting with Chinese leaders.

In 1997, Prime Minister Howard was advised by the then chief of the Australian Foreign Affairs Department, Phillip Flood, not to touch on “sensitive issues” like that of Tibet, during his then visit to China. Flood had visited Beijing to prepare for the Prime Minister then and reported back saying China’s unrelenting position on human rights and non-interference in internal affairs, “whether relating to China, Tibet or Hong Kong, poses a real policy challenge for us” and warning that the “problem” needed careful management.

In the past Prime Minister Howard and his government have been criticized for not giving due attention to the Australian public’s concern over the situation in Tibet. Tibet supporters charged Howard with avoiding meeting the Dalai Lama during his visit to Australia in May 2002.

This will be Howard’s fourth visit to China as Prime Minister. You can email Prime Minister Howard asking him to raise the Tibetan issue during his talks with Chinese leaders.