The Select Committee on Foreign Affairs of the House of Commons in the United Kingdom has said that “the Chinese assertion that the Dalai Lama advocates Tibetan independence flies in the face of public statements made by the Dalai Lama.” It has recommended that the British Government continue to press the Chinese Government on the issue of the Dalai Lama’s return to Tibet.
This conclusion and recommendation are contained in the seventh report of the Committee that was made public in July 2006. The report was compiled after committee members visited Tibet and China, met Chinese and British government officials and heard from expert witnesses as well as from the Office of Tibet in London.
Committee members Sir John Stanley, Mr Fabian Hamilton, Andrew Mackinlay, Ms Gisela Stuart, and Mr. Richard Younger-Ross visited Lhasa and Tsethang from May 13 to 15, 2006 and met the Abbot and Management Committee of Sera Monastery, Vice Chairman of the Standing Committee of the People’s Congress of Tibet Autonomous Region, Vice Chairman of the Government of the Tibet Autonomous Region, Deputy Mayor of Lhasa Municipal Government, Officials from the Development and Reform Commission, Public Security Bureau and Environmental Protection Bureau, Tibet Autonomous Region, Tsering, Deputy Director-General of the Working Committee of the People’s Congress of Lhoka Prefecture, and the Abbot and Management Committee of Samye Monastery.
The Committee has said “freedom of religious belief and worship in Tibet remains significantly restricted.” Further, it said that China’s appointment of a Panchen Lama “is a serious abuse of the right of freedom of religion” and has recommended that the British Government press China to respect the right of the Tibetan religious leaders in choosing the next incarnation.
In response to a question by a Committee member on the British Government’s views on Tibet, Rt Hon Margaret Beckett, a Member of the House, Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, said, “We are also seeking to use what I think is a degree of goodwill and mutual confidence that we are gradually building up with the Chinese Government to encourage political dialogue and try to encourage from all quarters an approach of trying to identify a greater degree of common ground so that there can be a more peaceful approach and peaceful settlement in the area of Tibet.”
The Foreign Affairs Committee is appointed by the House of Commons to examine the administration, expenditure and policy of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and its associated agencies.
Following are the full text of the Tibet section of the conclusions and recommendations, the Tibet section of the report, and proceedings of the examination of British Foreign Office officials on Tibet. The full report is available at www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm200506/cmselect/cmfaff/860/86002.htm.
Conclusions And Recommendations
- We conclude that the Chinese assertion that the Dalai Lama advocates Tibetan independence flies in the face of public statements made by the Dalai Lama. We recommend that the Government continue to press the Chinese to allow the Dalai Lama to return to Tibet in his capacity as spiritual leader. (Paragraph 369)
- We conclude that Beijing’s insistence on controlling the appointment of the next Panchen Lama is a serious abuse of the right of freedom of religion. We recommend that the Government press for the recognition by the Chinese of the right of Tibetan religious leaders to choose the next Panchen Lama according to their religious beliefs and practices. (Paragraph 372)
- We conclude that the economic development of Tibet is to be welcomed, if it brings improvements to the living standards of ordinary Tibetans, and if Tibetan people have ownership over the process. We recommend that the Government urge its Chinese counterparts to improve the degree of Tibetan involvement in development decisions and emphasise to the Chinese the beneficial effect of such involvement on social stability. (Paragraph 375)
- We conclude that freedom of religious belief and worship in Tibet remains significantly restricted. We recommend that the Government continue to press this issue with its Chinese counterparts, emphasising the beneficial influence which religious freedom can have on social cohesion. (Paragraph 380)
- We conclude that the Tibetan people have a right to conduct their economic and social lives in the Tibetan language; that Tibetan culture should be preserved; and that Tibetan secular and religious buildings of architectural, historic and religious significance should be protected. We recommend that the Government urge the government of the Peoples Republic of China to strengthen the use of Tibetan in the education system in the Tibetan Autonomous Region and other ethnic Tibetan areas. (Paragraph 386)
Tibetan Autonomous Region
- During our visit to China, part of the Committee visited Lhasa and Tsedang in the Tibetan Autonomous Region, and held meetings with a range of officials from municipal and regional government as well as monks of Sera and Samye monasteries. We were dependent upon our hosts in Beijing for our programme, so were not able to contact dissenting groups on the ground. At least one representative of the NPC in Beijing was present at all of our meetings.
- The relationship between mainland China and Tibet is a complex one. The main source of contention from which other problems stem is the Chinese insistence that Tibet has always been part of China. The Chinese Embassy told us that: “China’s sovereignty to Tibet allows no doubt. The Chinese Central Government has been exercising sovereignty over Tibet since the 13th century […] Tibet has never been an independent country, and there is no country in the world that recognizes Tibet as an independent country”.
- The Chinese government characterises the arrival of People’s Liberation Army troops in Lhasa in 1951 as a “peaceful liberation” of Tibetans from a “feudal serfdom system” in which: “The basic rights of subsistence of the majority of the serfs could not be guaranteed, let alone their political rights”. This analysis of history is not shared by others, and the Tibetan Government in Exile, headed by His Holiness the Dalai Lama, who fled Tibet in 1959, “has consistently held that Tibet has been under illegal Chinese occupation since China invaded the independent state in 1949-50”. The FCO memorandum stated that: “Successive British Governments have regarded Tibet as autonomous whilst recognising the special position of the Chinese authorities there […] HMG does not recognise the so-called ‘Tibetan Government in Exile'”.
- In Tibet, traditional religious leaders such as the Dalai Lama and Panchen Lama have, in the past, had a role in government. This has led to particular difficulties in encouraging dialogue between religious leaders and the Chinese authorities. Although four rounds of talks have taken place between the Chinese and the Tibetan Government in Exile, the Chinese Embassy described the current Dalai Lama as “not only a religious figure, but a political exile engaged in separatist activities”. The Chinese stated that “The door for negotiation is always open”. However, the Chinese judgement is that:
although the Dalai Lama kept changing tactics, his position on Tibetan independence did not budge at all, neither did the nature of his separatist activities. The Dalai clique has never abandoned the separatist activities both at home and abroad, and they do not have any sincerity in engaging and negotiating with the Central Government.
- The Dalai Lama himself has, in fact, made public statements renouncing his former political role and accepting Chinese rule. In 2005, he said that:
My involvement in the affairs of Tibet is not for the purpose of claiming certain personal rights or political position for myself nor attempting to stake claims for the Tibetan administration in exile […] when we return to Tibet with a certain degree of freedom I will not hold any office in the Tibetan government or any other political position and […] the present Tibetan administration in exile will be dissolved.
- In 2006, the Dalai Lama said that: “I have only one demand: self-rule and genuine autonomy for all Tibetans, i.e., the Tibetan nationality in its entirety. This demand is in keeping with the provisions of the Chinese constitution, which means it can be met […] I do not wish to seek Tibet’s separation from China”.
- The Office of Tibet in the UK told us in evidence that the talks with the Chinese Government have been unproductive because of the attitude of the Chinese, stating that: “There have been no positive changes inside Tibet since the opening of direct contact with the Chinese leadership and that there are no clear signs that Chinese leadership is genuinely interested in beginning an honest dialogue”. The FCO told us that: “We have pressed the Chinese repeatedly to continue these contacts [with the Dalai Lama’s representatives] and enter a substantive dialogue without pre-conditions and have made clear our view that negotiations should work towards a long term peaceful solution acceptable to the Tibetan people”.
- We conclude that the Chinese assertion that the Dalai Lama advocates Tibetan independence flies in the face of public statements made by the Dalai Lama. We recommend that the Government continue to press the Chinese to allow the Dalai Lama to return to Tibet in his capacity as spiritual leader.
- The Panchen Lama is the second highest spiritual leader in Tibetan Buddhism after the Dalai Lama. When the Fourteenth Dalai Lama left Tibet in 1959, the Panchen Lama remained in Tibet in uneasy compromise with the Chinese authorities, suffering ten years’ imprisonment for loyalty to the Dalai Lama. After his death in 1989, a search was made, according to Tibetan belief, for his reincarnation. The Dalai Lama announced in 1995 that the reincarnation had been identified as Gedhun Choekyi Nyima, a six year-old boy living in Lhari district in Nagchu, Tibet. However, the Chinese authorities rejected this decision and anointed a different successor, Gyaltsen Norbu, another Tibetan boy; Gedhun Choekyi Nyima has not been seen since. Norbu appeared in April 2005 at the World Buddhism Conference, held in Beijing, and was reported as giving a speech in which he exhorted Tibetans to “defend the nation”.
- The FCO told us that: “We remain concerned about the status of Gedhun Choekyi Nyima” and that at the EU-China Human Rights Dialogue in February 2005, the EU pressed for an independent figure to have access to him. When we visited Tibet, the government authorities assured us that the boy was in good health, and that we should not be concerned about his location.
- We conclude that Beijing’s insistence on controlling the appointment of the next Panchen Lama is a serious abuse of the right of freedom of religion. We recommend that the Government press for the recognition by the Chinese of the right of Tibetan religious leaders to choose the next Panchen Lama according to their religious beliefs and practices.
Examination of Witnesses (Questions 260-279)
Witnesses: Rt Hon Margaret Beckett, a Member of the House, Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, Mr Sebastian Wood CMG, Director for Asia Pacific, and Mr Denis Keefe, Head of Far Eastern Group, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, gave evidence
Rt Hon Margaret Beckett MP, Mr Sebastian Wood and Mr Denis Keefe
13 June 2006
Chairman: We are going to move on to Tibet. Richard?
Q262 Richard Younger-Ross: It is said that the Chinese are subsuming the Tibetan culture and the Tibetan culture is becoming merely a tourist attraction rather than a way of life. Could you explain your concerns about the human rights abuses in Tibet and whether you believe that the Chinese are still intent on bringing more Han Chinese into the country so that the Tibet-ness of Tibet is eventually eliminated altogether?
Margaret Beckett: We do have concerns, as you would expect, about the position in Tibet and we raise those concerns regularly with the Chinese Government and will continue to look for opportunities to do so. As I said before, one of the things that we are trying to do in terms of positive engagement on the ground is encouraging some project work to directly improve the situation of some of the Tibetan people. We are also seeking to use what I think is a degree of goodwill and mutual confidence that we are gradually building up with the Chinese Government to encourage political dialogue and try to encourage from all quarters an approach of trying to identify a greater degree of common ground so that there can be a more peaceful approach and peaceful settlement in the area of Tibet. I appreciate that is perhaps quite a tall order but that is certainly our approach. I know there has been the involvement of the Han Chinese in Tibet but I am not sighted on what we think the pace of that is now or is likely to be. Is that one for you, Denis?
Mr Keefe: It is certainly something that is continuing and of course the Chinese Government’s perspective on it is that they are promoting the economic development of Tibet by doing things like building a railway to Tibet and investing there. Equally it is true, quite clearly, that it does have social effects and I think it is important to go on expressing, as we do through the dialogue and through other contacts, our concerns about the things that are happening in Tibet that we do not like the look of. It is not a straightforward issue in the sense that it is entirely cultural or entirely social. It is very much bound up with the economics of Tibet.
Q263 Richard Younger-Ross: The economics is used as the reason for the improvements. The side effects of that I think are fairly clear and you have referred to them. One of the side effects which has not been referred to very much in the past is the environmental damage and the potential environmental threat that the development of Tibet may pose, which is a very fragile environment. From your previous post you will be well aware of a number of these issues. What concerns do you have or does your Department have on water extraction and economic development and do you believe that poses a real risk to the seven major river sources in South East Asia?
Margaret Beckett: There is obviously a considerable concern about environmental damage, not just in Tibet but across that whole part of the world. I think one thing that I perhaps ought to say, and the Committee perhaps picked up when you were involved in your discussions, is that in recent years in particular the Chinese government has shown a very welcome and indeed a more thorough recognition of some of these dangers and the importance of some of these issues than perhaps many others in the developing world. I take a small amount of credit for my previous Department because, for example, Defra has now embarked on the second phase of its work with the Chinese Department of Agriculture assessing, for example, the most likely impacts of climate change on Chinese agriculture. The reason that the Chinese Government has become engaged in this work is because of their own recognition of how substantial these issues are for the whole length and breadth of China, and that includes in Tibet. This may be an area where there are more fragile eco-systems but there is a great concern across China. One of the things that I think is a huge challenge and a recognised challenge for the Chinese Government is how to get sustainable development and not just development. Of course, the other great challenge and great difficulty for them, which everybody has to do everything they can to help support and work with the Government of China, is it is one thing to get that recognition, as I think increasingly they have at central level but, China being such a vast place, to follow it through locally is not always so easy. So I think there is a real recognition of those challenges and of those potential dangers. From my perspective, as someone who has been engaged on environmental issues for the last five years, China is ahead of the game when it comes to a lot of other states who could have similar problems but are not yet recognising them. I am very impressed by what I have seen of the Chinese Government’s record and their aspirations in this respect.
Q264 Mr Keetch: There is a long way to go in Tibet.
Margaret Beckett: A very long way to go across China, a long way with pollution problems, a long way with biodiversity problems of course, but recognising the problem is the first and most important step.