"British foreign policy on Tibet is whatever China wants it to be"

3rd December 2012

“Weakness” of Cameron government exploited by China

Two UK government ministers were ordered to snub the Dalai Lama earlier this year in order to appease China. Channel Four's Dispatches programme (aired at 8pm tonight) reveals the two were sent a note just minutes before the meeting telling them that they could not attend due to sensitive economic negotiations with China.

China determines UK policy

The ministers wrote to the Prime Minister saying that this was “tantamount to saying that British foreign policy on Tibet is whatever China wants it to be”. The note goes on to say that “where Tibet is concerned, the Chinese government does not respond positively to any conciliatory gesture by the British government, but instead interprets this as a sign of weakness and so makes further demands for concessions”. Free Tibet agrees with this conclusion.

  • UK policy is determined by the perceived need to appease China
  • This not only betrays the people of Tibet but also UK public opinion. An independent opinion poll commissioned by Free Tibet found that just 13% of UK citizens believe that good trade relations with China are more important than protecting human rights. 74% agreed that human rights were as or more important.
  • The UK has no strategy to resolve the crisis in Tibet
  • For more than a decade the UK’s policy has been to hide behind the Sino-Tibetan dialogue. However this dialogue broke down in June when Tibetan representatives resigned saying that China was not interested in a settlement. Since then, despite repeated requests by Free Tibet and our supporters, the government has not revealed any new strategy to address the situation.
  • The UK government has taken no public action in response to the current crisis in Tibet
  • While the human rights situation in Tibet has deteriorated significantly in recent months and Tibetan resistance has grown exponentially, the UK government has issued no calls for action or raised the situation with Chinese authorities at ministerial level. Compare this with the many public declarations of support for freedom protests in other parts of the world (see video below).
  • Conciliatory gestures towards China achieve nothing
  • In 2008, the UK government performed the ultimate gesture towards China by recognising that Tibet was part of China. This betrayal of the Tibetan people was justified by claiming it would allow the UK the freedom to take a tougher line with China on Tibet. The events of the last year have proved that this was a fallacy.

'Unlawful' treatment of Dalai Lama

The revelation comes just days after a South African court said the South African government acted unlawfully in failing to give the Dalai Lama an entry visa in time to attend the 80th birthday celebrations of Archbishop Desmond Tutu. The South African judge blamed pressure from China for the government's decision.

Take action

Email UK Foreign Secretary William Hague demanding that the UK change its position on Tibet.