Dispatches revelation: British foreign policy is whatever China wants it to be
Tonight’s Channel 4 Dispatches programme The Chinese are Coming (1) exposes the UK government’s betrayal of the Tibetan people. In a letter obtained by the programme, Norman Baker MP and Tim Loughton MP, both Ministers at the time, declared that the government’s position was “tantamount to saying British foreign policy on Tibet is whatever China wants it to be” (2).
The UK has had no proper strategy regarding Tibet for many years. Successive British governments have hidden behind an ineffective Sino-Tibetan Dialogue, arguing that “meaningful dialogue between the Dalai Lama’s representatives and the Chinese authorities” was the means of achieving a solution. But this Dialogue has offered nothing but a fig leaf for the Chinese and British Governments to hide behind – in 2008 the Chinese negotiator Zhu Weiqun said there was no possibility of the “slightest compromise” and that the two sides were “sharply divided”.
The fallacy of this position was laid bare earlier this year when the Dalai Lama’s Special Envoys to the process finally resigned, citing China’s unwillingness to engage.
This damning indictment comes at a time when the human rights situation in Tibet has deteriorated significantly in recent months and Tibetan resistance has grown exponentially (3). Even in the face of almost 100 Tibetans setting themselves on fire, hundreds of arbitrary arrests and acts of collective punishment neither the Foreign Secretary nor the Prime Minister have condemned the brutal suppression of the Tibetan people. This is in stark contrast to their willingness to publicly speak out against human rights violations and condemn repressive regimes in Burma, Libya and Syria in the past year (4).
The ministers also wrote 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.”
In 2008, the UK government recognised Tibet as part of China, reversing its own historical position. This ultimate gesture of conciliation and betrayal of the Tibetan people reversed a decades-old position for no reward. The Government’s justification for the change in position included removing barriers which had stopped the British Government engaging effectively on Tibet.
The UK-China Human Rights Dialogue, the ineffective mechanism by which the British Government engages with China on human rights has yielded no benefits. The Dialogue is unstructured, irregular and has no set of meaningful benchmarks to monitor progress. China’s has not even provided feedback on the individual cases the British government has raised in these rounds of dialogue.
An independent opinion poll commissioned by Free Tibet, highlights that the Government is out of step with public opinion. Just 13% of UK citizens believe that good trade relations with China are more important than protecting human rights, with 74% agreeing human rights were as or more important. Only 3% believe Tibet should be ruled by China (5).
Free Tibet Director Stephanie Brigden said:
“The veil has been lifted on the cynicism and emptiness of the UK’s policy on Tibet. Britain’s policy is simply to kowtow to Chinese wishes. That policy has failed utterly to win anything for Tibet.
“The government has betrayed both the Tibetan people in their hour of need and the strong views of the British public. It is high time Mr Cameron and Mr Hague were held to account for this failure.”
Notes to editors
(1) Dispatches: The Chinese are Coming, for transmission on Channel 4 tonight, 3rd December, at 8pm.
(2) Letter from Norman Baker MP and Tim Loughton MP to David Cameron, July 2012 http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/asia/tibet/9718389/In-full-Norman-Baker-Tim-Loughton-letter-to-David-Cameron-complaining-about-Dalai-Lama-ban.html
(3) Free Tibet has documented abuses involving the use of torture, lethal force, disappearances. This has led to widespread protests against Chinese rule and calling for freedom for Tibet. Free Tibet has been the primary source of information on those protests, which include demonstrations and individual acts of protest. Since 2009, Free Tibet has documented nearly 100 self-immolations, which are a tool of protest by individuals without political representation or legal recourses. The situation in Tibet is escalating daily, with at least 27 self-immolations since the beginning of November.
(5) ICM Research opinion poll conducted 29 October – 1 November 2010, interviewing a random sample of 100 adults aged 18+, results weighted according to the profile of all adults. http://www.freetibet.org/news-media/pr/poll-reveals-huge-british-public-support-tibet
Free Tibet is an international campaigning organisation that stands for the right of Tibetans to determine their own future. We campaign for an end to the Chinese occupation of Tibet and for the fundamental human rights of Tibetans to be respected.
For further information and interviews please contact Free Tibet’s Director Stephanie Brigden:
T: +44 (0)20 7324 4605
M: +44 (0)7971 479515