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"Canada can, within a positive friendly atmosphere, ask the Chinese government to resolve the Tibetan situation."

Human Rights and a Maturing Relationship

May 21, 2008

The Independent (UK)
May 20, 2008

The Dalai Lama is fond of describing himself as "a simple Buddhist
monk". He is, of course, no such thing. As well as being the
spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhism, he is also the leader of the
Tibetan government-in-exile. Gordon Brown hopes to make a distinction
between the two by meeting him on Friday at the London residence of
the Archbishop of Canterbury rather than inviting him to Downing Street.

Something similar happened in Germany last week when the Dalai Lama
arrived there at the start of his five-country Western tour
(Australia, the United States and France are next), a trip which will
keep him in the headlines in the run-up to the Olympic Games in
Beijing in August. His three-month itinerary will conclude only days
before the Olympics end, and his intention is clearly to keep China's
suppression of Tibet, where troops killed 200 people in March, in the
mind of the international public.

The Chinese government has, predictably, reacted with intense
irritation -- which is why the Dalai Lama found such a cool reception
in Berlin. When Chancellor Angela Merkel met him last September, she
caused a nine-month freeze in relations with Beijing which is only
just beginning to thaw. It also caused a split within the German
coalition government. This time, Germany's Chancellor, President and
Foreign Minister all declined to meet him. The Dalai Lama was
received only by the lowly Development Minister, and in a hotel
rather than her office. Even then the Chinese filed a formal
complaint, insisting that, though the Dalai Lama says he does not
want independence for Tibet, only autonomy, his actions indicate the
opposite. As with Taiwan, he is a threat to Beijing's one-China policy.

On one level, the over-cautious attitude of Gordon Brown and other
Western politicians is understandable. China's economy is expected to
grow by 10 per cent this year. It is a huge potential market for
British firms in areas such as financial, legal and professional
services and, thanks to Mr Brown, premier Wen Jiabao has agreed to
increase Britain's trade in goods and services with China from £20bn
to £30bn in the next two years. The German Chancellor and the French
President want the same.

Even so, Mr Brown ought to be able to voice concern over human
rights. China's elections, like its courts, are controlled by the
Communist Party. It restricts free movement and curbs trade unions.
It censors the internet. It is the death penalty capital of the
world. Yet what its response to the terrible Sichuan earthquake has
shown, in sharp contrast to Burma, is a government which is
increasingly sensitive to the needs of its ordinary people. Opening
the economy to market forces has shifted the relationship between
government and the workforce who are driving economic growth forward.

Gordon Brown has a fine line to tread here, which he has tried to
signal with semiotics like declining to attend the opening ceremony
of the Olympic Games but going to the closing ceremony. But in
refusing to invite the Dalai Lama to Downing Street, he is being
pusillanimous. There are signs of slow political change in Beijing.
It is making more encouraging noises on climate change. It helped
with nuclear negotiations with North Korea. It has pressed the
Burmese generals to accept international aid. China is slowly coming
in from the cold.

Offering constructive criticism on Tibet -- expressing concern about
human rights without supporting separatism or secession -- ought to
be possible within that maturing relationship. Speaking out against
repression and representing Britain's economic interests must both be
possible at the same time.
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