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"On my part, I remain committed to the process of dialogue. It is my firm belief that dialogue and a willingness to look with honesty and clarity at the reality of Tibet can lead us to a viable solution."

An unnecessary quarrel

December 11, 2008

By David Gosset
Asia Times Online - Kowloon,Hong Kong
December 10, 2008
 
COMMENT
 
The ability to take the big picture into consideration and develop a strategic vision for the long term is what defines genuine leadership, but the current tension between the European Union (EU) and China over Tibet shows this is exactly what the EU is lacking.
 
This year, Beijing has proved it is a cooperative and responsible member of the international community on three different but highly significant occasions. The Beijing Summer Olympic Games in August were in the words of Jacques Rogge, the president of the International Olympic Committee, "truly exceptional".
 
After the crisis in Georgia, Moscow did not succeed in bringing Beijing on side to recognize the breakaway Georgian states of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. By refusing to back Moscow, Beijing avoided perpetuating the sterile antagonism between the West and the Sino-Russian axis. Last but not least, during the recent financial turmoil, Beijing has been a key factor of stability. Despite China's constructive and balanced behavior, the EU ends 2008 by an unnecessary quarrel with one of the main pillars of the 21st century's global order.
 
By officially displaying strong support to Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama, some European politicians want to believe that they are doing the right thing. They are, in fact, demonstrating shortsightedness, ignorance and, to a certain extent, irresponsibility.
 
In a midst of a complex financial and economic crisis which is calling for more Sino-European synergy and global coordination, some myopic officials are taking the EU further away from the positive dynamics of the Chinese renaissance, arguably the most significant story of our time.
 
At the end of 2007, French President Nicolas Sarkozy told Xinhua, the state-run Chinese news agency, "My ambition is to make 2008 a great Euro-Chinese year." It would have been indeed highly relevant since exactly 30 years ago Beijing adopted the policies of "reform and opening-up" leading one-fifth of mankind on the road to relative prosperity and progress.
 
Instead, 2008 ends with a crisis between the European Union and China. In a sharp contrast, the fifth round of the Strategic Economic Dialogue (SED) between Washington and Beijing has produced constructive outcomes.
 
The immediate events which led to the dispute between Brussels and Beijing are well known. In March, the French government chose to lead the protest against what it framed as China's "crackdown" in Tibet.
 
Bernard Kouchner, the French Minister of Foreign Affairs, declared that the European Union should consider the idea of boycotting the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games. In April, the disruption of the Olympic torch relay in Paris sparked a boycott of French products by the Chinese people. On November 13, the president of France, which currently holds the rotating EU presidency, announced he would meet with the Dalai Lama in Poland on the occasion of the 25th anniversary of Lech Walesa's Nobel Peace Prize. On November 26, Beijing postponed the 11th EU-China Summit scheduled for December 1 in the French city of Lyon.
 
Beijing's decision is not the product of impulsive haste but the result of internal discussion, careful political consideration and geopolitical calculation. It is also an expression of China's strength and confidence. Beijing simply can not passively observe trends or events which threaten its territorial integrity and social stability.
 
European capitals can not feign to be surprised by such a rational approach and have to expect from Beijing resolute and proportionate response to any external provocation. On this issue, China's government can rely on massive backing from the Chinese population. An online survey which has received already more than 63,000 votes showed that about 97% of netizens reacted with indignation at Sarkozy's meeting with the Dalai Lama.
 
Most of the commentators in the West consider that the Chinese side is to be blamed for the current difficulties between the EU and China. They view the Dalai Lama as a spiritual guide who is fighting against a "cultural genocide" and is leading the Tibetan people toward a better future. This simplistic and romantic view is simply not accurate.
 
Pretending that the Dalai Lama is purely a spiritual leader is deceptive and illusory. As the head of the Tibetan "government-in-exile" in Dharamsala, India, the Dalai Lama is a political figure with a political agenda. When, in the 1960s, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) organized Tibetan military movements to fight against the People's Liberation Army - the CIA also subsidized the Dalai Lama - its goal was not to protect Buddhist spirituality, but to manipulate the Tibetans for political and geopolitical gains.
 
On December 4, speaking in the European parliament, the Dalai Lama defined his role, "I consider myself to be the free spokesperson in exile of the Tibetan people." This is obviously a political statement. In the same speech he added, "While I firmly reject the use of violence as a means in our struggle, we certainly have the right to explore all other political options available to us."
 
There was no distinction between religion and politics in traditional Tibet, especially since the 5th Dalai Lama, Lozang Gyatso (1617-1682). The West has to rethink its perception of historical Tibet and go beyond an utopian representation of the "Roof of the World".
 
It is within the People's Republic of China (PRC) that the Tibetans freed themselves from theocracy. European politicians who favor European secularism, or what the French call laicite, the separation between religion and politics, are often those who show the strongest support to the Dalai Lama, the very symbol of a system where politics is subordinated to religion.
 
The expression "cultural genocide" - which has been used by the Dalai Lama himself - is supposed to describe the present conditions in the Tibet Autonomous Region is absurd and carries some baseless accusations which can not be conducive to harmony. Tibet is currently changing rapidly but this change does not equate with "cultural genocide". In fact, the region is going through a process of socio-economic modernization which benefits the majority of the population. This process is far from perfect but does allow the Tibetans within the PRC to reinterpret their tradition and to preserve the best of their culture.
 
Those who are now publicly championing the Dalai Lama are also taking the risk of hurting the Tibetan people's future. At 73 years old, the Dalai Lama accepts the fact that the Tibet Autonomous Region is a part of a sovereign country, the PRC. He insists on peaceful means to push for more Tibetan autonomy within the PRC.
 
However, the Dalai Lama is surrounded by younger people who consider his "Middle Way" a failure. They are already considering more radical means to achieve the creation of an independent Tibet. When some Western institutions officially endorse the Dalai Lama, Tibetan extremists can believe that the West would support their struggle whatever the means and the end. This is, of course, not the case. In that sense, European politicians are misleading the Tibetan people and being irresponsible by exposing them to a tragic no-win situation.
 
Western officials often admit privately that they meet the Dalai Lama under the pressure of their public opinions. They could imitate Taiwan's leader Ma Ying-jeou who has just ruled out a visit to the island by the Dalai Lama by saying: "The timing is not appropriate". It is only by working, cooperating, patiently negotiating with Beijing that one can effectively contribute to the general progress of the 1.3 billion citizens of the PRC, and among them, of course, the Tibetan people.
 
Unfortunately, the tension between the EU and China could continue in 2009. In the first half of the coming year, the Czech Republic will chair the rotating presidency of the European Union. A representative of the "new Europe" which joined the EU in 2004, Prague tends to have a very critical approach of Beijing, ignoring all the differences between the Soviet Union and China but also the post-Maoist transformation of Chinese society. Beijing has noticed that the Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek has just received the Dalai Lama.
 
It is now urgent for the European Union to find ways to avoid unnecessary quarrels with its Chinese partner. It is time to focus on what really matters: a more adequate global governance requires strong cooperation between the EU and China, and beyond, a constructive triangulation between Washington, Brussels and Beijing.
 
David Gosset is director of the Academia Sinica Europaea at China Europe International Business School, Shanghai, and founder of the Euro-China Forum. The opinions expressed in this article represent neither those of the Academia Sinica Europaea nor the Euro-China Forum.
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