My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (David Miliband) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.
A new round of talks on Tibet between the Chinese Government and representatives of the Dalai Lama is likely to take place shortly. These talks are hugely important for the future of Tibet. They provide the only forum in which there is any realistic possibility of progress to resolve the differences between the parties involved.
The Chinese Government have said that they are serious about dialogue and that they hope for a positive outcome. They have set conditions for dialogue which we believe the Dalai Lama has met. The Dalai Lama has made clear that he is not seeking separation or independence. He has said repeatedly that he is seeking a resolution to the situation of Tibet within the framework of the Chinese constitution, a point he made explicitly in an interview with the Financial Times on 24 May during his visit to the United Kingdom. He said he was “not seeking separation, not seeking independence, but within the framework of the Chinese Constitution, meaningful realistic autonomy [for Tibetans]”. He has maintained a clear opposition to violence.
The British Government have a strong interest in the dialogue between the Chinese Government and the Dalai Lama’s representatives, although we are not a party to it. No Government who are committed to promoting international respect for human rights can remain silent on the issue of Tibet, or disinterested in a solution to its problems.
Britain has been clear under this Government about our commitment to the people of Tibet. We remain deeply concerned about the human rights situation there. My right honourable friend the Prime Minister set out our concerns to Premier Wen during discussions in the spring and again when they met in Beijing during the Olympic Games. I have made the same point to Foreign Minister Yang on a number of occasions since the unrest in March this year in Tibet. We have consistently made clear that we want to see the human rights of the Tibetan people respected, including through respect for their distinct culture, language, traditions and religions. Our interest is not in restoring an order which existed 60 years ago and which the Dalai Lama himself has said he does not seek to restore.
We are also concerned at more immediate issues arising directly from the unrest of this spring, including the situation of those who remain in detention following the unrest, the increased constraints on religious activity, and the limitations on free access to the Tibetan Autonomous Region by diplomats and journalists. These issues reinforce long-held unease on the part of the Government about the underlying human rights situation in Tibet.
Other countries have made similar points. But our position is unusual for one reason of history that has been imported into the present: the anachronism of our formal position on whether Tibet is part of China, and whether in fact we harbour continued designs to see the break-up of China. We do not.
Our ability to get our points across has sometimes been clouded by the position the UK took at the start of the 20th century on the status of Tibet, a position based on the geopolitics of the time. Our recognition of China’s “special position” in Tibet developed from the outdated concept of suzerainty. Some have used this to cast doubt on the aims we are pursuing and to claim that we are denying Chinese sovereignty over a large part of its own territory. We have made clear to the Chinese Government, and publicly, that we do not support Tibetan independence. Like every other EU member state, and the United States, we regard Tibet as part of the People’s Republic of China. Our interest is in long-term stability, which can only be achieved through respect for human rights and greater autonomy for the Tibetans.
We have noted recent comments by the Dalai Lama regretting the lack of progress in the dialogue so far. We are also aware of indications of growing frustration among some Tibetans about the dialogue process. We consider the position the Dalai Lama has stated publicly, including when he visited Britain this year, that he opposes violence and is seeking meaningful autonomy within the framework of the Chinese constitution, provides a basis for a negotiated settlement. Our strong view is that genuine progress at the next round of talks is essential to promote progress on such a settlement. Participation in these talks carries a weight of responsibility for both parties.