China. It is right to talk about the economy, but what about human rights?

By Matteo Mecacci, President of the International Campaign for Tibet

Published on the Italian newspaper Europa on June 12, 2014.
Translation by the International Campaign for Tibet.

In these days our country is facing an interesting coincidence. Prime Minister Matteo Renzi is currently in China (and in Asia) leading an important political and economic mission, while the Dalai Lama (the spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhists) is in Italy, in Livorno precisely, where in the next few days more than 10.000 Italians will attend his teachings, organized by the Centre for Tibetan Buddhist in Pomaia (nearby Pisa), the largest in Europe.

The Tibetan Nobel Peace Prize laureate has an extraordinary public support in free and democratic countries. This has been confirmed by a recent survey carried out in France and Germany, according to which more than 80% of French and German citizens would like their leaders – President Holland and Chancellor Merkel – to meet with the Dalai Lama to support his peaceful struggle to safeguard Tibetan culture and traditions – as U.S. Presidents do on a regular basis, despite Chinese protests.

I have no doubts that if such a survey was carried out in Italy, the results would have been very similar.

However, reality in Europe looks different. With the indifference of the current European political leaders (with some exceptions in the Nordic countries), China has managed to impose an ‘embargo’ on our governments, putting pressure on them not to meet a Nobel Peace Prize winner such as the Dalai Lama, whose only aspiration is the achievement of a genuine autonomy for the Tibetan people. For citizens who believe that democracy and freedom are founding values ​​of our society, it is humiliating and worrying to see their leaders submit to the diktat of an authoritarian and increasingly aggressive nation led by the Chinese Communist Party.

When speaking about the political crisis in Europe, we need to seriously address the issue of the increasing distance between European citizens’ ideals and the policies undertaken by the EU member states concerning, for instance, the promotion of human rights and the kind of society they wish to live in (free or authoritarian).

Considering these issues as merely optional in the political discourse is one of the most obvious signs of the political decay, which many European countries are currently experiencing, and unfortunately among them there is since a long time, Italy.

Accepting as a fait accompli and without having a preliminary debate on this issue, that Italian citizens are only interested in economic growth and in the raise of employment rates, while issues such as religious freedom, minority rights protection and democracy in the world are only secondary, humiliates us all and makes us weaker, not stronger, on the international stage.

Reviving economic growth in Italy is without a doubt a duty of those who rule the country and PM Renzi did the right choice in travelling to China to promote made in Italy products. However, frankly speaking, a country of 58 million people cannot expect to negotiate anything serious bilaterally with an economic giant of over 1 billion people. The European Union can be the only appropriate framework for a serious political and economic negotiation with China for Italy.

The political crisis in Europe (which then turned into an economic crisis), made it easy for the Chinese government to adopt a divide and rule strategy with EU member states. For this reasons, the International Campaign for Tibet urges the Italian government to ensure that during its upcoming EU Presidency it will mainstream the promotion of human rights and fundamental freedom in the world, including in China, realizing that this is one of the main aspirations and hopes of Italian and European citizens.

As citizens and as a continent, we could only gain strength by rediscovering that the desire to live in a free world can again be a concrete political project and ideal. To adequately honor the Dalai Lama in Italy would be a first step for the Italian government, which would certainly be very much appreciated by Italian citizens.

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