Tibet Weekly Update – December 18, 2013

A listing of the top news developments in and around Tibet during the previous week.

New ICT president seeks to enhance Tibet issue in global capitals and societies

His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Matteo Mecacci

His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Matteo Mecacci at a press conference in Assago, Italy on June 28, 2012.

Matteo Mecacci, a former member of Italian Parliament, ushered in a new era at the International Campaign for Tibet this week, when he has assumed his role as the new president of the international organization. Mecacci will lead the organizations global advocacy efforts, “ensuring that the spirit and resilience of the Tibetan people will impact the capitals and societies of the free world.” Mecacci joins ICT following his lead role in a European delegation overseeing presidential elections in Georgia. As a representative of the Transnational Radical Party and No Peace Without Justice, Mecacci spent nearly a decade campaigning on human rights and democracy issues at the United Nations in New York. During his time in the Italian Parliament, Mecacci was elected Chairperson of the Italian Parliamentary Intergroup for Tibet and organized the 5th World Parliamentarians Convention on Tibet in Rome in 2009.

Tibetan father passes following self-immolation protest

Kunchok_Tseten

Kunchok Tseten set fire to himself on December 3, in Ngaba.

Kunchok Tseten died after setting fire to himself on December 3, as he called for the long life of the Dalai Lama and for the Tibetan spiritual leader’s return. In the protest’s aftermath, Kunchok Tseten’s wife, with whom he has two children, and several relatives, disappeared and are believed to be in police custody, continuing the pattern of retaliation established by authorities against family members and associates of self-immolators. Similarly, seven Tibetans were recently detained by authorities, and accused of being involved in the self-immolation protest by a young Tibetan monk. While there have now been 124 Tibetan self-immolations since 2009, there has been a marked decrease in the frequency over recent months, with Kunchok Tseten carrying out the fourth such protest since June this year. Overall, there have been 26 Tibetans who have self-immolated in 2013, 21 of whom are believed to have died.

Tibet’s state of play in London, Washington, Madrid, and Tokyo

David Cameron and Xi Jinping

David Cameron and Xi Jinping

British Prime Minister David Cameron visited China for the first time since meeting with the Dalai Lama in 2012, in what some are describing as a clumsy attempt to improve the UK’s image with Chinese authorities and increase UK-Chinese trade and investment. A series of one-sided trade deals made earlier this year also appear to have helped facilitate this current visit. Despite retaliatory threats made last year by Chinese officials when Cameron and Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg met with the Dalai Lama at St. Paul’s Cathedral in London, trade continued to increase between the two countries over the course of 2012 and the first six months of 2013. However, UK representatives now speak of “turn[ing] a page” regarding the Dalai Lama meeting, and Cameron now has no plans to meet with the Tibetan spiritual leader. Despite Cameron’s attempts to open a new, more conciliatory chapter in UK-China relations, an editorial appearing in state media questioned his sincerity in light of his meeting with the Dalai Lama. Derisively describing the UK as “just an old European country apt for travel and study,” the editorial makes clear the need for EU countries to adopt a unified position reinforcing their right to meet with the Tibetan spiritual leader in order to fend off punitive measures from Beijing.

While Cameron’s overtures towards officials in Beijing appear to have been long in the making, a visiting five-member delegation from the Tibetan Parliament-in-exile in Dharamsala, India continued to push British officials on Tibet during their recent eight-day stay in the UK hosted by ICT. The group met with British House of Commons Speaker John Bercow, who hosted the Dalai Lama in June 2012, as well as other British Parliamentarians, and encouraged them to urge Cameron to address the Tibet issue during his trip. The closest Cameron appears to have come in addressing the topic, however, came when he responded to a question about the 2012 meeting with the Tibetan spiritual leader by saying, “I don’t regret any of the things I’ve done in my political life.”

Elsewhere in Europe, the Tibet issue has become a focal point in relations between Spain and China after a Spanish national court issued arrest warrants for five Chinese leaders under the principle of universal jurisdiction. One Chinese government official referred to the case as “malicious persecution,” as the Chinese government seeks to apply pressure on Spain. The government of Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy now appears set to enact a change Spanish law that would curtail the courts powers to further pursue the cases.

In contrast to the approach that has been adopted by the UK and Spain, one is able to look towards the United States for its persistence in giving Tibet a prominent role in U.S. dialogues with the Chinese and at the UN Human Rights Council, despite the nearly year-long vacancy at the office for the U.S. Special Coordinator for Tibetan Issues, the congressionally mandated position created to organize Tibet policy across the U.S. government. While the Obama Administration has nominated former Clinton Administration staffer and Harvard professor Sarah Sewall for the role, “bureaucracy and the slowness of the process to fill key positions,” rather than “policy or political concerns,” have caused the hold-up, according the ICT’s Director of Government Relations, Todd Stein. While Stein points out that there are hopes the “end-of-the-year flurry of activity in Congress” will push Sewall’s nomination through, it is possible her nomination won’t be up for approval again until after the start of the new year.

Dalai Lama at Japanese ParliamentWhile other countries may appear bogged down in their raising of the Tibet issue, the Dalai Lama recently completed a 12-day visit to Japan, which included a discussion lecture on the contribution of science and technology to human happiness; a speaking engagement with university students; and a meeting with the congregation of an ancient Japanese Buddhist temple. While in Tokyo, the Dalai Lama was welcomed at Japan’s parliament, where he spoke with a diverse gathering of 150 members and raised the issue of Tibetan cultural preservation. Before leaving the country, the Tibetan spiritual leader met with a group of Tibetans residing in Japan, and spoke in support of the Middle Way Approach, “in hope of solving our problem by reaching a mutually beneficial solution.” It should be noted that the Dalai Lama’s long-standing commitment to engaging with the leadership in Beijing continues, despite the Communist Party’s routine condemnation of the Tibetan spiritual leader. Until the Party stops sanctioning the vilification of the Dalai Lama, the Chinese leadership will only create further discord between themselves and the reality of what is taking place in Tibet today.

Major media amplifies change needed in Tibet

People's Armed Police and unarmed local Tibetans in Garchung Village in Dathang Township, Driru county, Nagchu.

People’s Armed Police and unarmed local Tibetans in Garchung Village in Dathang Township, Driru county, Nagchu.

2013 Snowlion Award recipients

2013 Snowlion Award recipients and jury members: Eva Corell (jury), Nathalie Nad-Abonji, Martina Powell (for Mara Simperler), Bernhard Bartsch, Andreas Lorenz (jury). On the right ICT-Germany Executive Director Kai Müller.

The New York Times and the Wall Street Journal both recently published opinion pieces regarding the current repression taking place in Tibet and calling upon the Chinese leadership to reengage with the Dalai Lama in order to resolve the Tibet issue. Both articles noted the plight of the over 120 Tibetan self-immolations that have occurred over the last four years, as well as the increased repression carried out by authorities since 2008. The Times article, written by the paper’s editorial board, made specific note of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s willingness to take on wide-ranging domestic issues during a recent major Communist Party meeting, saying that “[h]e should move now to ease some of the most damaging policies on Tibet.”

Outspoken coverage of the Tibet issue in print was also recently on display in Berlin, as ICT-Germany hosted its annual “Snow Lion” award ceremony on November 16, recognizing excellence in independent reporting on Tibet. The first prizewinner was Austrian journalist Mara Simperler for her article “Freedom in Flames,” which included in-depth interviews with three Tibetans in exile in India. In addition to the second and third place prizewinners, for the second year in a row ICT Germany awarded a research grant to fund a proposal by a promising young journalist. ICT Germany’s award comes at a critical juncture for reporting on Tibet, as authorities implement increasingly harsh measures in order to restrict press freedoms throughout the People’s Republic of China, including blocking some foreign journalists from entering the country.

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