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The Paris Lessons

posted Mar 12, 2015, 5:25 PM by The Tibetan Political Review

By Wangpo Tethong
Chitue (Member of the Tibetan Parliament-in-Exile) for Europe

The Paris Declaration, a European initiative in support of Tibet, will be proclaimed this weekend. It is a document demanding a coordinated effort to support the Tibetan people’s fight for freedom from European governments as well as from EU-institutions.

There is a long history of European interest and sympathy for Tibet. But it was only in the mid-eighties that the Dalai Lama and his supporters succeeded in building up public and political support for Tibet in the European capitals. The Dalai Lama and the leaders of the Tibetan exile government have established contacts to EU institutions, national governments, as well as to thousands of cities and towns across Europe. Tibet support groups have been established in nearly every country of the continent.

However, we face an increasing political and economic pressure on Europe from China while we lack adequate leverage and momentum to influence Europe.

Our movement is aging and in some countries the number of supporters is decreasing. We clearly face the threat of losing the territories we have successfully fought for. Therefore, it is time to regroup and renew political support and our supporter base. Furthermore, we are in desperate need of powerful and attractive issues and of better internal coordination to win European politics for our cause.

The Paris Declaration can’t solve all of these issues but it may be an answer to some of the many negative developments we face in Europe on a strategic level. Looking back to the preparation work of the past months, I feel that there are some lessons for the Tibet movement from the Paris Declaration in terms of enlarging our capacity for political analysis and to converse its results in effective campaigning objectives.

The declaration contains three asks: To show active European solidarity and support to the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan leaders by meeting them in formal settings, to publicly endorse the present approach of the Dalai Lama and the Central Tibetan Administration to achieve genuine autonomy and, finally, the inclusion of effective clauses in EU-China relations to protect the interest and rights of the Tibetans.

The last point may not sound very glamorous but contains a lot of potential for creating the ground for new issues and leverage to get involved in European politics. I could think of many possible issues that must be looked into: The upcoming free trade agreement between Europe and China, dual use or surveillance technologies for China that may be harmful for Tibetans in Tibet, EU projects in China that have negative impacts for Tibetans in Tibet, such as water management projects that destroy nomadic land in Tibet, etc.

It was sometimes tiring but, in the end, a very rewarding experience to observe and participate in the drafting of the text. It provided some exclusive lessons and exercises of probing another point of view and exploring more effective European positions on the issue of Tibet. Here is my unstructured list of lessons learned.

Lesson One

Europe’s position on Tibet will always have to be a European position. And it will then be a resilient European position when it serves the European interests and upholds its values. The Chinese, respectively Tibetan, position has to be determined by the Chinese and the Tibetans themselves. It would be wrong to confuse these simple facts.

Lesson Two

Europe and China have many economic interests in common but they are not identical. On the other hand, Europe and Tibet will always have fewer economical or political interests in common. Therefore, it will never be for economic interests in the first place that Europe stands for Tibet. We have to work with a variety of arguments and become friends with those who can build a strong coalition with us.

Lesson Three

It is important to appeal to common core values but values can’t replace the analysis of existing rules and political relations between China and Europe. The existing friendly relations between Europe and China may seem like a difficult obstacle but also form the path to bringing the Tibetan issue in the European arena.

Lesson Four

We, Tibet supporters and Tibetans, work in a network of abundant diversity and limitations. Limitations that grow out of different professional experience, lack of resources and political inexperience. It is better to be aware of these shortcomings and therefore critically re-appraise our own strengths and the strengths of those in Europe who sympathize with Tibet while developing a sober sense of what can be achieved.

Finally, among some of our supporters there has been a debate about this declaration for principal reasons. Some felt that the “Middle Path approach” is exclusively mentioned, which is not true. The Paris Declaration asks to support the Middle Path approach because it is the current stand of the Tibetans. But it doesn’t exclude any other solution that would have the support of the Tibetan people.

I would like to state that the leading question of the declaration has always been how Europe can help Tibet. I am – as many people know - very critical about the Middle Path policy of the Central Tibetan Administration but have actively worked for the Paris Declaration. I did it with the hope that we do a step forward in Europe and the conviction that those who believe in the Middle Path will support any possible revised position in the future with the same open and differentiated mind as those who favour a different solution for Tibet’s future. But for now, we will hands for this important European initiative.

After the rally in Paris, it will be up to us to prove the strength of the Tibet movement in Europe. I ask our friends in Europe to help to collect as many signatures from political leaders and public figures for the declaration. The result of our efforts will be presented to the Dalai Lama at his 80th birthday and will hopefully open up a new chapter of European support for the struggle of the Tibetan people’s freedom. 

Originally published at and republished in TPR with permission.

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