Mr Danby (Melbourne Ports): Since last year, 42 Tibetans have set themselves alight to highlight the oppression of their people. Dr Lopsang Sangay, the Kalon Tripa Prime Minister-in-exile of Tibet, said today in addressing the National Press Club that this form of protest does not involve harm to others. Self-sacrifice is characteristic of Buddhism, but the Central Tibetan Administration has counselled Tibetans not to take this extreme form of protest action despite their oppression. For 60 years since the occupation of Tibet by China, Tibetans have faced oppression and denial of their cultural rights. In recent years, since the era of Jiang Zemin when there was a brief interlude, Chinese control has tightened. This is the most significant escalation of the conflict since the riots in Lhasa in March 2008.
Now imperial Beijing has announced that foreign travellers are not allowed to visit Tibet, a move designed to cloak the crackdown from the outside world. Our Minister for Foreign Affairs, Bob Carr, to his credit was going to send a diplomat there from Beijing, but that was barred by the CCP. There are 3,000 fresh Chinese troops in Tibet, worsening the crackdown. The Chinese viceroy, Xizang Ribao, reported that the Chinese President, Hu Jintao, had instructed leaders from Tibetan areas to ‘regard maintenance of social stability as a heavy task and No. 1 duty’.
In an interview with Peter Hartcher of the Sydney Morning Herald, Dr Sangay explained that the situation in Tibet is ‘not bearable’ and that the immolations are ‘a desperate act, but also a political act’. He said peaceful protests or peaceful rallies are not allowed. The statements that the self-immolators leave behind consistently say they want freedom; they are saying, ‘You can restrain my freedom but I can choose to die as I want.’
Dr Sangay applauded the call by our foreign minister for China to allow Australian diplomats to visit Tibet. The Chinese, in my view, have set in motion a self-fulfilling cycle of violence. Authorities increased security measures following these protests, but the resultant crackdowns inspire further acts of self-immolation until the renewed sense of outrage erupts once more and the cycle of escalating violence begins anew. No clear-eyed view of this catastrophe can envisage a time in the near future when the ever-greater recourse to offensive firepower by Chinese security forces will resolve China’s minority problems. They are going to learn the same issues with minorities that Stalin learnt. Stalin’s behaviour towards minorities was very similar to what is taking place in Tibet now.
The resilience of the people of Tibet and their endeavour to continue the good fight to bring freedom to their land are very clear. The Tibetans do not seek separation from China but autonomy within a Chinese federation. They ask for China to abide by its own constitution, which protects minorities, by protecting Tibet’s linguistic, religious and cultural autonomy. They seek the right to have the same freedoms we hold so dear in this country: the right to freedom of speech, freedom of assembly and freedom of religion. They seek the right to what Dr Sangay calls the universality of freedom. As democrats and human beings, I believe it is incumbent on us to raise these issues.
Over the next two days I will be hosting Dr Lobsang Sangay, the Tibetan Prime Minister-in-exile. Dr Sangay pointed out today that His Holiness the Dalai Lama has met with the President of the United States, Barack Obama, the Conservative UK Prime Minister, David Cameron, and the Conservative Canadian Prime Minister, Stephen Harper in the last few days. In none of these countries has the result been that the relations with China have got worse or that their economies have evaporated. We should not hide behind diplomacy out of fear of offending our trading partners. As democrats we should tell the truth, even if it is often not what some of our trading partners would like to hear. The truth is the Tibetan people have suffered enough under 60 years of Chinese oppression. Self-immolation is an act of desperation. It shows the Tibetan people are at the end of their rope. In my view, it is an act that has hardened their resolve for their ultimate autonomy and cultural freedom.
As US President Barack Obama said last year in his address to this parliament:
It is why men of peace in saffron robes face beatings and bullets and why every day in some of the world’s largest cities or dusty rural towns, in small acts of courage the world may never see, a student posts a blog, a citizen signs a charter, an activist remains unbowed, imprisoned in his home—just to have the same rights that we cherish here today— and here in this country.