Your Holiness the Dalai Lama, Your Excellency Dr. Vaclav Havel, Your Excellency Jan Ruml, my dear Prof. Rinpoche, Pema Jungney and dear friends of Tibet, as Chairman of the Friedrich-Naumann-Stiftung I extend a very warm welcome to all of you at the Fourth International Conference of Tibet support Groups (TSGs), which we are happy to co-host in this beautiful and historic city of Prague.

It is a great honour to be here today amongst this distinguished gathering, and I consider it our privilege to support this important conference for the third time, and to play active part in international support for the Tibet movement.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank His Holiness for spending a very fruitful day with us in Berlin and for delivering an enlightening and powerful talk on ‘Living Freedom – Securing Peace’ at the Humboldt University. Your visit was a matter of honour for all of us.

We are privileged to receive support here in Prague from the Forum 2000 Foundation, in particular from His Excellency Dr. Vaclav Havel, former President of the Czech Republic, and Oldrich Cerny, Director, Forum 2000 Foundation. The political support received from the Czech Parliament, in particular the President of the Senate, Petr Pithart, and the Vice-President, Jan Ruml, has been exceptional. Without their active support it would have been difficult for us to organise this conference. We are extremely grateful to you all. I would also like to thank Prof. Samdhong Rinpoche for his guidance and wisdom throughout the preparations for this conference. This close cooperation underlines the strength and the degree of mutual trust of our longstanding partnership.

Ladies and Gentlemen, it is for the first time that we are organising this conference in East Europe. It’s being held in this beautiful and historic city of Prague is of great symbolic significance. The struggle for freedom and self-determination has been the central experience of Czech history through centuries. This struggle has inspired the rest of the world as well. Here I would like to just mention the Prague spring of 1968 when there was a peaceful revolution for freedom that pitted non-violent citizens against the tanks of a superpower. While this revolution was unsuccessful at first, the dream came true in the velvet revolution of 1989.

This success was possible because people like Dr. Vaclav Havel kept the dream alive when hope seemed almost extinguished – with patience, great personal courage and a willingness to endure suffering.

The Czech people, therefore, know the value of freedom and appreciate the cause and stand of the Tibetans. It is thus no coincidence that former President Havel was the first head of state in the world to formally receive the Dalai Lama. And we should all be very grateful to him for this gesture.

The Tibet movement also enjoys strong support among other countries of Eastern Europe that have successfully overcome their oppressive communist regimes. To have the conference here in Prague also gives us a chance to learn about and understand the difficult transition processes to freedom and to draw lessons from them for the struggle of the Tibetans. It can also act as an inspiration – the unexpected change that has taken place in Eastern Europe gives us hope that injustice will not last forever.

Sharing experiences, learning and drawing inspiration – these are excellent reasons to come to Prague – and these are also the main objectives of the international conference of the Tibet Support Groups.

The Friedrich-Naumann-Stiftung supports this conference because it offers a unique platform for international Tibet Support Groups to come together and draw up international campaigns which will ensure a better future for Tibet.

The People’s Republic of China has taken these conferences rather seriously. As some of you will recall, in 1996 the Friedrich-Naumann-Stiftung had to close its office in Beijing a s a consequence of our support for the conference, and in the year 2000, before the TSGs conference in Berlin, we faced strong protests from China again. The seriousness with which the final Berlin action plan of 2000 was received by top officials of the Chinese hierarchy proves not only the importance of this conference, but that international pressure and opinion do indeed have an influence.

Three years ago, we offered a common platform to over 290 Tibet supporters to discuss and prepare a well-coordinated worldwide strategy to protect Tibetan culture from being destroyed and to reinstate to the Tibetan people their basic human rights. Despite the hardships and setbacks faced along the way, Tibet Support Groups have forged ahead with admirable success.

The formation of the International Tibet Support Network (ITSN) was one of the major outcomes of the last meeting in Berlin. The formation of the network has been an important development and I would be extremely happy to see the network grow both in strength and in number. I am sure this conference will bring about yet another milestone in furthering the Tibet movement. I wish each one of you success in this mission.

Since the last conference in Berlin, we meet here today amidst a fairly changed environment. Formal contact between Beijing and Dharamshala re-opened in September 2002 after a decade of diplomatic stalemate. Two visits by envoys of the Dalai Lama to Beijing and some areas in Tibet have taken place in the last year. I am very happy to see the two envoys, Lodi Gyari and Kelsang Gyaltsen, among us here today. We greatly welcome this development.

However, these talks will only have some significance if China’s senior leaders commit themselves to maintaining the pace of the talks and let them evolve into substantive negotiations to solve the issue of Tibet. Such negotiations have to be entered into with the firm will to come to a mutually agreeable result.

The 16th Congress of the Chinese Communists Party ushered in a new era in China with the smooth transfer of leadership from the third to the fourth generation. This is a clear sign of political maturity. The reforms, initiated by Deng Xiaoping and continued under President Jiang Zemin, have brought about great changes in the Chinese society, her economy and trade, as well as the conduct of international relations.

One positive impulse for the overall improvement of the rule of law in China comes from China’s entry into the World Trade Organisation (WTO. This entry demands that China submits itself to a fairly comprehensive set of binding international rules which requires a substantial process of adaptation in China’s domestic commercial law. Martin Lee, the eminent leader of the democracy movement in Hong Kong, regards this as the best opening for an improvement in the development of the rule of law in China, as commercial law has the habit of creeping into all nooks and crannies of society.

In 1998, China became a signatory to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, but it has not yet ratified the treaty for application within China. The international community must insist on China’s ratification of this important international treaty, as this international covenant provides a basic framework for setting up a modern democratic system. All these changes are important in themselves, as I have always believed in the need to draw China into the mainstream of the world community. I am also quite convinced that these positive developments can signify a new beginning for Tibet as well.

Some positive signs are there: Last year was marked by the early release of Tibetan political prisoners, with seven prisoners being released before serving their full sentences. As mentioned earlier, the Government allowed visits to Tibet by the representatives of the Dalai Lama and provided reporters and foreign dignitaries with greater access to the region.

Not too much can be expected at once. We know that the new leadership in China will definitely require time to formulate its policies, while the process of dismantling fears, misunderstandings and wrong perceptions cannot be accomplished overnight.

But having said this, we must not – cannot – shut our eyes to what is still happening in Tibet at the moment. I am all too painfully aware that the positive developments notwithstanding, the Chinese Government’s human rights record remains poor. Authorities continued to perpetrate serious human rights abuses, including cases of torture, arbitrary arrests, detention without public trials, and lengthy detention of Tibetan nationalists for peacefully expressing their political or religious views. Here I would like to cite the example of the horrific execution of Lobsang Dhondup, and the two-year suspension of the death sentence of Tenzin Deleg Rinpoche. Security was intensified during anniversaries and festivals. Those activities which were viewed as possible means for political dissent, including celebration of some religious festivals, were suppressed. A new report by the US Congressional Executive Commission on China has said in its 2003 Annual Report that Tibetans lack autonomy and that repression of Tibetans continues under Chinese rule. All these are very sad developments that have to be mentioned clearly.

The timing of this conference could therefore not have come at a more crucial period in the history of the Tibet movement. On the one hand, China slowly seems to be moving into a positive direction; on the other hand, the situation inside Tibet continues to be serious. In such a case what should the international Tibet support movement do?

I believe that it is necessary to acknowledge the positive developments and, as a consequence, adapt the course of the movement accordingly. The new situation demands fresh thinking on our part. This must be the challenge this conference addresses itself to. We must seize this opportunity of the contacts taking place and do all that we can to ensure that these talks continue to a positive conclusion.

Having said this I must add that we cannot rest nor close our eyes. We must continue to be watchful and continue to apply pressure in the case of serious human rights violations. The challenge is to combine a constructive approach towards China with a commitment to speak out clearly against injustices.

During his recent visit to China, the German President Johannes Rau achieved this balancing act very well. He praised China’s progress, but he also spoke more forcefully than any previous visiting German dignitary about the need to have Human Rights and political freedoms if China wants to get the respect from the international community that she thinks is her due.

It will, therefore, be important to convey the message to China that an amicable solution to the Tibet issue on the lines of the Middle Way Approach of the Dalai Lama would be in its own enlightened self-interest. It would keep China whole as a country, while allowing the Tibetans to preserve their own religion, culture and heritage. A country at peace with itself is stronger than one where loyalty to the state has to be enforced by police and security forces.

An amicable solution would also demonstrate to the world that China can solve conflicts through dialogue and that solutions can be found through non-violent and peaceful means. A new initiative by China to resolve the issue of Tibet would definitely be a very clear indication that China is changing, maturing and indeed becoming more responsive about assuming a larger role on the global stage as a trusted and forward-looking power. The responsible attitude that China has displayed in international politics during the last years give me hope that such an outcome might be possible.

As supporters of Tibet, our role is to contribute to and support the policies decided upon by you, Your Holiness, and the other esteemed members of the Tibetan leadership, namely, the policy of Middle Way Approach. We must not forget that ultimately Tibetans have to make their own choices to determine their own future. My organisation, the Friedrich-Naumann-Stiftung, has therefore focussed on strengthening the democratic institutions that the Tibetans-in-exile have built up in such an admirable way.

During this conference, let us concentrate on producing an effective plan of action, which will help His Holiness and the Tibetan Leadership achieve the goals of the Middle Way Approach.

I realise a lot of responsibility lies on each of you. Despite the great difficulties that have come your way, you have done a commendable work of carrying the movement on your soldiers. Tibet’s struggle needs the unequivocal support of the international community of which members of the Tibet Support Groups form such a strong vibrant part.

I wish each one of you a successful conference and wish you a pleasant stay with us in this beautiful city of Prague.