Brussels: ‘Tibet is an occupied country and Tibetans are not an ethnic minority’ said Dr Michael van Walt van Praag as he made a remarkable presentation on the question of Tibet as the guest speaker at the Lithuanian Parliamentary Tibet Group’s Webinar on 10 May.
The webinar was attended by members of parliaments and Tibet supporters from the Baltic countries. Among them were Mr Andirus Navichkas, Dr Laima Andirkiene, Roy Strider, Uldis Budrikis, Jainis martin, Yoko Alesanderand Vincent Metten and others.
Dr Michael Van Walt began by saying, “The People’s Republic of China has occupied and colonized Tibet against the will of the Tibetan people for 70 years now, yet instead of increasing the pressure on China to bring this situation to an end, the world has grown largely silent on Tibet. Governments are self-censoring to accommodate Beijing’s self-proclaimed ‘sensitivities’ in the hope this will serve their own interests. Tibetans are now routinely referred to as an ethnic minority and Tibet as a region in Western China. The conversation on Tibet is now framed in terms of human rights violations instead of being addressed as an international conflict. The world has gone silent on the true nature of the Sino-Tibetan conflict.”
This is the finding of the book Tibet Brief 20/20 that he and Miek Boltjes wrote to break the silence on Tibet.
The new book is, according to Mr Michel van Walt, “fundamentally about the international legal status of Tibet and what that means for the international community. We conclude that the PRC does not have sovereignty over Tibet, that Tibet is an occupied country – also legally speaking -, that the Sino-Tibetan conflict is an international conflict, and that the Tibetan people have the full right to self-determination. Therefore, Tibet is not China’s internal affair and should not be treated as such. The international community has responsibilities and obligations vis-à-vis Tibet and China, and we assert that acting in accordance with these obligations is not only about doing right by the Tibetans and upholding the rule of law, but is a political and security imperative as well.”
He elaborated these basic findings in the context of the Baltic countries and the European Union and concluded by making four recommendations:
1. To call the Sino-Tibetan conflict and Tibet what they are. In other words, to use language, and press your governments to use language, that reflects the truth and the international legal status of Tibet and the Tibetans, and not the language desired by Beijing, that perpetrates and solidifies a false representation of Tibet and the Tibetans. Tibet is an occupied country, the Sino-Tibetan conflict is an international conflict, and the Tibetans are an occupied people, not a minority.
2. To not raise Tibetan human rights without addressing the underlying conflict in its political, security and international dimensions. European governments do raise concerns about human rights violations in Tibet. This is necessary. But doing so without addressing the underlying conflict strongly signals an acceptance of China’s representation of Tibet as China’s internal affair, and outside the international purview.
3. To be mindful not to give to China what is not ours to give. Ruling out independence and making other concessions regarding rights that belong to Tibetans is the exclusive prerogative of the Tibetans. For any country to make such concessions, not only takes away leverage Tibetans may have with China, thus reducing chances of reaching a negotiated solution, but violates international law.
4. To be mindful not to accept, receive or purchase what is not China’s to give away and sell. That makes common sense but it is also an obligation we have under international law. Tibet’s natural resources belong to the Tibetan people, not to China and states are prohibited from acquiring those resources (or goods made with those resources) without prior permission of the Tibetan people.
Dr Van Walt was also asked questions to illustrate ways to implement his recommendations. Many serious items for activity were discussed for the Baltic countries to work together.
Participating in the meeting, Representative Tashi Phuntsok commended Dr van Walt for his remarkable work. He recalled Dr Michael’s enormous contributions to the legal and political questions of Tibet. For many decades he has been involved in various capacities. His book on the Legal Status of Tibet was a landmark scholarship. In recent years he has been actively working to redirect and refocus the question of Tibet in its rightful framework and not be misled by the overwhelming Chinese narratives.
Michael concluded by requesting the meeting to keep the question of Tibet ‘on correct rails and on the international agenda’ and assured that ‘circumstances will present opportunities’.
– Filed by Office of Tibet, Brussels