18th Oct 2019

China and Tibet protesters must both show restraint says EU

  • The EU has rejected a boycott of the Beijing Olympics in response to the recent crackdown in Tibet. (Photo: EUobserver)

Hours away from a midnight deadline from the Chinese government warning Tibetan protesters to surrender or face violence, the European Commission has called on both the protesters and Beijing to show restraint and rejected a boycott of the upcoming Beijing Olympics.

"We are very concerned by the events in Tibet, and we are calling for restraint on all sides," said commission foreign relations spokesperson Christiane Hohmann at a press briefing, "which means we call on the Chinese government to show restraint in their reaction against those involved in the unrest, but we also call on demonstrators to desist from violence."

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"At the same time, we call on the Chinese authorities not to use force on peaceful demonstrators," she added.

On Saturday (15 March), China warned protesters that they must "surrender" by midnight Monday, or face violence. "Criminals who do not surrender themselves by the deadline will be sternly punished according to the law," stated a notice on the Tibetan government website.

Meanwhile, when asked whether the crackdown by the Chinese authorities warranted a boycott of the upcoming 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, the EU's foreign policy chief, Javier Solana said: "As far as the Olympic Games are concerned, I intend to be there."

On Monday, Slovenia, which currently holds the rotating presidency of the Union, issued a statement also calling for "restraint on all sides".

"We urge the Chinese authorities to refrain from using force against those involved in unrest and call on demonstrators to desist from violence."

Commission spokesperson Pia Ahrenkilde said at she had no indication of whether commission president Jose Manuel Barroso or any commissioners would be attending the Olympics on behalf of the commission.

The commission spokespeople, did however say that a boycott was not a suitable response. "A boycott would not be the appropriate way to work for the respect of the rights of the minorities in Tibet," said Ms Hohmann, who added that European Union officials were in contact with Chinese authorities, although not the Dalai Lama.

EU sports commissioner Jan Figel, at a meeting of the bloc's 27 sports ministers and members of the International Olympic Committee dismissed calls for a boycott: "We condemn violence. But on the question of boycotting the games, nobody around the table today believes that a boycott is the right answer."

The centre-right president of the European Parliament, Hans-Gert Poettering, said: "The use of force is never advisable. I want to make a call to both sides to stop it. Tibetan protesters should demonstrate peacefully while the Chinese response has to be measured and never disproportional."

"Chinese borders and integrity are not in question," he added. "I very much hope that the upcoming Olympic Games in Beijing 2008 will be a success."

Germany issued a statement supporting Tibetans' right to autonomy but equally supporting a "single China" policy. "A lasting solution to the Tibet question can perhaps only be found through a peaceful and direct dialogue," said chancellor Angela Merkel's spokesperson, Ulrich Wilhelm.

The chancellor rejected a boycott of the Olympics, saying such a move could make the situation worse. France also warned against the idea, as did the UK's foreign minister, David Miliband.

Tibetans 'disappointed' with Europe

The International Campaign for Tibet's EU policy director, Vincent Metten, said while the group was pleased the European Union had issued strong statements condemning the violence of the government, the group regretted Javier Solana's comments. "He should have waited until he was better informed. He put out this statement at a very early stage of the repression before anyone knows the extent of what has happened."

The group was also somewhat disappointed in the commission's approach that seemed to hold both protesters and the Chinese authorities equally responsible for the crisis.

"Of course we're not in favour of violence, but we have to understand the context of the protests – the deep resentment and anger is a result of the denial of freedom of religion, the 60 years of demographic colonisation leading to the marginalisation of the Tibetan people within their own territory and the exploitation of natural resources from the Tibetan plateau."

Mr Metten said that although the Dalai Lama is no longer in favour of independence for Tibet, the European Union had a similar role to play towards Tibet to the one it played with regards to Kosovo.

"In Kosovo, it is important to keep the dialogue open between Kosovars and Serbs. This is the dialogue that should be promoted between Tibet and the Chinese authorities to achieve a negotiated solution, and we call on the EU to set the stage for a dialogue between the People's Republic of China and the Dalai Lama."

"Europe can be a mediator in the conflict area. The EU should play a stronger role, he added, emphasising that in particular, the EU should press China to allow journalists into the Tibet Autonomous Region and the capital, Llasa.

"They can't let the Chinese government intensify the repression without witnesses."

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