As the dust settles on the Chinese Communist Party’s 19th Party Congress, all indicators point to China, under Xi Jinping, setting out to develop into a more prosperous but authoritarian state at home and a more assertive presence on the global stage.
As China continues its transition to great power status, the government insists that all countries respect its “core interests” if they want to pursue diplomatic and economic ties. In response, Denmark and other like-minded governments must collectively develop an approach to China that balances their business, trade and diplomatic interests with respect for the rights of the Chinese and Tibetan people.
The Danish relationship with the People’s Republic of China (PRC) is both special and has a long history. In 2008, Denmark became the first, and is still the only, Nordic country to sign a comprehensive strategic partnership agreement with China. Indicating its adherence to those “core interests” of China, Denmark has reiterated its firm support of the One-China policy. The two nations have affirmed commitments to the promotion and protection of human rights, underlining the importance of taking concrete steps in this regard, despite the fact that China continues to be a world leader in human rights abuses.
Denmark’s current dealings with China, particularly on Tibet, stand to test its commitments to the principles and values this great country advocates: human rights, rule of law and democracy. The Tibetan people have long looked to countries such as Denmark and the other Nordic nations that share these values to support their cause. Denmark has a strong history of relations with Tibet and maintains a stated policy on promoting dialogue between China and His Holiness the Dalai Lama. The CTA and the Tibetan people deeply value the support that these countries have provided in the past and look to them for continued support as we seek to amicably resolve the issue of Tibet through dialogue with the Chinese leadership. The CTA is also highly appreciative of the many individuals and organisations, such as the Støttekomiteen for Tibet, that have championed the Tibetan cause in Denmark over the past few decades.
But the current, dominant narrative in Denmark on China—one that is cautious and overly congenial at times—can be discouraging, and I believe it runs counter to the values for which Denmark is famous. Meeting with His Holiness is deemed too confrontational and speaking out against China’s human rights violations is labeled “megaphone politics”. The order to keep Tibetan flags from the view of visiting Chinese leaders that led to the detainment of activists in 2012 was a particularly worrying incident. Without question, the Danish public should be accorded the right to freely express their support for the Tibetan people during the visit of Chinese leaders and to call on the Danish government to publicly criticize human rights abuses in China and Tibet.
Denmark should reconsider its “constructive engagement” policy, which has at times led to self-censorship on human rights and Tibetan issues. A qualified response to China’s overtures can still be constructive and not excessively confrontational. We hope to see Denmark adopt a firmer approach towards China regarding liberty, democracy, freedom of speech and other human rights, thereby holding them accountable for their violations.
When it comes to Tibet’s environment, there is no denying of the fact that it impinges on both regional and global security. The global efforts including that of Denmark’s to reign in China’s policies in Tibet underpinning an oversight of the importance of Tibet’s environment and sensitivity over its fragile ecosystem, must be robust, after all in the age of climate change the future of Asia and by extension that of our planet earth hinges on the developments on Tibet, the roof of the world.
The former President of United States Barack Obama met with His Holiness the Dalai Lama thrice during his political tenure and at the same time maintained trade and bilateral ties with China. The U.S has supported both ‘One China Policy’ and at the same time the ‘Middle Way Policy’ of the Tibetan people and doesn’t find contradiction between the two.
Now is the time for Denmark to lead by example and one of the most concrete ways to support Tibet would be by endorsing the Middle Way Approach based on the principles of non-violence, truth and reconciliation, one that seeks to engage with the PRC through dialogue and enable Tibetans to preserve their culture, language environment, identity and religion.
Denmark calling on China to resume dialogue with the envoys of His Holiness the Dalai Lama will be both be laudable and befitting of values this great country continue to cherish and advocate.
Dr Lobsang Sangay is the democratically elected President (Sikyong) of the Central Tibetan Administration.