Navendu Mishra
Navendu Mishra

Earlier this month the Dalai Lama, the spiritual head of Tibetans, marked his 87th birthday. He has been a revered figurehead for more than 80 years, and a symbol of peace and self-determination in the disputed region. 

Gyalwa Rinpoche has fought to give Tibetan people their own distinct historical, religious and cultural identity. has helped to keep the plight of Tibetans high up the international agenda and ensure that pressure continues to be brought to bear to encourage dialogue with the Government of China over the issue.

Indeed, a bipartisan bill introduced by US lawmakers just this week would make it official government policy that Tibetans have the right to “self-determination” as well as putting in legislation that the dispute over Tibet’s status remains “unresolved”.

This would support the work of the Dalai Lama, who has also consistently worked to modernise through a genuine democracy what used to be a theocratic system of Tibetan governance. 

Such efforts are vital in the long-running dispute and help to keep Tibet at the forefront of Government’s minds when the eyes of the world are focused on the conflict in Ukraine and other global issues.

The UK Government has reassured me in Parliament that it is continuing to raise this issue. They stated that they are continuing to urge China to respect all fundamental rights across the People’s Republic of China, including in Tibet, in line with both its own constitution and the international frameworks to which it is a party. Encouragingly, in March the Foreign Secretary raised her concerns about the human rights violations occurring in Tibet in an address to the UN Human Rights Council. This followed the UK joining 43 other countries in supporting a statement at the UN Human Rights Council last June which expressed deep concern about the situation in Tibet, in addition to calling on the Chinese authorities to abide by their human rights obligations. 

It is important it continues to do this, as well as supporting other issues that the Dalai Lama has raised, such as the protection of, and respect for, Tibetan culture and language. The UK Government must ensure that the persecution in China of people who teach or want to speak Tibetan, which is the native language of Tibet, has to stop, because freedom of expression, freedom of association, and freedom of religion are fundamental rights. 

On the point about religion, which strikes at the very core of the Dalai Lama’s beliefs, the Chinese government has imposed a raft of restrictions which are almost certainly designed to make Tibetan Buddhism compatible with President Xi’s vision of “religion with Chinese Characteristics”, as he has previously referred to it.

What that has meant in reality is limitations on the influence of Tibetan Buddhism in community life, as well as monasteries reportedly being placed under Government control and surveillance. In practice, that means all monasteries being forced to fly Chinese flags and hang portraits of political figures on their premises, while the Government is also accused of proactively coercing Tibetans into renouncing any allegiance to the Dalai Lama. That process has also extended to outlawing portraits of His Holiness and arresting Tibetans who carry out seemingly small acts of resistance such as calling for his return to Tibet, or singing songs to wish him a happy birthday.

In the past three years alone, authorities have ordered Tibetans to place shrines to President Xi and other Government leaders inside their homes, in place of religious figures. The Free Tibet campaign has also reported that, in some counties, authorities have even gone to such lengths as physically inspecting households to ensure this order has been carried out.

This must stop, and I therefore think it would be fitting, as the Dalai Lama marks yet another milestone on his long life journey, for governments around the world to support Tibet, bring China to the negotiating table, and ensure that all rights of Tibetans are respected, and that a way of life is not imposed on them that leads to the destruction and desecration of everything from the heritage, culture, language, and even the very identity of the Tibetan people.

Their voices must continue to be heard, and I will continue to use my position in Parliament to raise this issue.

ENDS

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