Tibet’s Peaceful Struggle

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By Melbourne Ports Labor MP Michael Danby

While the world is monitoring China’s relationship with North Korea, it is timely that we remember the plight of the 7 million forgotten Tibetans. I have always supported the peaceful struggle of the Tibetans since I was elected to Parliament. As usual I spoke to my friends at a Tibetan rally outside Parliament House in Canberra, as they cry out to end the Chinese oppression against their people.

It is important to understand the modesty of the struggle of the Tibetan people as many may be unaware of the breach of human rights from one of our largest trading partners. And its violation of its own constitution which guarantees language customs and religions rights to minorities.

It has been my privilege to have supported these gentle people and their wonderful ancient culture ever since becoming a member of parliament. I will continue to do so.

Speech made in the Federation Chamber, February 2, 2017

At the beginning of the New Year, around two million followers of Tibetan Buddhism gathered in the Indian town of Bodh Gaya, where Buddha is believed to have attained enlightenment. The devotees came from around the world to receive a major teaching from His Holiness the Dalai Lama. Ironically, Tibetans from Tibet, perhaps the most loyal followers of the Dalai Lama, were banned from attending this religious congregation. For these people seeing their exiled spiritual leader was the dream of their lifetime. The Chinese government crushed their dreams.

In the months leading up to Kalachakra, as it is called—teachings in India—the Chinese authorities confiscated the passports of many Tibetans. Just days before the event, authorities demanded that all Tibetans who had already reached India return home or face severe consequences such as losing one’s job, pension or ration cards. Seven thousand Tibetans had to go back from India. During the 12-day event, the Chinese authorities threatened Tibetans that sharing videos or news articles about religious teachings would lead to arrest and imprisonment.

When it comes to handling the Tibet issue, China is often its own worst enemy. The Chinese government does not want Tibet to get involved in political activities. Those who travelled to India were religious pilgrims—the purpose was religions—but they returned to Tibet politicised. A global leader of peace and compassion, the Dalai Lama is loved and revered by millions around the world. This simple Buddhist monk, as the Dalai Lama likes to call himself, is feared by a nation with the world’s largest population, the second-largest standing army and the second-biggest economy.

The recent crackdown on Tibetan pilgrims is part of China’s intensifying attempt to undermine the Dalai Lama’s influence in Tibet and globally. It is a serious violation of the Tibetan people’s right to freedom of religion. It is also a violation of their right to move freely. They are not only restricted from travelling overseas, they also face difficulty in moving freely within their own country. To go to Tibet’s capital, Lhasa, Tibetans from other towns need to carry a full range of identification documents. In contrast, more and more Chinese tourists and migrants from mainland China travel to Tibet. The Chinese government also restricts international tourists, journalists and diplomats from travelling to Tibet. The Autonomous Region will officially be shut down for over a month around the time of the Tibetan National Uprising Day. China does not want the world to witness any protests during the politically sensitive month when Tibetans commemorate the uprising of 1959.

The international community must condemn the lockdown of Tibet and ask for unfettered access. Just as Chinese people, journalists and government representatives have access to Australia, Australians should have access to Tibet and China. For over two years, the Chinese government has failed to respond to requests by Australian parliamentarians to visit Tibet even though its delegations representing the so-called Tibetan Autonomous Region regularly receive approval to visit Australia. Reciprocity is a fundamental principle of diplomatic practice. Australia’s government officials, parliamentarians and journalists should obtain reciprocal access to Tibet. These visits must be unrestricted to allow open interaction with local Tibetan people and promote genuine understanding of the situation there.

The Australian All-Party Parliamentary Group for Tibet, of which I am also the co-chair, believes that visits by independent international observers are an important measure to make China accountable for its policies in Tibet and to evaluate the effect of these policies on the Tibetan environment, culture and way of life.

I appeal directly to China’s all-powerful leader, Mr Xi Jinping. Mr Xi Jinping, your mother is Buddhist. You must understand that people’s devotion to the Buddhist religion has little to make the Chinese state fear. I ask you to allow His Holiness the Dalai Lama to visit the Tibetan Autonomous Region—and I volunteer, along with Nancy Pelosi and other leading international supporters of the Tibetan cause, to come with him—to see our Tibetan friends continue to work with China for an autonomous area within the Chinese federation.

The Tibetan Middle Way is not an attempt for independence. His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Lobsang Sangay, the elected representative of Tibetans in exile, appeal for the Middle Way—where Tibetan religion, culture and language be respected as undertaken by the Chinese Constitution. Mr Xi Jinping, I ask you to reverse your policies and I call on the Australian government to renew its support for our endeavour to visit Tibet over the term of this parliament.

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