As Belgians prepare for federal and regional elections on May 26, Belgian political parties have committed to supporting the Tibetan cause in response to questions from the International Campaign for Tibet (ICT).
Eight parties contacted by ICT’s Brussels office replied to written queries about their positions on the Dalai Lama, Tibet’s environment and human rights in Tibet, as well as their plans to address the Tibetan issue on national and international levels if they are elected to power.
The Humanist Democratic Center (cdH); the Christian Democratic and Flemish Party (CD&V); the Democratic, Federalist and Independent party (Défi); Ecolo; Groen (Greens); the Reformist Movement (MR); the New Flemish Alliance (N-VA); and the Socialist Party Differently (sp.a) all replied to ICT’s 10 questions. The Socialist Party (PS); the Workers’ Party of Belgium (PTB); and Open Flemish Liberals and Democrats party (Open VLD) were also contacted but did not respond to the questionnaire.
ICT does not endorse candidates for office or take part in election campaigns. But as an advocacy organization, ICT works with governments around the world to build support for the Tibetan people and advance their peaceful struggle for human rights and democratic freedoms.
The parties that filled out ICT’s questionnaire expressed concern at the worsening human rights situation in Tibet and pledged to make Tibet an agenda item in their bilateral exchanges with the Chinese government. They said they would also raise Tibet in international forums like the United Nations Human Rights Council.
The eight parties pledged to advocate for unhindered access to Tibetan areas for journalists and diplomats. In December 2018, the US passed the Reciprocal Access to Tibet Act (RATA), which takes direct aim at China’s isolation of Tibet from the outside world and denies access to the US for the Chinese officials responsible for keeping American journalists, diplomats and ordinary citizens out of Tibet. Since RATA was approved, several other countries have expressed a desire to pass their own versions of the law.
The Belgian parties also reaffirmed their support for the resumption of direct dialogue between the Chinese government and representatives of the Dalai Lama, who was forced into exile from Tibet 60 years ago.
The parties’ responses will help inform ICT members and the large Tibetan exile community in Belgium about where the parties stand on these vital issues.
Vincent Metten, ICT EU policy director:
“For the Tibetan people to regain their freedoms and once again live with dignity after 60 years of Chinese occupation, they will need the active support of the international community. The answers that Belgium’s political parties gave to our questionnaire are a sign that Tibet will be an issue of concern for the Belgian government in its relations with China and with international forums. We would like to thank these parties for taking part in a discussion with us and, more importantly, for committing to advocacy for the people of Tibet.”
Following is an unofficial translation by the International Campaign for Tibet of answers received in French and Dutch (the original answers are available here).
Tibet questionnaire for the 2019 Belgian Elections
1. What is your stand on the current political, cultural and human rights situation in Tibet?
cdH (Humanist Democratic Centre): We plead for a balanced relationship between China and Tibet. This means respect for human rights, Tibetan language and culture, but also free access to the region for its citizens.
Défi (Democratic, Federalist, Independent): Défi has always been associated with the work of the “Tibet” intergroup in parliament and has co-signed several resolutions on this subject. We consider that the current situation of the Tibetan people is worrying, as a minority people on their own land and stripped of their culture. We share the concern of non-governmental organizations and, more broadly, we are concerned about the attitude of the Chinese central government vis-à-vis all minorities. Thus, the situation in East Turkestan (Xinjiang) is also of great concern to us.
Ecolo: Ecolo condemns human rights violations in Tibet, like elsewhere around the world. The way in which the People’s Republic of China exercises authority over minorities on its territory is of great concern to us.
Groen (Green): Groen condemns China’s human rights violations against ethnic minorities in China, including Tibetans. These large-scale, institutionalized human rights violations are intended to expel and eradicate minorities. Groen explicitly defends the cultural and political rights of these minorities.
MR (Reformist Movement): The political, cultural and human rights situation in Tibet is a major concern in our party. Belgium’s position focuses on respect for the cultural and religious rights of ethnic minorities in China, both in Tibet and in Xinjiang and the rest of the country, as confirmed in international treaties. This is also a point that Belgium put forward during the last “Universal Periodic Review” of China in the Human Rights Council in Geneva.
N-VA (New Flemish Alliance): The Chinese government exercises strict control over the social, religious and cultural life in the Tibetan Autonomous Region. The situation is worrying for ethnic or religious reasons. The government is working on the economic development of this region, but often disproportionately in favor of the massively settled Han Chinese. The situation on the ground is aptly described in the recently adopted resolution of the European Parliament of 18 April 2019, which the N-VA supported, and which you can find here: http://www.europarl.europa.eu/ doceo / document / TA-8-2019-0422_EN.html. Human rights should be at the center of our relations with third countries, including strategic partners. In that context, concerns must be expressed and discussed without hesitation.
Sp.a (Socialist Party Differently): sp.a is very concerned about the situation in Tibet – politically, culturally and in terms of human rights (including the right to freedom of expression, the right to freedom of association and belief, the right to physical integrity, the right to a fair trial). This concern is based on alarming information in the media, but also through numerous, serious and in-depth reports from various NGOs. The situation is unacceptable to us because it feeds the bitterness and hopelessness of the Tibetan people. China must lift the restrictions that have long been hampering the monitoring of human rights in the region. We urge China to fulfill its obligations under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
2. How does your Party plan on contributing to the solution of the Tibetan issue?
cdH (Humanist Democratic Centre): We will support any parliamentary resolution and any political, diplomatic or cultural initiative aimed at contributing to dialogue, ensuring respect for fundamental rights and finding a solution to the Tibetan question.
Défi (Democratic, Federalist, Independent): In the Belgian context, we are ready to work within a multi-party platform (excluding far-right parties), so that the Tibetan issue is put on the political agenda every time opportunity will arise. In so far as we will be represented there, we want to act in the same way in the European Parliament.
Ecolo: We want to raise the situation and make China face up to its responsibilities.
Groen (Green): The suffering of the Tibetan population has received very little attention in recent years. Groen wants to change that by constantly drawing attention to the situation in Tibet.
MR (Reformist Movement): As stated, the MR supports greater cultural and religious freedom for Tibet. Other points of attention seem important to us, such as access to basic health care and the fight against malnutrition. In our view, it is essential to continue to support the health sector and the development of the agricultural sector in Tibet, particularly through the work of some Western NGOs on the ground.
N-VA (New Flemish Alliance): In its external policy, the N-VA advocates a humanitarian reflex. We want to enter into dialogue with other countries, with a focus on respect for human rights, democratic basic values and the right to self-determination. From that point of view, the N-VA wishes to propagate Western norms and values - with the Enlightenment as the basis. Only a – political – dialogue is the appropriate way to work out a sustainable solution for a peaceful coexistence in the relationship between China and Tibet. The N-VA wishes to contribute to the establishment of that dialogue with a view to achieving that sustainable solution, with a special place for expressing human rights concerns. The N-VA wishes to point out that its MPs in the various parliaments have repeatedly raised the Tibetan cause. For example, during the last legislature, various resolutions of the European Parliament, describing the precarious situation in Tibet, were supported. Interventions of our MPs in plenary have also supported these resolutions. Another example is that Flemish Parliament President Jan Peumans met the Dalai Lama when he visited Brussels in September 2016. In this way, the N-VA wishes to underline its continued commitment to the Tibetan cause, and this will continue to be the case.
Sp.a (Socialist Party Differently): The most important thing is that European and international pressure to improve the situation in Tibet is intensified. We will therefore always argue that Belgium should put the urgent need for this on the agenda bilaterally (with China) and in European and international institutions and forums.
3. Will your party ask the Belgian government to raise the Tibetan issue in all exchanges with official representatives of the People’s Republic of China?
cdH (Humanist Democratic Centre): Yes, the cdH undertakes to ask the Belgian government to raise the Tibet issue in order to contribute to a diplomatic solution. It is essential to exchange with Chinese representatives to contribute to a lasting solution.
Défi (Democratic, Federalist, Independent): Yes, without hesitation. More generally, we will ensure that the issue of human rights in other parts of China and in the territories that China has annexed is also raised.
Groen (Green): Yes. For example, trade missions to China can be used more than is already the case to discuss human rights violations in Tibet.
MR (Reformist Movement): Both Prime Minister Charles Michel and Foreign Minister Didier Reynders have already had the opportunity to speak frankly and transparently about human rights issues (including cultural, religious, civil and political issues) during bilateral and multilateral diplomatic contacts with China.
N-VA (New Flemish Alliance): See the answer to question 2. It is important that the issue of human rights violations can be raised at the political level, in particular in the European context, in order to speak with one strong, clear international voice in the contacts with China. The aforementioned dialogue under question 2 must take place at different levels, both within the international multilateral framework and at the bilateral level, and the situation of Tibet, and the human rights situation in general in China, must be addressed in official and unofficial discussions . In this way, we encourage China to confirm the international commitments that it has entered into and that it has said it wants to abide by.
Sp.a (Socialist Party Differently): Yes we will. Belgium and China must conduct an open and respectful dialogue on the universality of human rights, in particular in the region.
4. Will your party support the establishment of a –official or not- multi-party parliamentary discussion group on the Tibetan issue (as already exists in other parliaments in Europe?)
cdH (Humanist Democratic Centre): Yes, we are in favor of the establishment of a multi-party parliamentary group. We will support any tool that can contribute to a peaceful and diplomatic solution.
Défi (Democratic, Federalist, Independent): As underlined, Défi participated in the work of the Tibet intergroup under the previous legislatures; we are therefore in favor of his reestablishment.
Groen (Green): Groen will undoubtedly support the creation of such an interparliamentary group.
MR (Reformist Movement): This issue can be addressed at the Committee on External Relations of the Chamber of Representatives.
N-VA (New Flemish Alliance): The right to self-determination and autonomy, also for Tibet, is central to the ideas of the N-VA. We can support the demand for delegations and on-site visits by national and international institutions or the establishment of parliamentary working groups to verify the Tibetan situation and the degree of self-determination.
Sp.a (Socialist Party Differently): Yes.
5. Will your party advocate for Belgium to address the ongoing poor human rights situation in Tibet at UN bodies, specifically the United Nations Human Rights Council or as part of a joint multi-country initiative? Will your party support the demand to allow UN representatives, especially UN Special Rapporteurs, to have access to Tibet?
cdH (Humanist Democratic Centre): Only multilateral action with the support of international organizations can lead to a lasting solution. We are therefore in favor of joint action within the United Nations to ensure respect for human rights. The High Commissioner for Human Rights and the Special Rapporteurs should be able to access Tibet to ensure respect for fundamental rights.
Défi (Democratic, Federalist, Independent): Yes. We plead for Belgium to use its current seat on the Security Council to systematically put human rights issues on the agenda, in line with our universalist perspective; Yes.
Groen (Green): Groen is in favor of focusing attention on the Tibetan issue within the UN – and in particular in the Human Rights Council. If our country were to become member of the Human Rights Council again in 2023 – which is the ambition – we would urge Belgium to take the initiative itself. To break the isolation of Tibet, Groen will effectively support access requests from UN representatives – including the High Commissioner for Human Rights and Special Rapporteurs – to Tibet.
MR (Reformist Movement): Yes.
N-VA (New Flemish Alliance): The aforementioned dialogue in the answer to question 2 must take place at different levels. The international multilateral framework, in particular the forums of the UN and the EU, are first and foremost the appropriate way to put the Tibetan issue on the agenda and to express a united position of the international community. We refer in this context, for example, to the EU-China summit at the beginning of April, where this objective was repeated. The need for the EU-China human rights dialogue was underlined, as well as the fact that the UN bodies should be used more for mutual and strengthened forms of discussion with China about human rights violations. We can also support the demand for delegations and on-site visits by national and international institutions (see also answers to questions 4 and 6).
Sp.a (Socialist Party Differently): Yes, as stated above, the most important thing is that European and international pressure to improve the situation in Tibet is intensified. We will therefore always argue that Belgium should put the urgent need for this on the agenda bilaterally (with China) and in European and international institutions and forums. Yes (we will demand to allow UN representatives, especially UN Special Rapporteurs, to have access to Tibet).
6. For years, and in particular since the wave of protests that swept across Tibet in 2008, China has tightly restricted access to Tibet, including for foreign diplomats. What will your party do to promote unhindered access to closed off Tibetan areas for Belgian diplomats and parliamentarians, in reciprocity to the free access that Chinese officials and citizens enjoy in all Belgian regions? Will it send delegation of Belgian parliamentarians to officially visit Tibet? Will it support the adoption of a legislation similar to the Reciprocal Access to Tibet Act passed at the end of last year in the United States?
cdH (Humanist Democratic Centre): We are not in favor of adopting similar legislation to the reciprocal access Act adopted by the US. We believe that this could exacerbate relations with China and lead to further closure. We believe that the European Union should use all the levers
it has (diplomatic, economic, political) to rebalance the relationship with Tibet and ensure respect for fundamental rights such as freedom of movement and freedom of the press. Requiring access to Tibet, particularly for diplomats and journalists, should be a concrete first step in this direction. In this perspective, we encourage missions composed of Belgian and European parliamentarians to visit Tibet.
Défi (Democratic, Federalist, Independent): We will systematically advocate for free access to all Tibetan areas to be granted to any official or diplomatic mission. We are ready to consider reciprocity measures, especially in a European framework that seems the most appropriate for taking such measures.
Ecolo: We rather advocate for these questions to be considered at the European level in order to have any chance of success. Our elected officials will therefore work on it.
Groen (Green): It is extremely important to break through Tibet’s isolation and to allow journalists and members of parliament to visit Tibet and testify about the situation. Groen believes that the European Union is the best scale for this. Groen will certainly support a resolution in the European Parliament that safeguards access to Tibet by officials, journalists, NGOs, associations and citizens of a European member state. We advocate a “mutual access” framework. This means that if China refuses or restricts these people to Tibet, access to the EU will also be restricted for Chinese officials and organizations.
MR (Reformist Movement): Several Belgian parliamentary delegations have visited Tibet in recent years. We welcome the establishment of this very strong parliamentary and bilateral diplomacy which allows for permanent political dialogue. With regard to closed areas, we plead, in the dialogue with China, as with all our international partners, for free access to international bodies.
N-VA (New Flemish Alliance): See the answer to question 4: since the N-VA ideology focuses on the question of the right to self-determination, we can ask for delegations and on-site visits from national and international institutions or the establishment of parliamentary working groups to promote Tibetan verify the situation and the degree of self-determination. The N-VA also supported the issue through the aforementioned European Parliament resolution of 18 April 2019 urging China to grant unhindered access to Tibet for diplomats, international observers, journalists and EU citizens in return for the to provide free and open access that Chinese travelers enjoy throughout the territory of the EU Member States, as well as to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and special UN procedures, free, meaningful and unobstructed access to the Tibetan Autonomous Region.
Sp.a (Socialist Party Differently): Yes, yes, yes.
7. How do you assess the environmental situation on the Tibetan Plateau? Will you advocate for the Chinese government to actively include the Tibetan people in forging and realizing environmental, economic, and resource policies while refraining from anything that might harm the fragile environment—especially natural resources such as Tibet’s water resources?
cdH (Humanist Democratic Centre): The environmental implications should be better reflected in economic policies so as not to further jeopardize Tibet’s resources. The population should be involved in the development of these policies.
Défi (Democratic, Federalist, Independent): The environmental situation is of course catastrophic on the entire Himalayan plateau due to climate change. But they are singularly accentuated by the policies implemented on the Tibetan territories, in particular with regard to deforestation and impacts on the watersheds of the big Asian rivers. It will therefore be necessary to integrate the environmental dimension into all points of attention when we meet with representatives of the People’s Republic of China. We are of course in favor of any policy that includes the populations concerned in terms of rational exploitation of resources, so as to promote the self-sufficiency of these populations and to make them benefit first and foremost from the products of their territories.
Ecolo: Yes. Environmental security, to be successful, requires more transparency and the inclusion of concerned communities in information, decision-making and management processes.
Groen (Green): The Tibetan plateau is of special environmental value from an environmental point of view. Unfortunately, it is threatened by climate change (melting glaciers, rising snow line, loss of grassland, etc.). The infrastructure works of China (dams, railway lines, etc.) are very involved in the unique and fragile ecosystems in Tibet. These interventions are imposed by China and thus affect the participation and autonomy of the Tibetans. No party is so concerned about the effects of climate change than Groen. Like in our country, Groen will certainly encourage this in its contacts with China.
MR (Reformist Movement): The environmental situation of China, and more specifically the Tibetan highlands and their quite exceptional ecosystem (permafrost, …) is worrying. We believe that in this area there is no alternative to dialogue with the Chinese authorities, to raise awareness of this issue and make them understand that they are responsible for safeguarding an ecosystem like no other . As such, we can only welcome China’s involvement in the Paris Accords.
N-VA (New Flemish Alliance): The right to self-determination and greater autonomy, also for Tibet, is central to the N-VA’s ideas. From that context, it seems logical to the N-VA that the involvement of the local population comes first. The Chinese government is working on the economic development of the region, but also has a responsibility to do so with respect for the environment.
Sp.a (Socialist Party Differently): The perceived lack of genuine participation of the Tibetan population in the development policy of the region is problematic and must stop. Yes, this is very important for the development of the region and the protection of its fragile ecosystem.
8.The Chinese government has on several occasions indicated its intention to interfere in the succession of the Tibetan spiritual leader in exile the Dalai Lama.Do you think that the reincarnation and succession of the next Dalai Lama should be determined by the government of China, or by religious principles and practices of Tibetan Buddhism and the will of the Tibetan people?
cdH (Humanist Democratic Centre): No, for the cdH the succession of the next Dalai Lama is primarily a question related to the religious practices and principles of Tibetan Buddhism. The will of the Tibetan people will have to be respected.
Défi (Democratic, Federalist, Independent): It goes without saying that the cultural and religious traditions of the Tibetan people must be fully respected. Of course, we advocate that people be free to adopt their mode of government, according to the principles and universal values of the rule of law. As such, we note with interest that the Dalai Lama himself has engaged the Tibetan people and Tibetan institutions in exile in the democratic way. He expressed the wish that he and his future reincarnations be limited to a ceremonial and spiritual role, the true power remaining in the hands of the democratic representation of the Tibetan people. We encourage this model and this evolution and we call on the Chinese government to respect it, in the name of the principle “One country, two systems” already implemented for Hong Kong.
Ecolo: By the practices of the communities concerned, respecting democratic values.
Groen (Green): It is of course up to the Tibetan people themselves to choose their leader according to their own cultural principles and practices.
MR (Reformist Movement): The MR is respectful of religious freedom and non-confessional philosophies. We believe that it is not up to politics to interfere in the spiritual choices of Tibetans and Buddhists. Buddhism as a non-confessional philosophy is in the process of official recognition by the Belgian authorities.
N-VA (New Flemish Alliance): The right to self-determination, identity, and the separation of religion and state are central points of attention in the N-VA philosophy. From that context, it seems logical to the N-VA that these principles should also be applicable here.
Sp.a (Socialist Party Differently): The most important voice in this is that of the Tibetan-Buddhist religious community itself. It is not up to sp.a to comment on this.
9. A direct dialogue between envoys of the Dalai Lama and representatives of the Chinese government last took place without result in 2010. Will you actively demand that the Chinese government resume these talks in order to find a durable and mutual solution to the Tibetan crisis?
cdH (Humanist Democratic Centre): Yes, it is essential to resume this dialogue in order to find a lasting and concerted solution.
Défi (Democratic, Federalist, Independent): Yes, frank and direct dialogue is always the path that should be favoured.
Groen (Green): Groen always prefers the dialogue for resolving conflicts.
MR (Reformist Movement): Yes. We can only encourage the resumption of dialogue between the Dalai Lama and China.
N-VA (New Flemish Alliance): An answer to this question is an extension of question 2: in its external policy, the N-VA advocates a humanitarian reflex. We want to enter into dialogue with other countries, with a focus on respect for human rights, democratic basic values and the right to self-determination. From that point of view, the N-VA wishes to propagate Western norms and values – with the Enlightenment as the basis. Only a – political – dialogue is the appropriate way to work out a sustainable solution for peaceful cohabitation in the relationship between China and Tibet.
Sp.a (Socialist Party Differently): Yes, the crisis can only be solved through sustainable dialogue and negotiation.
10. Will your party call upon the next Belgian Prime Minister to officially receive the Dalai Lama, in order to discuss freedom of religion, global issues of common interest and the repression facing the Tibetan peoplle?
cdH (Humanist Democratic Centre): Yes, we are in favor of the next Belgian Prime Minister officially receiving the Dalai Lama. However, we believe that this must be part of a global and European process aimed at finding a lasting solution.
Défi (Democratic, Federalist, Independent): Yes. The Dalai Lama, Nobel Peace Prize laureate and representative of a thousand-year-old spiritual tradition is a personality whose contribution is particularly useful. Like any sovereign State, Belgium must be able to receive it without any pressure and by freely determining, in accordance with diplomatic custom, the framework in which it must be received.
Ecolo: As a religious leader, it is conceivable.
Groen (Green): Groen would certainly transfer such a recommendation to the next Belgian prime minister and the entire government.
MR (Reformist Movement): The Dalai Lama has already been officially received by our Government and the Belgian Parliament.
N-VA (New Flemish Alliance): It is important that the issue of the situation in Tibet can be raised at different levels in order to obtain a clear picture of the situation and to speak with one strong, clear voice in contacts regarding China. At the bilateral level too, it is therefore desirable to address the situation of Tibet, and the human rights situation in general in China, in official or unofficial discussions with those directly involved.
Sp.a (Socialist Party Differently): Yes.
The Christian Democratic and Flemish Parti (CD&V) also gave the following answer:
CD&V believes that the People’s Republic of China should fully respect the linguistic, cultural, religious and other fundamental freedoms and human rights of Tibetans, and that the Belgian government and the European Union should take every useful opportunity to seize the situation to put Tibet and Tibetans on the agenda in contacts / discussions with the Chinese authorities. CD&V fully and emphatically supported the resolutions adopted by the European Parliament on this issue, and in this regard refers to the most recent resolutions of 18 January 2018 on the case of Tibetan human rights activists, of 12 September 2018 on relations between the EU and China, and of April 18, 2019, on the situation of ethnic and religious minorities in China. CD&V is open to all political initiatives that can effectively contribute to the improvement of the situation of Tibet and Tibetans, either within the European, federal, Flemish or Brussels parliament, or within competent international institutions such as the Human Rights Council of the UN.