Policy Recommendations

As a policy-focused organisation, the International Campaign for Tibet seeks to engage policymakers from governments, parliaments, NGOs and think-tanks, as well as the various UN bodies. As guiding principles for our advocacy work, the International Campaign for Tibet firmly believes:

  1. That a non-violent solution to the Tibetan problem is achievable;
  2. That a path to such a solution can be established by the Chinese Government and representatives of the Central Tibetan Administration;
  3. That international engagement can facilitate that process.

In order to assist policymakers and government officials, the International Campaign for Tibet offers the following recommendations:

For European Governments and EU Institutions

  1. Continue to work multilaterally for meaningful progress in the Tibetan-Chinese dialogue and consider the appointment of an EU Special Coordinator on Tibet as well as other means to enhance regular contacts, exchanges of views and coordination on Tibetan issues;
  2. Ensure that the EU Special Representative for Human Rights monitor and report regularly on the situation of human rights in the People’s Republic of China, in particular with regard to Tibet;
  3. Recognize that, in addition to quiet diplomacy, assertive and visible engagement with the Chinese government and the use of public statements of concern can yield positive consequences and provide hope to Tibetans that a peaceful solution is possible;
  4. Call for the sincere engagement of the Chinese government in dialogues with the representative of the Central Tibetan Administration, using the Memorandum on Tibetan Autonomy and the Note to the Memorandum as a basis for future discussions;
  5. Support politically and financially efforts to address chronic needs, as articulated by the Tibetan people, for assistance in such areas as education, work force development, environmental protection, and sustainable development;
  6. Adopt a common position that heads of state meet with the Dalai Lama as the “guardian and protector of the Tibetan nation” and also find settings to meet with the Tibetan elected leadership, in particular the Kalon Tripa, Head of the Tibetan Central Administration;
  7. Raise issues of concern in appropriate international and bilateral forums, including at the UN Human Rights Council, bilateral and high-level meetings, and Human Rights Dialogues with China;
  8. Sign up to receive ICT’s Tibet Brief and other updates on the situation in Tibet;
  9. Visit Tibet.
  1. Table parliamentary resolutions and motions on Tibetan issues of concern;
  2. Form or join a Parliamentary Tibet Group;
  3. Send written questions to your Foreign Minister requesting information on his/her activities related to Tibet;
  4. Welcome the Dalai Lama and other Tibetan officials to your Parliament and call for your government to receive the Dalai Lama as well as the Tibetan elected leadership at the highest possible level;
  5. Engage visiting Chinese delegations to your Parliament on Tibet, highlighting that this is an important issue for you, your party and your constituents;
  6. Request a meeting at your local Chinese Embassy or Consulate to discuss Tibet;
  7. Work with other Parliamentary Committees to encourage discussion on Tibet, including Foreign Affairs Committees, parliamentary China Friendship groups and so on;
  8. Commemorate important Tibetan dates, such as the 10 March National Uprising Day;
  9. Work with NGOs and local Tibet groups;
  10. Become a member of the International Network of Parliamentarians on Tibet (INPaT);
  11. Sign up to receive ICT’s Tibet Brief and other updates on the situation in Tibet;
  12. Visit Tibet

The efforts undertaken so far by the EU and its 27 Member States are insufficient to address the situation in Tibet. The EU should assess how to adopt a coherent and coordinated EU foreign policy on the sensitive question of Tibet and should clarify and define its overall goals and objectives on this issue as well as work with the stakeholders to identify concrete steps that could help Tibetans and Chinese find mutually acceptable solutions.

A multilateral approach may be the only way to compel China to move. The current approach of various EU Member States alternately cajoling and criticizing China does not work. Without coordination, EU Member States are working at cross-purposes and handing Beijing shallow public relations victories and an ability to continue to stall. Therefore, as a first step, a consistent, unified Tibet policy must be forged.

Self-immolations in Tibet

In the last five years there has been a surge in non-violent protests by Tibetans in Tibet, notably in 2008 but increasing again since early 2012, with demonstrators calling for freedom in Tibet and for the return of the Dalai Lama. China’s severe and worsening security crackdown has provoked an unprecedented wave of self-immolations by Tibetan monks, nuns and laypeople. Since February 2009, 114 Tibetans have self-immolated in Tibet[1] with a dramatic acceleration in frequency since the once-in-a-decade leadership transition at the Chinese Communist Party Congress in November 2012. Twenty-eight Tibetans self-immolated in November 2012 alone, marking a new phase in the political struggle in Tibet. Many acts of self-immolation – that have recently been clustered in politically restive areas of Amdo in eastern Tibet – have been followed by mass gatherings of Tibetans to honor and express solidarity with those who have called for freedom for Tibet and the return of the Dalai Lama as they set themselves on fire.

The Chinese government has responded to the self-immolations and unrest in Tibet by intensifying the military buildup and strengthening the very policies and approaches that are the root cause of the acts, such as aggressive campaigns against loyalty to the Dalai Lama. The Chinese Communist Party’s erosion of authority and criminalization of self-immolation also leads to retributive actions against families, relatives, or monasteries associated with those who have self-immolated, which creates a vicious spiral in which more people are prepared to self-immolate because of the oppressive conditions.

In the months since Xi Jinping was elevated to the top of the Chinese Communist Party, China has even more vigorously stepped up its response to these calls for freedom, heightening its already strong military presence and introducing further pervasive security systems. New legal measures to criminalize the friends and relatives of those self-immolating were introduced in 2012. Dozens of Tibetans across eastern Tibet have been detained and long sentences passed, including a suspended death sentence issued in January 2013 for monk Lobsang Kunchok in Ngaba, Amdo.[2] These actions are exacerbating tensions in Tibet.

While the Chinese government has sought to underplay the self-immolations, they expose a crisis in the Beijing leadership’s Tibet policy. The self-immolations are a dramatic and visible counter to the claims of the Chinese Communist Party to be improving Tibetans’ lives and they are a direct challenge to the Party’s legitimacy in Tibet. Although the Chinese government has sought to blame the Dalai Lama and ‘outside forces’ for the self-immolations, it is acknowledged by the international community as well as a number of scholars and netizens in China that these dramatic developments in Tibet reflect significant failures in policy that must be addressed.[3]

EU Action

The EU should be more vocal and use more often public statement to send clear and firm messages to Beijing. Closed door and quiet diplomacy such as demarches and private discussion with Chinese counterparts should be accompanied, when appropriate, by clear public statements.

The European External Action Service and some officials from member states maintain that they are doing all that can be done on Tibet, but such a position does not reflect the range of policy options at the EU’s disposal. The EU’s position on Tibet has generally been one of ambiguity and accommodation, even in the face of gross human rights violations. As a matter of fact, the EEAS has so far issued only very diplomatic statements[4].

The European Parliament is the most vocal actor at EU level with regard to Tibet and it plays an important role by condemning the deterioration of the human rights situation in Tibet. However, its concerns have not been sufficiently considered by other EU bodies and Member States so far.[5]


A fundamentally new approach is warranted in Tibet. The Chinese government needs to take immediate steps to address the current emergency in Tibetan areas. United Nations High Commissioner on Human Rights, Navi Pillay, observed that “Social stability in Tibet will never be achieved through heavy security measures and suppression of human rights. Deep underlying issues need to be addressed[6].” Sustained international pressure has always been critical to help create the conditions for positive change inside Tibet, and is even more justified given the Chinese authorities’ attempts to seal off Tibet from international scrutiny. The EU should explicitly call upon the Chinese government to address the policies in Tibet threatening Tibetan culture, religion and identity that are at the root cause of the current crisis.

The International Campaign for Tibet outlines several recommendations for an assertive European policy on Tibet:

 1.     As a matter of urgency, the EU should prevail upon the new Chinese leadership to re evaluate the ‘stability maintenance’ approach as applied in Tibet, to end the military buildup and limit the dominance of the security apparatus. These are factors that have intensified the dangers in Tibet, increasing the risk of more self-immolations and future instability.

2.     The EU and its Member States should press the Chinese authorities to acknowledge the importance of the Dalai Lama to the Tibetan people and his critical role in Tibet’s future, and engage in a broader and more substantive dialogue with Tibetan representatives.

 3.     The EU and its Member States should align their national positions and support each other in explicitly calling on the Chinese government to address those policies toward Tibetan areas that are the root cause of the self-immolations, and that threaten the unique culture, religion and identity of the Tibetan people. Scholars have noted that the undermining and destruction of a sophisticated religious culture based on strong moral values and the importance of compassion only risks long-term instability and potential conflict[7]. Specific reference to and emphasis on Chinese policies that harm Tibetan culture, religion and identity should be included routinely in governments’ statements on the situation in Tibet, in both bilateral and multilateral contexts. EU Member States should also coordinate their efforts with other like-minded countries

 4.     The EU should actively and concretely promote the resumption Sino-Tibetan negotiations. According to the Envoy of the Dalai Lama for the dialogue, Kelsang Gyaltsen (31 March 2009): “Since the start of this dialogue in 2002, the Chinese side has been adopting a position of no recognition, no reciprocity, no commitment and no concession and no compromise. Although they continue to profess even to these days that the door to dialogue is open, however, so far they have been pursuing a strategy of avoiding any progress, decision and commitment. This lack of political will on the part of the Chinese leadership was clearly demonstrated at the last round of discussions that took place in November last year (2008)”. The Sino-Tibetan dialogue has now been stalled since 2010. The EU should pressure China to ensure the dialogue is promptly resumed.

 5.     A new approach is also warranted on Tibet from the EU and governments worldwide. Tibet – the world’s highest and largest plateau – is of increasing geopolitical significance. It is in a strategic location in Asia, which has the world’s fastest-growing economies, fastest-rising military expenditures and fiercest competition for resources. Tibet has the largest reserve of accessible fresh water on earth and is the source of most of Asia’s major rivers, supplying water to nearly half the world’s population. As such it needs to be brought back to center stage. There is a need for the international community to re-evaluate Tibet as an issue tied to Asian and global security, at the center of Asia’s unfolding future.

 6.     The major donor governments, including the EU, should maintain and, where possible, expand targeted programmatic assistance (as EIDHR) for Tibetans inside and outside Tibet, including: support for Tibetan-language media; support for sustainable, culturally appropriate development assistance to Tibetan communities; educational and cultural exchange and development programs targeted to Tibetans, both in Tibet and in exile; support to stabilize the Tibetan refugee community, particularly in Nepal; and regular dialogue with authentic Tibetan representatives, including but not limited to the elected Sikyong or political head [Lobsang Sangay] of the Central Tibetan Administration and the Dalai Lama and his representatives. Donors should establish legally binding project principles to govern official development assistance carried out in Tibetan areas.

 7.     The EU should specifically task its Delegation in Beijing to expand its outreach to Tibetan communities and monitoring of the situation in Tibet, including by maintaining a specific action officer on Tibet in the embassy’s political section. Drawing on the U.S. initiative, the EU and EUMS should begin negotiations with China on establishing consulates in Lhasa.

 8.     The EU and its Member States should utilize all appropriate UN forums to press the government of China on the situation in Tibet and increase international coordination and cooperation. Specifically, they should make use of China’s upcoming second Universal Periodic Review (UPR) at the Human Rights Council (October 2013) to voice their concerns about the ongoing human rights violations current in Tibet.

[1] ICT has released a report on the self-immolations entitled “Storm in the Grasslands – Self-immolations in Tibet and Chinese Policy” http://www.savetibet.org/files/documents/storminthegrassland-%20FINAL-HR.pdf    

[4] Declaration of the High Representative of the European Union Catherine Ashton on Tibetan self-immolations, 14 December 2012: http://europa.eu/rapid/press-release_PESC-12-535_en.htm  

[5] European Parliament resolutions on Tibet and human rights in China : http://www.tibetpolicy.eu/european-parliament-resolutions-2000-2012/

[6] “China must urgently address rights violations in Tibet,” 2 November 2012, UN News Centre: www.un.org/apps/news/ story.asp?NewsID=43399&Cr=China&Cr1#.ULuTbIUmQ3Y

[7] Chinese intellectual Wang Lixiong writes: “The complete religious system of Tibetan Buddhism has been an effective and necessary mechanism for maintaining social and ecological stability in Tibet. […] Laws and police power are actually less effec- tive than religion in creating social stability, because they only act as a negative deterrent and operate through the principle of punishment. They do not produce or promote goodness in society.” “The End of Tibetan Buddhism” in “The Struggle for Tibet” by Wang Lixiong and Tsering Shakya, Verso, 2009.