General Debate – Tibet

Yesterday Parliament debated the current situation in Tibet, and I thank the Prime Minister for initiating that debate. New Zealanders have been horrified by the Chinese regime’s crackdown on Tibetan protesters and they want our Government to speak out strongly against it. I want to query one of the Government’s reasons for not taking a clear stand on the side of the Tibetan people, and it is confusing the issue. Phil Goff said on TVOne last night, when debating with me on Close Up, said that he had seen reports of Chinese nationals and muslims being stoned and stabbed to death and that the violence had to stop on all sides, and he used that as an excuse for not taking a clear stand on the side of the Tibetan people.

Of course, no party in this House favours violent protest. The Dalai Lama has, rightly, spoken out against it, including as recently as yesterday, and has even threatened to step down as the recognised leader of the Tibetan movement if it continues. But it is very disappointing that Mr Goff used the fact that there might have been violence against ethnic Chinese as an excuse to take a neutral stand over whether to put himself firmly on the side of the Tibetan people when looking at the situation as a whole.

We cannot put a ruthless, one-party regime, which China is, on the same level as some Tibetan protesters getting out of hand and conducting violence, after decades of being abused as Tibetans and having their culture crushed. Back in the times of apartheid it was clear that the black movement, wrongly, used violence on many occasions. But the Labour Party at the time was clearly on the side of the black people and against those apartheid rulers. The same would be the case in many other parts of the world, for example, in East Timor. The Fretilin movement also committed atrocities during its liberation struggle. But now when we look back on it, and the New Zealand Government was not too good on that at the time, most people would probably think they should have been clearly on the side of the East Timorese people, the people of Timor-Leste, and against the Indonesian occupation.

That is why a lot of New Zealanders got rather upset, because there is a huge reservoir of support for the Tibetan people in New Zealand. The Buddhist religion is growing, and a lot of it is from the inspiration of the Dalai Lama and Tibetan culture and religion. We have to be clearly on the Tibetan side and use the lead-up to the Olympics – and people around the world are doing this – to focus on human rights in China, including in Tibet. I think we can actually bring about change.

I am actually quite optimistic, because I know that within China there are many millions of Chinese chafing under the one-party rule of the Communist Party of China. They do not like their internet being censored or their emails being surveilled by thousands of members of the State apparatus. We can force change, in terms of helping workers to get labour rights. If the Chinese society and economy are to develop, then they need more independent trade unions, more democratic management of the economy, less corruption, and more transparency – all of those sorts of things that go with a democratic, accountable society. We can help that by putting pressure on China during the lead-up to the Olympics.

Signing a preferential trade agreement during this period is particularly wrong. I do not look forward to seeing the images of our Prime Minister and the Chinese Prime Minister shaking hands and smiling together, if the backdrop is truckloads of Tibetans being carried away. I refer to this morning’s Dominion Post where it states: “Dozens of Tibetan prisoners were paraded on military trucks in the Tibetan capital, with their heads bent and wrists handcuffed behind their backs, as soldiers from China’s People’s Liberation Army tightened their grip on the city.” That is not the backdrop we want for our Prime Minister in China in the lead-up to the Olympics, which is why the Green Party is calling for a reconsideration of that April signing of the free-trade agreement.