The foreign ministers of 27 European countries have kicked off two days of talks in Slovenia. High on the agenda is the EU’s response to China's heavy-handed crackdown in Tibet. Some European politicians are insisting on sending a strong message to China and are calling for a boycott of the opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympics. Others have urged Beijing to enter dialogue with the Tibetan spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama. Meanwhile, Beijing has invited a group of foreign diplomats to visit Tibet as part of a damage-control exercise.
Supporters of Tibet are staging a hunger strike in Taiwan
When the violence in Tibet erupted two weeks ago, China insisted that the international community should not intervene, claiming that Tibet was an internal matter.
But as concerns on the part of Western nations have risen, Beijing seems to have rethought its position.
At very short notice, the Chinese government has invited world diplomats to visit the regional capital Lhasa to assess the situation.
Diplomats from more than 15 countries, including the United States, Germany, Britain, France and Japan are expected to remain in Tibet for two days.
The US has welcomed the invitation as a step in the right direction, but has also urged Beijing not to restrict the trip only to Lhasa but to also allow diplomats to travel to the surrounding areas as well, where there has also been violence over the past two weeks.
Monks won’t be punished
Beijing’s invitation to foreign diplomats coincided with its announcement that it would not punish a group of Tibetan monks, which tried to disrupt a government-organised foreign media tour on Thursday.
At least 30 monks staged a noisy protest at one of the temples in Lhasa, as international journalists were visiting. Some human rights activists had expressed their concerns that the authorities might take action against the protestors.
These very recent efforts to soothe tensions are being considered as a damage-control exercise by many. Beijing’s heavy-handed reaction to unrest in Tibet has tarnished its image as it sets the stage for the Beijing Olympic Games.
Boycott or not?
In Europe, there has been a heated debate about whether to boycott the opening ceremony in August. The head of the European parliament said on Thursday that leaders should think through very carefully their decision to attend or not. The Polish and Czech leaders echoed these thoughts at a meeting of EU foreign ministers in Slovenia.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel will not attend the inauguration but her decision has nothing to do with Tibet, according to her spokesman Thomas Steg:
“For years, we have followed the rule that the German chancellor doesn’t take part in the opening ceremonies of sporting events. Former chancellors Mr Kohl and Mr Schröder never attended such events as part of the audience. I can confirm that Mrs Merkel never intended to be a guest at the Olympics, neither at the opening ceremony or the sporting events themselves.”
The EU has also urged China to open dialogue with the Dalai Lama, who has also called for talks.
“Violence will help nobody. What we need is transparency on Tibet. We need a path to dialogue in Tibet itself, a path that China itself has to find,” said German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier.
Meanwhile, protests are continuing around the world. In Australia, dozens of people demonstrated in front of the Chinese embassy in Canberra on Friday, chanting anti-China slogans.
In Nepal, about a dozen pro-Tibet protesters scaled the walls of a United Nations complex, calling for immediate UN intervention in the matter. The protests are expected to escalate when the Olympic torch arrives in Beijing on Monday.