China's claim to sovereignty over Tibet clashes with Tibetan demands for self-rule. A podium discussion, organized by the German China Association, debates the opposing positions.
"Please, no propaganda - be it Chinese or exile-Tibetan" were the words chosen by Gregor Paul, chairman of the German China Association, to open a podium discussion on Tibet at the East Asian Museum in Cologne. It was an appropriate introduction to a debate about a highly emotional issue.
The Tibetan government claims the People's Republic of China is oppressing its people and committing cultural genocide. China, on the other hand, argues it is helping Tibet with its development and that the Dalai Lama is a defeated separatist.
The historical argument
The first contentious issue raised during the podium discussion was the question whether, historically speaking, Tibet was part of China, or whether China was an oppressive occupying force. Klemens Ludwig, a publicist and Tibet expert, discounted the argument that Tibet had a historical connection to China. He pointed out that in the 14th century, China was part of the Mongolian Empire, a fact that had no relevance from an international law perspective today.
"So there is no internationally justifiable historical argument that Tibet is part of China," Ludwig said. "As for the current situation, Tibet's integration into China is an act of oppression, and many international law experts agree."
Progress or hunger
Helmolt Vittinghoff, a professor of sinology at the University of Cologne argued that Tibet benefitted enormously from Chinese politics. The Chinese, he said, developed the country and built infrastructure, specifically "streets, infrastructure and telecommunication networks for Internet and mobile communications."
Modern infrastructure and technology would have developed in Tibet even without Chinese occupation, countered Ludwig. He argued that Chinese politics actually thwarted Tibet's development and brought hunger to the country. In the 1960s, the Chinese government collectivized land, fought nomadism and introduced wheat on a large scale and banned barley as a crop. "Wheat sucked the country dry within a few years, compared to much less demanding barley, which was not allowed to be grown," Ludwig said. "China did not bring progress to Tibet; it brought quite the opposite."
China views the Tibetan spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, as a defeated separatist
Ludwig said Tibet should receive genuine autonomy, but not necessarily independence. Tibetans must have the right to freely practice their religion and traditions, he argued. He also called for a separate legislature for Tibet, but all under the Chinese flag as an adequate way to "achieve justice."
Vittinghoff, on the other hand, said demands for self-rule were ineffective. The Chinese government treated Tibet as it saw proper, said Vittinghoff, adding that the Chinese meanwhile viewed Western appeals to observe human rights as dishonest.
"When we (in the West) address the issue of human rights, we normally do so with economic interests in mind," said Vittinghoff. "That's what (the Chinese think) is so phony."
The key message of the podium discussion in Cologne was that regardless of what the West and the Tibetan government in exile demand, a solution to Tibet's issue depends largely on the Chinese government.
Author: Christoph Ricking/jrb
Editor: Sarah Berning