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Procedure : 2011/2874(RSP)
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PV 27/10/2011 - 12.1
CRE 27/10/2011 - 12.1

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PV 27/10/2011 - 13.1

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Thursday, 27 October 2011 - Strasbourg OJ edition

12.1. Tibet, in particular self-immolation by nuns and monks
Video of the speeches

  President. − The first item is the debate on Tibet, in particular self-immolation by nuns and monks(1).


  Véronique De Keyser, on behalf of the S&D Group.(FR) Mr President, I wanted to let you know that the Group of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats in the European Parliament has not tabled a resolution on Tibet and will not take part in the votes. This is not because we are against what is said in the resolution, but because we believe this to be a particularly inopportune moment, given that there is a chance for direct dialogue with China on these issues, be that in the context of the EU-China summit or the EU-China High Level Political Parties and Groups Forum, to be held at the beginning of November by all the political groups here.

We therefore consider that an urgent resolution on this issue could create an interference, which would certainly not provide a solution to the problem, and that nothing is better than direct dialogue.


  President. − Mr Posselt, do you have a point of order?


  Bernd Posselt (PPE). (DE) Mr President, I have just one question for Ms De Keyser: why did your group vote in favour last week and on Monday when we placed this on the agenda? At the time, we were still expecting a summit to be held this week between the EU and China and wanted to refer to this expressly.


  Véronique De Keyser, on behalf of the S&D Group.(FR) Mr President, the Group of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats in the European Parliament certainly did not vote in favour. It was in the minority. Our group’s position was clear from the outset. We then went on to discuss the issue of deciding whether or not, given that we were in the minority, we would table a separate resolution despite everything. Finally, the S&D Group took the decision not to table a separate resolution.


  Eva Lichtenberger, author.(DE) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, my colleague from the Group of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats in the European Parliament says that this is the wrong time to discuss this issue. We have been confronted with a deterioration of the situation regarding human rights in Tibet since 2008. Gradually things are getting worse, difficulties are becoming more dramatic, and Tibet is becoming increasingly inaccessible to journalists, tourists and people who want to see for themselves the truth behind this situation.

The situation in Tibet is worse than ever and the fact that people are prepared to burn themselves to death is a sign of just how desperate the situation is for this minority in Tibet’s mountain region. The deterioration of the human rights situation has not been taken really seriously by the international community. These cases of self-immolation are acts of absolute desperation, the last resort. I am convinced that this should be reason enough for us to issue clear signals during our future meetings with the Chinese representatives and to speak out for an improvement in the situation in Tibet, for the implementation of autonomy with rights for the minority, something that is enshrined in the Chinese constitution, but not honoured.

It is for this reason that I cannot understand why someone would say we should not broach the subject now, suggesting instead that we should wait for the situation to deteriorate even more dramatically. We are duty-bound to broach this matter in our talks with China. I would urge you, Baroness Ashton, to address this issue in the strongest possible terms.


  Marek Henryk Migalski, author. (PL) Mr President, as with Ms Lichtenberger, I too do not understand why the Socialists today neither want to take this vote nor participate in this resolution. There is no such thing as a bad moment for asserting human rights or remembering those who, in an act of desperation, commit self-immolation. This is especially true since it is a very good resolution, that is to say, it calls on the Chinese authorities to put a stop to repressions and to release prisoners or give them a fair and just trial. The resolution speaks in defence of the nuns and monks from the Kirti Monastery. I definitely cannot understand how it can trouble anyone. What is happening in China is, regrettably, a long-term problem, and has not arisen only in the last few days or weeks.. It is a situation in which human rights are permanently violated. Where, if not in this House, should there be a voice that condemns those practices and stands against them? This is why I believe that firstly, we, here, must speak with one voice – it is a pity that our voice is not united; secondly, we must urge the representatives both of the Commission and the Council to raise these issues and discuss them in talks with our Chinese partners at the forthcoming summit in Cannes.


  Kristiina Ojuland, author. − Mr President, despite the fact that the Socialists are ignoring this resolution in this House, the Liberals think it is very important because the blatantly restrictive situation in Tibet, in particular in Ngaba county, has this year driven ten Tibetans to self-immolation. These desperate acts of protest, which have been provoked by the increasingly suppressive policies of Beijing, require a global diplomatic intervention.

There is no time to lose. We therefore call for the human rights situation in Tibet to be addressed with the President of the People’s Republic of China at the upcoming G20 Summit on 3 and 4 November in Cannes. I trust that President Barroso and President Van Rompuy will convey our unequivocal concern to President Hu Jintao. Human rights are not a matter of convenience but of principle.

The High Representative and the EEAS have been tasked with raising the human rights issue at the next EU-China Summit and constantly monitor the human rights situation in China. Every opportunity must be used to remind Beijing of our ceaseless concern over the ongoing human rights violations in Tibet.

The Chinese authorities may place fire extinguishers on the streets to prevent self-immolations, but they are unable to smother the flame of freedom in the hearts of the people of Tibet and silence their call for meaningful autonomy.


  Véronique De Keyser (S&D).(FR) Mr President, I have come to the conclusion that this is a resolution against the Group of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats in the European Parliament. Perhaps I did not make myself clear. The S&D Group has always voted for resolutions on Tibet. We have also tabled some. The issue here is not Tibet, but how to make sure a message gets heard by the right people. In November, we will have the opportunity to do so during the direct dialogue we will hold with China. I have been to China, where we brought this matter up with the Chinese. I will not tolerate people saying we do not want to address this issue. We believe that an urgent humanitarian resolution might not be the best option at the moment. It is our right to choose the way in which we deliver a message on human rights.


  Sergio Paolo Francesco Silvestris (PPE).(IT) Mr President, I wanted to know whether the same rule that applies to me – I raised a blue card earlier to address a question to Ms De Keyser, which I was unable to do – applies to Ms De Keyser, too. She was given 30 seconds to reply to a question just now.

If, on a point of order raised by Ms De Keyser, one can raise the blue card, I raised it, but I was told that I was unable to ask a question, whereas now Ms De Keyser has been given time to reply to another question. I wanted to know whether the same rule applies to the two of us, or whether there are two different rules.


  President. − Mr Silvestris, we are all subject to the same rules and I also made it absolutely clear to Ms De Keyser because she raised the blue card. I understood she would be asking Ms Ojuland a question; that was not the case. So I just made it absolutely clear that the blue-card procedure should not be used to make a point of order.


  Thomas Mann, author.(DE) Mr President, I strongly agree with the three previous speakers, but not with Ms De Keyser. This is absolutely the right moment for a debate of this kind.

The situation in the Kirti monastery in Tibet is still alarming. Nine monks and one nun have burned themselves to death in an act of desperation. They wanted to force us to sit up and take notice, so that we would finally discuss the issue, as we are doing today, rather than looking the other way. Eyewitnesses have reported how the Chinese security forces have surrounded the temple, blocking food and water supplies and transporting the monks for so-called rehabilitation. In April I wrote to the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and Vice-President of the Commission on behalf of the Tibet intergroup, calling for the EU to work to bring an end to this untenable situation. The service took action and received a response from the Chinese Embassy in May. This stated that the monks were solely responsible for the social unrest.

It is obvious, however, that the value of religious freedom and human rights is still not understood in China. We need a detailed investigation into what has happened, including the fate of the hundreds of monks who have been transported to places unknown. Dialogue must finally begin with the representatives of the Dalai Lama and the topic of Tibet must be right at the top of the agenda when summit meetings are held between the EU and China, something that can no longer be put off. The cries of the monks must not go unheard. This self-sacrifice must not be in vain.


  Bernd Posselt, on behalf of the PPE Group.(DE) Mr President, in today’s papers we read of new cases of self-immolation in China. The incidents we are criticising in our resolution have happened in the last three months. Today should have seen the EU-China summit. China’s President is to visit Europe next week to meet with the G20. When will the time be right to address this issue? I am very much reminded of the situation prior to 1989. At the time there were many people here – myself among them – who campaigned for human rights behind the Iron Curtain. Some people again and again stated that it was not the right time for such campaigns. If we had listened to those people, then the time still would not be right.

For this reason, I would call on the Social Democrats, whom I regard as an important and constructive group in this House, to return to our common cause and to join us in clearly supporting human rights, irrespective of who is violating them and the timing of such violations.


  Anneli Jäätteenmäki, on behalf of the ALDE Group. – Mr President, the fact that several Tibetans have set themselves on fire tells us about the desperate situation in that region.

The people are protesting against the Chinese authorities because the Chinese are preventing them from practising their religion. Overall, the Chinese authorities should change their policy towards the Tibetans, so that this is in accordance with human rights. Only then can a meaningful dialogue between the Chinese and the elected Tibetan Government emerge and a non-violent solution be reached.

I realise that the European Union’s power to influence China’s policies is limited. Nevertheless, it is crucial that the EU stand firmly behind universal human rights. I urge the High Representative to keep this in mind in future meetings with Chinese representatives, including in discussions on trade issues.


  Franz Obermayr (NI).(DE) Mr President, I am very pleased that we are once again addressing the issue of human rights today. It is a pity, however, that more Members of the House have not decided to take part in this debate. This makes it all the more rewarding to see so many young faces in the gallery here today. I would like to welcome the Weinheim and Kösen student corps to the gallery today.

When people start setting themselves on fire, then patently they no longer have anything to lose. This is an act of absolute desperation. The numerous cases of self-immolation by Buddhist monks and nuns in recent weeks should give us pause for thought. These people want nothing more than to live their spirituality in peace. However, brutal raids by the Chinese security forces, random imprisonment and transportation of monks, a permanent military presence on a full battle footing makes such a religious life impossible in practice. Furthermore, journalists and foreigners are prohibited from entering these regions.

We therefore urgently need to appoint a Special Representative for Tibet who will also be able to travel to the sensitive regions. The ultimate aim is to restore dialogue between China’s state authorities and the envoys of the Dalai Lama in relation to the establishment of a genuine, serious autonomous status for Tibet within the People’s Republic of China.


  Filip Kaczmarek (PPE).(PL) Mr President, to many of us, what is going on in Tibet is unimaginable. Cases of self-immolation are being committed in protest against the suppression of religious freedoms by the Chinese authorities. As a result of these horrendous acts of despair, five people have died, while the condition of the remaining four is unknown. The people of Tibet are demanding freedom of religion and the return of the Dalai Lama. This year, many monks from the Kirti Monastery have been detained and sent by the Chinese authorities for what is called retraining. After taking part in peaceful protests numerous people have been imprisoned.

These recent cases are evidence of the intensity of the despair experienced by the people of Tibet in their fight for freedom – which is by no means a privilege but a right of every human being. Self-immolations are a form of protest and a cry for freedom, and the European Union must heed this cry. Parliament is a venue for speaking, not for staying silent.


  Monica Luisa Macovei (PPE) . – (RO) In Tibet, Tibetan monks are subject to arbitrary arrest and are committing self-immolation in protest. On 25 October, Dawa Tsering, aged 38, set fire to himself during a religious ceremony in Kardze. Since March of this year, nine young Tibetans have committed self-immolation in Eastern Tibet, and seven such cases were reported in September.

And this is not the time to discuss the situation in Tibet? I believe this is precisely the time to discuss this situation, and we would be cowards if we did not discuss it. Because people are dying now. When should we discuss it? Right now, when these things are happening in Tibet. I also say that we should discuss it every day and say: another day has passed on which the Chinese authorities did nothing, two days have passed on which the Chinese authorities did nothing. We should discuss this situation absolutely every day. Monks are being arbitrarily detained, the police are permanently inside the monasteries, and the number of programmes for the patriotic education of the Tibetan population are increasing from one day to the next. There is tension in the region, and this causes Buddhist monks to resort to the gesture of self-immolation as a sign of protest.

I call on the Council and the Commission to make these issues a priority in relations with the Chinese Government, with the main objective of achieving real autonomy in Tibet and putting an end to repression.


  Róża Gräfin von Thun und Hohenstein (PPE).(PL) Mr President, for the umpteenth time in this Chamber, we – more or less the same group of people – are discussing the violations of human rights in China. We are discussing how their culture – a source of inspiration for the entire world – is being destroyed, how their religion – a source of inspiration for many people the world over – is being destroyed, how Tibet is being destroyed. We are saying that the Chinese hold human rights in total disregard and that they are watching us in this empty Chamber, as we discuss, for the umpteenth time, whether it is worth it, whether this is the right time, when we are negotiating trade and finance issues and wearing kid gloves as we tactfully nurture our good relations with China – while the monks cannot be more vociferous in pleading with us to be clear and forthright, to make genuine efforts in calling attention to the horrific things happening there. Perhaps this is becoming embarrassing, perhaps it is beginning to undermine any capacity of ours to act on behalf of those people there who care about dignity – theirs and, after all, ours, for how we respond to them is a test of our own dignity.


  Sergio Paolo Francesco Silvestris (PPE).(IT) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, since violent protests rocked Tibet in March 2008, repression has intensified. One of the places most marked by the intensity of repression has been the Kirti monastery, in the Chinese region of Sichuan, where almost all of the immolations, which we rightly mention in our resolution, have taken place.

The first took place precisely on the third anniversary of the 2008 insurrection, and involved a 20-year-old monk. From that day to this, besides a total lack of progress in the dialogue with the Dalai Lama and the international community, Beijing has imposed even tougher monitoring measures, an actual military curfew that has left the Kirti monastery half-empty (the number of monks has fallen from 2 500 to 600) and under round-the-clock surveillance by Chinese police.

Following the first death, the authorities have punished dozens of monks with prison sentences of various lengths, and have sentenced three of them to 10 or 13 years for having helped a fellow monk to sacrifice himself. The monk’s relatives have also been imprisoned or interrogated, while a growing sense of terror has spread through Tibet. I believe these reasons are sufficient to vote for and adopt a resolution of this Parliament.


  Gesine Meissner (ALDE).(DE) Mr President, Commissioner, as has already been stated here, China is a super power and for that reason is very important for the Member States of the European Union. I know that, when it comes to human rights violations in China, some people would say we should leave the Chinese in peace. They have a different culture and do not share our value system, hence we should not seek to impose our values on them. When, however, we find that people are voluntarily setting themselves on fire, when young people of 18 and 19 years of age who simply want to live according to their faith have no other choice than to take their own lives, then it is no longer possible to remain silent.

The fact is that the representatives of the Dalai Lama are constantly calling on our support, placing their hope in the European Parliament, even though they know that even if we debate the issue here, nothing will happen and nothing will change for a long time. All we can do is repeatedly point out the injustices happening there and call on anyone who has contact with China to keep putting this issue on the agenda. After all, I believe one thing is quite clear: if everyone brings up this issue again and again, then China will be unable to ignore it and something must eventually happen.


  Raül Romeva i Rueda (Verts/ALE). – Mr President, actually we were told during the Olympic Games that the situation in China, and particularly in Tibet, would improve after these events. The truth is that this has not happened, and the situation right now in Tibet is at least the same as, if not worse than, it was before. The example we are now putting on the table – self-immolation – is the result of frustration at the lack of dialogue and the lack of willingness on the part of the Chinese to improve the situation.

This is why we in the international community have to speak out and remind all those who promised that the situation would improve after the Olympic Games that this has not happened. I was shocked when I saw the images of eight monks and one nun who self-immolated, but I also want to stress that there are still 300 monks whose whereabouts and condition are not known. So there are plenty of things that we have to ask the Chinese authorities, and the only way we can do this is by using this Chamber, this opportunity to show our concern about all these issues.


  Charles Tannock (ECR). – Mr President, there are shocking reports now of these eight monks and one nun self-immolating in China’s Sichuan province. In each case, seven of which have occurred in the last month, the self-immolation was undertaken in protest at China’s restrictive policies in Tibet, and in particular over the 300 monks who were taken away from the Kirti monastery in April. Tibetans are still without any news of their current whereabouts and well-being.

With the Dalai Lama now in exile for more than 45 years, the EU must urge the Government of the People’s Republic of China not only to provide information on the whereabouts of the missing monks but also, in the longer term, to take measures to ensure that the distinct cultural, religious and national identity of the six million Tibetan people is protected and preserved.

We urge the Chinese authorities to ensure that those Tibetans who have survived their self-immolations are now allowed to recover in hospital and receive the medical treatment that they require, to take steps to lift the siege on the Ngaba region, removing the heavy security presence in the area and the military personnel posted around the Kirti monastery, and, lastly and most importantly, to suspend the implementation of Beijing’s repressive religious control regulations.


  Zuzana Roithová (PPE). - (CS) Mr President, I would like to express my great sorrow over the fact that brutal persecution by the ruthless Chinese government is driving monks and nuns to self-immolation, as they have no other way of fighting this oppression. Today’s resolution, through which we respond to these acts of suicide, has a strong personal resonance for me. In my own country, Czechoslovakia, young people also set fire to themselves in 1969, in protest at the occupation and oppression of the regime. The legacy of Jan Palach and Jan Zajíc was finally fulfilled after two apparently hopeless decades. I hope that the sacrifice of the Buddhist monks and nuns was also not in vain, that people will be able to live freely in their country, and that their country is delivered from its occupiers. In the meantime, we in the EU must insist in all circumstances and in all negotiations with the Chinese government on the relaxing of political and anti-religious oppression and the release of political prisoners, and also on autonomy for Tibet.


  Sergio Gaetano Cofferati (S&D).(IT) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, I confess to not understanding much of the criticism and many of the remarks coming from some Members. Some of them even seem offensive towards the Group of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats in the European Parliament. You do not have any grounds for casting doubt on our intentions with regard to the rights of people around the world, starting with Tibet and going on to other parts of the world with which we have again been concerned in the last few days.

We have always stood up for human rights. The issue that Ms De Keyser has raised is a problem of a different order; it is a problem of political timeliness. In other words, whether a position taken at this time by Parliament would help or hinder the process intended to resolve the dreadful problem of the Tibetan monks, who have a right to express their opinions and to live in decent conditions in their country, in a full democracy. There is therefore no doubt that restrictions exist.

The issue, however, lies elsewhere: it is how not to turn good intentions and positive wishes, such as those that motivate you, into an obstacle to the process of resolving this problem. That is all. As for the rest, we do not disagree on the fact that human rights must be guaranteed at all times. Just beware of timing.


  Peter Šťastný (PPE).(SK) Mr President, the number and rate at which nuns and monks in Tibet are setting fire to themselves has reached alarming proportions. As someone who grew up under a communist dictatorship it is clear to me that the main reason for these tragedies is the atmosphere of fear and the lack of freedom imposed and maintained by the Chinese communist regime. As one of the oldest cultures in the world, Tibet deserves a lot more respect, freedom and independence than it is currently being given by the government in Beijing.

The European Union and the Parliament must keep up the pressure on China to open bilateral negotiations with the representatives of Tibet headed by the Dalai Lama. Even just a hint in this direction would significantly reduce the tension and give all Tibetans some hope. The benefits of such a decision would be immediately felt throughout the region of Tibet and would consign these tragic self-immolations to history.


  Eija-Riitta Korhola (PPE).(FI) Mr President, in these cases of self-immolation, a love of freedom has taken shape, for which there is no higher price: human life, which is unique. This message cannot be ignored.

China’s tightened state control, and, in particular, the new laws on the practice of religion, which came into effect in 2007, have resulted in this situation. However, China’s response to the protests has also been violent and merciless. A Chinese court has sentenced three Tibetan monks to prison, accusing them of the deliberate murder of their friends, who had committed self-immolation.

We must be all just as shocked at self-immolation as a way of standing up for human rights. China has ratified international agreements, pursuant to which it should at least guarantee freedom of religion and other fundamental human rights for all its citizens. It should, however, also avoid any measures that threaten the Tibetan language, culture, religion, heritage and environment. Without international assistance, the voice of the Tibetans is easy to silence.


  Neelie Kroes, Vice-President of the Commission. − Mr President, EU-China relations have developed positively during 2011. Our strategic partnership has strengthened in many areas. However, there are still sensitive issues where open disagreements occur from time to time, and Tibet is certainly one of these.

Since the unrest in Tibet in March 2008, this House has discussed the evolving situation on many occasions. While the EU does not question that Tibet is an integral part of China, at the same time we are greatly concerned about the lack of progress on the ground, as is illustrated by the recent distressing cases of self-immolation of ten monks and nuns.

The EU raised its concerns regarding Tibet at the last EU-China human rights dialogue on 16 June. The EU focused on increasing legal restrictions on religious practice in Tibet, limitations on the teaching of the Tibetan language, the ongoing official campaign against Tibetan intellectuals and cultural figures, the harsh measures taken against any Tibetan attempting to protest against official policies and the impact on Tibetan culture of the mass forced resettlement of nomads. Furthermore, the EU expressed its anxiety regarding the situation at the Kirti monastery, and in particular at the self-immolation of Phuntsok Jarutsang, and called on the Chinese authorities to allow all Tibetans, including monks, to exercise their cultural and religious rights without hindrance, and to refrain from the use of force against peaceful protest.

The Chinese authorities dismissed the EU’s concerns and emphasised that Chinese policies in Tibet had led to economic development and enormous benefits. China claimed that the series of self-immolations is instigated by forces that ‘want to destabilise Tibet’.

While taking note of the Chinese position, the EU can only conclude that the growing number of Tibetan monks choosing to take such tragic steps demonstrates the profound depth of feeling among many Tibetans that their religious, linguistic and cultural rights are not being respected.

The EU acknowledges the priority the Chinese leadership gives to maintaining territorial integrity and economic growth in minority areas such as Tibet. However, as the recent tragic events show all too clearly, economic development is not a panacea. We therefore strongly encourage China to create conditions which will allow the Tibetan people to fully exercise their political, religious and cultural rights in line with the Chinese constitution and the Chinese legal provisions on local autonomy.

Furthermore, we hope that the dialogue between the envoys of the Dalai Lama and the Chinese Government – which, regrettably, has been frozen – will resume soon, since we strongly believe that only this dialogue can lead to positive results, by aiming at resolving outstanding issues in a peaceful and sustainable way for Tibet.

Finally, I want to reassure this Chamber that the EU will continue to follow up this important matter in all other appropriate meetings with the Chinese authorities, including the next session of the EU-China human rights dialogue.


  President. − The debate is closed.

The vote will take place shortly.

Written statements (Rule 149)


  Csaba Sógor (PPE), in writing.(HU) The world sees the European Union as a federation of states that stand up for human rights worldwide and emphasise the importance of the principles of the rule of law and respect for human dignity. It has earned these laudatory epithets by raising its voice against human rights violations across the globe, and by engaging in commercial relations declaredly influenced by the attitudes of countries to the prevailing human rights regime.

We know that China is one of the most important trading partners of the Western World. It is in the interest of European countries that this partnership continue to be similarly fruitful for both parties in the future. There is nothing new about Chinese state policy concerning Tibet and the repeated disregard shown for the rights of the Tibetan people. The self-sacrifice and suicides of Tibetan monks and nuns are a cry for help addressed to the entire world. It is a cry for help because it would seem as though the world, and its champion of human rights, the European Union, did not hear their previous signals and less drastic ways of protest. But we did hear them, and we hear them now, too, and yet other than debates like this one here in Parliament or in the national parliaments there does not seem to be much happening in order to resolve the situation.

I am convinced that European states should take their responses to similar cases more seriously, and the European Union should take itself more seriously.


  Tadeusz Zwiefka (PPE), in writing. (PL) The Chinese occupation of Tibet has already lasted for 60 years. Following a long period of relative peace, the Tibetans tried to attract the attention of the international community to the violations of human rights committed by China, by starting their protests just before the Olympic Games were held in Beijing. Many Tibetans were killed in the clashes and public opinion became more radicalised. Despite severe punishments, imprisonment and torture, the Tibetans have not abandoned the road leading to their coveted independence. Last year the feelings of helplessness against Chinese power tragically escalated to acts of self-immolation committed by Buddhist monks and nuns alike. Monastic vows preclude attempts on your own life, which only goes to emphasise the plight of this people. There are at least several reasons for these acts: the social and economic marginalisation of Tibet by China, the lack of political and religious freedoms that should be protected under of the principle of autonomy, the call for the return of the Dalai Lama and increasing levels of indoctrination by China. The monks and nuns are thus trying to attract the attention of the West and to make politicians take action and condemn the offences committed by the Chinese authorities. However, the world is in no hurry to engage in a confrontation with a power whose might is growing with each passing day. If we do not give a clear response to the recent events, many Tibetans are ready to make further sacrifices, while the Chinese repressions will only increase in severity.


(1) See Minutes.

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