In July last year, I initiated a debate in the House of Lords on the human rights situation in China. Later on in the year, as you may recall, I helped to co-ordinate a campaign which sought to end UK Government funding of organisations complicit in the practice of coercive population control in China. This campaign, like the continuing human rights abuses in China, is ongoing.
Earlier this year I attended a briefing in Parliament organised by the Tibet Information Network (TIN) which sought to draw particular attention to the systematic persecution of Tibetan Buddhism by the Chinese authorities.
Recent years have seen a revival in Tibetan Buddhism, pioneered by nuns and monks from the Serthar Buddhist Institute in Sichuan. Predictably, in view of their miserable record when it comes to religious tolerance, the Chinese authorities have cracked down hard upon this religious revival and the TIN have recently received new information on the suppression of the Serthar Institute, the expulsion of Buddhist nuns and monks from there and the destruction of their homes. Reports indicate that well over a thousand dwellings have been destroyed.
TIN reports the suicide of at least one nun and the expulsion of hundreds of nuns from the institute following the arrival into Serthar of troops of armed police and teams of officials to enforce orders from Beijing. There is concern among Tibetans in smaller and more remote monastic encampments that the crackdown might extend to other religious communities in the region.
Officials at the institute reportedly presented monks and nuns who were being expelled with documents to sign containing three points; a denunciation of the Dalai Lama, a commitment not to return, and a commitment to honour the guidelines and policy set by the Chinese authorities. Many nuns reportedly left without signing the document.
Before the work teams arrived to carry out demolition at the institute, the population at the Serthar institute was at least 7,000 – the largest concentration of monks and nuns in Tibetan areas currently administered by China. According to several reports, the authorities stated in 1999 that they intended to reduce the number of monks to 1000 and the number of nuns to 400, although officials did not begin to enforce mass expulsions until last summer. According to one reliable report, the authorities have an even more ambitious plan to reduce the entire community of monks and nuns still further over a period of time.
Recently the Chinese Ambassador advised me that “it is the consistent policy of the Chinese Government to respect and protect the freedom of religious belief of Chinese citizens”. However, this account of the persecution of Tibetan monks and nuns from the Serthar Institute gives a small, but chilling, indication of the Chinese regime’s dismissive attitude to human rights and religious tolerance. TIN has no doubt that the orders for this crackdown originate from the highest levels of the Communist party in Beijing. Yet Western Governments, including our own, continue to pursue a “softly, softly, approach to the Chinese regime. Only recently, Peter Hain, a normally outspoken Government minister, timidly told the Foreign Affairs Select Committee that Britain had created “a critical dialogue” with China on “children’s and women’s rights”.
Yet where is this leading? Human rights abuses, including the persecution of religious minorities and the practice of forced abortion and forced sterilisation, persist. Surely the time has come for a hardening of our approach to China.
Please contact The Tibet Information Network (TIN) for further information on the current political, economic, social, environmental and human rights situation in Tibet.
Tel: 020 7814 9011