Tibet or the pitfalls of meeting Richard Gere

Published: 11 February 2017 Author: Stefan Talmon

On 3 February 2017, the deputy government spokesperson announced that Chancellor Angela Merkel would meet Hollywood star Richard Gere in his capacity as chair of the International Campaign for Tibet (ICT) in order “to exchange views about the current situation in Tibet.” The ICT is a non-governmental organization with more than 100,000 supporters which advocates a democratic right to self-determination, the safeguarding of human rights, and the protection of culture and environment in Tibet. Asked whether, in light of Chinese sensitivities with regard to the question of Tibet, the meeting had been discussed and agreed on in advance with the Chinese Government, the deputy spokesperson replied:

“The Federal Government, as you know, generally adheres to the one-China policy. This, of course, also applies to Tibet. However, it is also clear that the Federal Government speaks up for the respect of human rights in China. In this context, it also speaks up, of course, for respecting the minority rights of the Tibetans, and supports the Tibetans’ claim to cultural and religious autonomy within China. In the past, the Federal Government has therefore repeatedly called for a constructive dialogue. This exchange of views should be seen against this background.”

On 9 February 2017, Chancellor Merkel met Richard Gere for a 45-minute meeting at the chancellery in Berlin. The government spokesperson posted a photo of the meeting.

The photo was accompanied by the following text: “Chancellor Merkel in talks with Richard Gere, chairman of the International Campaign for Tibet, on the situation in the region.”

The deputy government spokesperson confirmed Germany’s adherence to the one-China policy. That adherence had been affirmed by Chancellor Merkel herself in December 2016 when she stated: “We continue to stand by the one-China policy and we will not change our position.” The one-China policy is usually employed in connection with Taiwan. It acknowledges the Chinese position that there is but one China in the world and that the Government of the People’s Republic of China is the sole legitimate government representing the whole of China, including Taiwan which is an inseparable part of the Chinese territory. The extension of the “One-China Policy” to Tibet is at least unusual, if not legally incorrect. Unlike Taiwan, Tibet is not de facto separated from China and its government-in-exile is not recognized by any State.

The question of Tibet is not so much a question of representation but a question of territorial sovereignty. The Federal Government made a formal statement on the question of Tibet for the first time on 6 October 1986 when it stated in reply to parliamentary questions:

“In line with the entire community of States, including neighbouring India, the Federal Government is of the opinion that Tibet is an integral part of the Chinese State.

The Tibetan government-in-exile in Dharmasala is not recognized either by the Indian Government or any other government. […] Recognition of the Tibetan government in exile is out of the question for the Federal Government. In accordance with State practice, the Federal Government does not regard the Dalai Lama as head of State or as representative of a government.”

Several years later, the Federal Government reiterated its position on Tibet, stating:

“In line with the entire community of States, including neighbouring India, the Federal Government is of the opinion that Tibet is an integral part of the Chinese State. With good reasons, Tibet can invoke traditional, historically-based autonomy rights. The Federal Government supports the Tibetan claim to autonomy, especially in the cultural and religious spheres, as an adequate expression of the right of self-determination of the Tibetan people. In line with the legal conviction of the community of States this does not mean recognition of a right of Tibet to secede from the Chinese State.

Even if, in its turbulent history, Tibet had temporarily met the conditions of independent statehood – a question international law does not have a clear answer to –  it must be recorded that even at that time Tibet was denied recognition as a State by the community of States.

In line with the entire community of States, the Federal Government considers Tibet as an integral part of the Chinese State. For that reason, the Federal Government does not recognize the so-called government-in-exile of Tibet in Dharamsala (India).”

The German position on the status of Tibet as an integral part of the People’s Republic of China has been consistent for many years. While the meeting with Richard Gere may have raised a few eyebrows in Beijing, it did no signify any shift in the German position on Tibet.

Category: Territorial sovereignty

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  • Stefan Talmon

    Stefan Talmon is Professor of Public Law, Public International Law and European Union Law, and Director at the Institute of Public International Law at the University of Bonn. He is also a Supernumerary Fellow of St. Anne’s College, Oxford, and practices as a Barrister from Twenty Essex, London. He is the editor of GPIL.

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