John Sudworth, BBC | August 15, 2014
The former mayor of Christchurch, New Zealand, Sir Bob Parker, says he is not happy to be associated with the document which China is calling the ‘Lhasa Consensus.’
Produced at the end of the recently-concluded Fourth Forum on the Development of Tibet held at the Tibetan capital this week, the document is highly critical of the Dalai Lama as well as the Western media.
It also speaks in glowing terms about China’s economic policies in Tibet.
China claims that the 100 or so conference attendees “unanimously agree that what they have actually seen in Tibet differs radically from what the 14th Dalai and the Dalai clique have said.”
“Participants notice,” it says,” that Tibet enjoys sound economic growth, social harmony, deep-rooted Tibetan culture and beautiful natural scenery, and the people enjoy a happy life”.
Sir Bob is still in Tibet, being given a tour of the countryside and other sites of interest.
Speaking to him on his mobile phone I asked if he had indeed endorsed the statement.
“Not at all,” he said. “I’m aware that the statement was made but I certainly haven’t signed up to it. I think a number of people who were there were a little surprised to hear about that statement.”
“Certainly the conference that I’ve been attending has been focused on sustainable development and there were no real political themes running through it at all.”
Free Tibet, the UK-based group that campaigns against what it calls China’s occupation of Tibet, believes though that foreign participants should have been aware that the conference, organised by China’s ruling Communist Party, was always going to be a deeply political affair.
“The statement issued at the end of this event makes clear that the whole thing was an utterly cynical exercise in propaganda which Western participants blindly or willingly allowed themselves to become part of,” the group’s director Eleanor Byrne-Rosengren said in a statement.
Another of the foreign attendees was the UK Labour Party politician Lord Davidson of Glen Clova, who sits on the party’s front bench in the House of Lords.
While in Lhasa, he has given an interview to Chinese state-run TV in which he praises the government’s economic policies as having produced some “remarkable accomplishments” such as raising Tibetan living standards and life expectancy.
He is also quoted by state run newspapers as suggesting that Western media organisations are often prejudiced by their “enthusiasm” for the Dalai Lama.
The Labour Party says that Lord Davidson is on a private visit to Tibet.
Asked whether he would be willing to give an interview to clarify whether or not he has been accurately quoted, a party spokesman said he is declining all such requests.
Sir Bob Parker though is happy to go on the record explaining why he chose to attend the conference.
“I came here as a New Zealander with a unique opportunity to get into Tibet and see some of these unique communities with my own eyes,” he told me.
“There seems to be a good degree of openness and happiness in the communities that I’ve been to.”
“But I’m not a Tibet expert, I’m not a global politician, I’m just a citizen who had a chance to come to a very special part of the world to see some of these things with my own eyes.”
Free Tibet argues that much of Chinese economic development has been a vehicle for the mass migration to Tibet of the majority Han Chinese population and the stripping out of Tibet’s resources.
As a result, it says, Tibetans are largely shut out of their own economy.
It suggests few foreign visitors would be aware of this fact “from the window of a car or the comfort of a plush meeting room.”
“It remains to be seen,” the group asks in its latest statement, “whether the report that they all agree with the outrageous and wholly inaccurate statements in the ‘consensus’ is true.”
We know now that at least one of them doesn’t agree. Sir Bob says he will be making his displeasure clear to the Chinese authorities.
“I’m not happy to be included in a document that states some very powerful political perspectives. I don’t actually think that’s fair and I don’t think that’s what I signed up to do by coming here and I will be making that point,” he said.
“Having said that I’m thrilled to have come here and had a chance to look at the countryside and to meet people.”