07 Oct 2014
Several years back, during an interview with the Dalai Lama, I questioned the Tibetan leader on the 17-Point Agreement signed in 1951 between the Lhasa government and Beijing. It seemed clear that whatever the Chinese then offered to the Tibetans was not implemented on the ground by Beijing. My question was therefore: “If tomorrow you [the Tibetans] signed an agreement with the Chinese, do you think that they will respect this agreement more than they did with the 17-Point Agreement?”
The Tibetan leader explained his views: “I think that there is more possibility today [that they will respect a new accord]; since the 17-Point Agreement was signed in 1951, the world has very much changed and China too has changed. Unless the clock is taken back, and China returns to what it was in 1950, I feel that there is more hope today.”
He added that he was quite certain that ‘international pressure’ could force China to keep its promises.
This statement is worth looking at in the perspective of the recent ‘pro-democracy’ incidents in Hong Kong. During the ongoing ‘Occupy Central’ movement, tens of thousands of Hong Kongers have taken to the streets of the former British colony to exert pressure on Beijing to keep what they perceive were the Communist regime’s promises. The BBC rightly questioned: ‘Hong Kong protests: Did China go back on its promises?”
The latest news is that Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying refused to step down following an ultimatum from students demanding his resignation. Leung however announced that he had appointed his deputy, Carrie Lam to lead a team of senior officials to meet with student leaders. Though some students reacted angrily to the chief executive’s speech, others called for calm and asked for time to negotiate. But what will happen if the police uses riot gear, teargas and rubber bullets? It is difficult to predict. How was this point reached?
In 1997, after years of negotiations, the UK returned Hong Kong to China; the colony was promised ‘a high degree of autonomy’ for the next 50 years. It sounded similar to the ‘genuine autonomy’ asked for by the Dalai Lama. But in 2004 already, Beijing warned that it had to approve changes to Hong Kong’s election laws. Today, for the protesters, it is not a question of change, but of interpretation of the Basic Law. For the pro-democracy activists, in the scheme ‘One Country, Two Systems’, the second part was more important than the first. This is not the case in Beijing, which believes ‘One Country’ is the paramount feature.
On 31 August, the National People’s Congress (NPC) asserted that only after approving candidates, it would allow direct elections in 2017. The ‘Occupy Central’ movement brought the differences between the different parties to the fore. Alan Hoo, chairman of the Basic Law Institute, a well-known pro-Beijing lawyer told the BBC News that China had not broken any promise ~ “I think that its position is grossly misunderstood. Firstly, it’s not a promise. It is a legal obligation, a constitutional obligation that they put in the Basic Law.”