By Cui Hongjian
The “Tibetan-in-exile” community in Switzerland has found it more difficult to obtain an official identification of Tibetan refugee since Berne revised its immigration policy and asked those Tibetans to change their nationality to China in July 2016.
Swiss media said recently that the approval rate for this group of asylum seekers fell to 50.2 percent at the end of November while the rate in 2015 ranged from 65 to 85 percent.
Switzerland, for a long time, has allowed Tibetans to identify themselves as the citizens of “Tibet” or “Stateless.” Switzerland has more than 4,000 Tibetans, the largest “Tibetan-in-exile” group in Europe, and is a major base for Tibetan separatists on the continent. Some activists would fly to places in Europe where important Chinese officials may visit.
As a small European country, Switzerland has a high profile as human rights advocate and has accepted some “Tibetans-in-exile,” which Beijing recognizes as separatists, claiming to promote human rights. Now, some European countries including Switzerland are reviewing their alleged role as human rights defenders in light of their divergent policies on the refugee crisis. In reality, the humanitarian model the Western world created has been dwindling.
As the international order changes, it seems inevitable for Berne to review and adjust its policies. In the short term, the EU would be more inclined to adhere to more conservative policies by sticking to political correctness and be the defender of traditional values against the political changes in the US and Britain.
Berne’s denial of recognizing the “Tibet” nationality has no doubt dealt a blow to Tibetan separatists, as well as the so-called “government-in-exile” led by the 14th Dalai Lama. Since the influence of the separatists is declining, some Western countries will have to rethink how they would play the Tibet card to pressure Beijing once the Buddhist monk is gone.
In the past, European countries have taken in refugees from some socialist countries like Vietnam to achieve political objectives after World War II. Rather than identifying them as political, economic or war refugees, these countries used them as political instrument to exert pressure on other nations. At the present, economic refugees are recognized as illegal immigrants and many war refugees from countries like Pakistan and Iraq, as well as the Balkan region, have been expatriated.
Berne refusing labeling the “Tibetan-in-exile” as from “Tibet” or as refugees is a result of the positive Sino-Swiss diplomatic cooperation. Berne must have realized it has more to gain from a strong bilateral relationship with Beijing rather than supporting the Tibetan separatists.
In January, Chinese President Xi Jinping defended globalization at the Davos forum during his official visit to Switzerland, which, together with China, is one of the major beneficiaries from globalization. Once Berne learns that it has a common vision with Beijing, it would certainly support China in its pro-globalization efforts, despite the Tibet question. Western politicians used to play the Dalai Lama card to show off their ideological superiority. But, nowadays, the issue could be used to offset China’s clout in the international community.
Apart from toning down the Dalai Lama issues, Beijing should work on finding other solutions while making efforts to better integrate China’s minority groups as the Tibet question wouldn’t vanish upon Dalai Lama’s demise.
(The author is director of the Department of European Studies under the China Institute of International Studies.)