A senior Labour peer who praised the “remarkable accomplishments” of the Chinese government in Tibet while attending a conference in the disputed region has been accused of taking part in a “cynical exercise in propaganda”.
Lord Davidson of Glen Clova, a front-bench member of the House of Lords, has been participating in the Fourth Forum on the Development of Tibet in Lhasa this week. His party says it is “deeply concerned” about the human rights situation there.
In a video released by China’s state-run broadcaster China Central Television, the shadow Advocate General for Scotland is seen telling a journalist: “It’s very clear that the investment that has been put into Tibet has raised the standards of living of people here quite remarkably. I was hearing about the doubling, more or less, of the longevity of the population. These are remarkable accomplishments achieved in a very short time.”
At the end of the two-day conference, which was organised by China’s Communist Party and concluded on Wednesday, a “Lhasa Consensus” was issued which was extremely critical of the Dalai Lama. China claimed it had the backing of all 100 attendees although this has not been confirmed.
One part of the agreement read: “Participants unanimously agree that what they have actually seen in Tibet differs radically from what the 14th Dalai and the Dalai clique have said.
“The Dalai clique’s statements on Tibet are distorted and incorrect. Many Western media reports are biased and have led to much misunderstanding. Seeing is believing. Participants express the aspiration to introduce the real Tibet to the world.”
The document also said attendees agreed that Tibet “enjoys sound economic growth, social harmony, deep-rooted Tibetan culture and beautiful natural scenery, and the people enjoy a happy life”.
The idyllic picture of Tibet painted by the Lhasa Consensus is rather different from reality, where the violent repression of protests at Chinese rule is common. In the past three years, more than 120 Tibetans are thought to have resorted to self-immolation, many of them dying in the process.
Lord Davidson could not be reached to clarify his comments, which may have been manipulated or taken out of context by China’s state media. It is unclear who paid for his trip to Lhasa.
Eleanor Byrne-Rosengren, director of the UK-based group Free Tibet, which campaigns against China’s “occupation” of the region, said he should never have attended the conference in the first place. “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,” she said.
“It remains to be seen whether the claims that they all agree with the outrageous and wholly inaccurate statements in the ‘consensus’ are actually true. Many may well be surprised to find themselves endorsing these views. Nevertheless, an invitation to an event on Tibet organised by the State Council Information Office of China belongs in the bin, not on the mantelpiece.”
On the second day of the conference, police in China’s Sichuan province reportedly opened fire on a group of Tibetan demonstrators who were protesting about the detention of a respected village leader. Ten people were seriously wounded in the incident.
“As Lord Davidson was enjoying China’s hospitality in Lhasa, unarmed Tibetans were being shot by China’s security forces,” Ms Byrne-Rosengren said. “This highlights how grave his misjudgement was in attending this meeting. We look forward to hearing his urgent response.”
A spokesman for Lord Davidson’s law firm Axiom Advocates said he could not be reached for comment. A Labour Party spokesperson said he had attended the conference in a personal capacity.
“As part of the People’s Republic of China, it is in Tibet’s interest to build long term stability,” they added. “But that can only be achieved through respect for human rights and greater autonomy for the Tibetans. Labour remains deeply concerned about the human rights situation there.”