Yesterday, China Daily, a state-run media outlet, ran a story entitled “US reaffirms commitment to one China policy.” It referred to a March 29 speech by Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg. (Thanks to my colleague Bhuchung for transcribing the video.)
The headline is accurate, as is the reporting of Steinberg’s statement that “we do consider Tibet to be a part of the PRC and do not support independence for Tibet.” But in excluding the next sentence, the Chinese report creates a biased picture of the U.S. position on Tibet.
Steinberg next said, “But we strongly support continued dialogue between the Chinese Government and the Representatives of the Dalai Lama to resolve the differences.” This key phrase, representing the long-standing and bipartisan U.S. policy on Tibet, was absent from the China Daily story.
The same day, AFP reported on a White House statement saying that the President “reaffirmed our one China policy” with the new Chinese Ambassador. The statement referenced Taiwan but was silent on Tibet.
However, the AFP story also carried a quote from Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Qin Gang, that Beijing “values the reaffirmation by the United States of its commitment to China on the Taiwan and Tibetan issues.” Again, misleading. Yes, it may not be technically incorrect to apply the U.S.’s one-China policy to Tibet, even though when the policy was formulated it was solely connected with the status of Taiwan. But the White House statement didn’t mention Tibet in the context of its one-China policy. And U.S. policy on Tibet, which calls for a negotiated settlement with the Dalai Lama, preservation of Tibet’s unique culture, and an end to systemic human rights abuses, is far more complex than the Chinese statement implies.
This provides yet another cautionary tale for governments, who are repeatedly asked by Beijing to endorse its position on Tibet. Reading just the Chinese media or spokesmen, a minister in a European capital could get the impression that the U.S. is warming up to the Chinese position on Tibet. Not so. There is no change in policy. But only half of it gets reported.
In some unfortunate cases, governments (like France and Denmark) have made imbalanced “one China” statements on Tibet that lack reference to the human rights situation or the need for a negotiated solution. These facilitate Beijing’s framing of the Tibet issue on its own terms. On the other hand, the U.S. and UK governments have responsibly included these concerns in statements on Tibet. Their key message is that with sovereignty comes responsibility, and the Chinese have not been responsible governors of the Tibetan people.
Not that you’ll read that in China Daily, though.