The clashes between rioters and police in Tibet that have left up to 100 dead are a particularly tough issue for New Zealand to address. Our principles tell us we should support human rights, the Prime Minister has said that New Zealand supports the right to peaceful protest and condemns any disproportionate violence against even violent protestors. However, the Government argues not enough is known about what has happened in Tibet (was it the protestors or the police that turned to violence first? Was the police reaction proportionate?) and, so, there has been no official criticism of the Chinese Government’s actions so far.
Would any level of New Zealand criticism of the Chinese Government’s human rights record change the Chinese Government’s behaviour? No. Could it jeopardise the China-New Zealand Free Trade Agreement? Possible, but not likely. So, in realpolitick terms, the FTA gives New Zealand a good reason to look the other way. That’s not a good look; it appears that we have been bought off by the FTA, even though the Government’s measured reaction is the correct one for now.
New Zealand needs to show we have not sold our souls for trade. At the least, the Government should state that it supports the right of the Tibetan people to self-determination and greater autonomy as guaranteed by the United Nations Charter, and call upon the Chinese Government to ensure Tibetan culture is protected.