PM blunt in advice on Tibet
By Mark Kenny in Beijing, smh
April 10, 2008 12:00am
KEVIN Rudd has risked damaging Australia's trading relationship with China, issuing an undiplomatically blunt message for it to resolve the situation in Tibet without resorting to further violence.
In a world-first for a Western leader, Mr Rudd sent his message in the most direct way - in China and in Chinese.
"Australia, like most other countries, recognises China's sovereignty over Tibet," he told a packed lecture theatre of more than 500 students at Peking University.
"But we also believe it is necessary to recognise there are significant human rights problems in Tibet . . . the current situation in Tibet is of concern to Australians," he told them."
Those comments brought a swift reaction, with one student pointing out to Mr Rudd that most people in the hall spoke some level of English whereas very few Western people spoke Chinese.
This, he said, showed China was making efforts to understand the world but the world was not making an effort to understand China.
Mr Rudd's unusually frank criticisms also brought an immediate rebuke from a senior official.
The chairman of the Tibetan Autonomous Region said Mr Rudd's claims of violence and oppression in the mountainous former kingdom were "totally unfounded and that the people of Tibet "enjoyed wonderful human rights protections".
Mr Rudd's speech in Mandarin to Peking University, China's oldest and most venerable university, appeared to go over extremely well with students and lecturers.
He began with an apology of sorts telling them that his Mandarin had deteriorated.
"Never fear heaven and earth but be afraid of foreigners speaking Chinese," he joked.
Students emerging after the speech praised Mr Rudd's Mandarin which was said to be quite formal and even refined.