The Chinese ambassador to the UK, Liu Xiaoming, told Tibetan activists and supporters at a public talk in the city of Bath that their cause was “doomed to failure” and that they will “never succeed, period”, as he boasted about the happiness of Tibetans under Chinese rule.

The comments were made at a talk entitled “World Affairs through our eyes – China”, organised by the Bath Royal Literary and Scientific Institution on Tuesday evening. Prior to the start of the event, attendees at the talk were asked by the organisers to remove or conceal items of clothing bearing Tibetan symbols so as not to “embarrass” the Chinese ambassador, according to activist group Free Tibet.

Photo: HKFP remix.

Among the audience during the talk were Tibetans and pro-Tibet campaigners, who had held a peaceful demonstration outside the venue before the event. A Tibetan, Sherab Gyaltsen, raised issues such as the calls for freedom and the incidents of self-immolation in Tibet, and challenged the ambassador about the disappearance of Tibetan boy Gedhun Choekyi Nyima – later identified as Tibet’s no. 2 spiritual leader the Panchen Lama – who was reported to have been arrested by the Chinese authorities 21 years ago. Liu said that he was just an “ordinary boy” and that he was never recognised.

Liu also spoke at length about the happiness of people in Tibet, saying, “There are 3 million people in Tibet, everyone would agree that Tibetan people are much happier, they live much longer and are much freer.” Gyaltsen then replied, “Not according to my family in Tibet”. Liu then tried to prevent Gyaltsen from speaking any further.

In an angry exchange with a human rights activist, Liu said that the campaigners were “violating [the] human rights of the majority audience in this meeting”. When a campaigner said “that’s nothing compared to torture”, Liu called it “absolute lies”.

“Your cause is doomed to failure… you try to separate Tibet from China, you will never succeed, period,” Liu said.

‘Chinese propaganda and lies’

“I’ve heard Chinese propaganda all my life but it is still shocking to hear someone telling lies in person about your country and the experiences of your own people,” Gyaltsen later said. “I know Tibetans in Tibet are not happy as the ambassador claimed, because Tibetans in Tibet tell us of the oppression they endure. Tibetans want freedom and no one has the right to tell them they cannot have it. Tibet will be free.”

Free Tibet campaigns manager Alistair Currie, who was present at the meeting, said, “The ambassador let the mask slip after being rattled by activists challenging him. After lengthy propagandising he found himself dealing with persistent and unapologetic campaigners holding him accountable for his government’s actions.”

File photo: HKFP.

Currie also criticised Liu for trying to impose Chinese influence not just in Tibet but also in the “free and democratic” UK by denying the rights of Tibetans to display symbols of their identity at the talk. “The Chinese ambassador is a representative of a human rights-abusing regime, responsible for the occupation of Tibet and the brutal repression of the Tibetan people. While he tours the country spreading China’s lies and showing a friendly face, no one must forget that.”

Tibet has been under Chinese control since the 1950s. Beijing claims that Tibetans enjoy extensive freedoms and has long denied accusations of political and religious repression. The current Dalai Lama, Tibet’s spiritual leader, was exiled from Tibet in 1959 after a failed uprising against the Chinese occupation. Recently, exiled Tibetans have re-elected Lobsang Sangay as their leader, five years after the Dalai Lama ceded political power in a bid to foster democracy and secure his succession.

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Karen is a journalist and writer covering politics and legal affairs in Hong Kong for HKFP. She has also written features on human rights, public space, regional legal developments, social and grassroots activism, and arts & culture. She is a BA and LLB graduate from the University of Hong Kong.