A statement by UK Foreign Secretary David Miliband posted on the Foreign Office website on October 29 tidies up an obscure detail of British foreign policy and makes it clear that the British government fully recognizes Chinese sovereignty in Tibet.
Previously, in a fine distinction fully understood by only a few specialists in international law, Britain had recognized Chinese suzerainty but not sovereignty in Tibet. Suzerainty is defined, rather unhelpfully, by Webster's dictionary as "the authority of a suzerain" or "paramount authority". The earlier British position dates back to a 1906 Sino-British convention signed in the wake of a 1903-1904 invasion of Tibet by British imperial forces under the command of Colonel Francis Younghusband.
Miliband said that Britain's previous position on the status of Tibet was defined at the start of the 20th century, and was "based on the geo-politics of the time" and "the outdated concept of suzerainty". He went on to say that "Some have used this to cast doubt on the aims we are pursuing and to claim that we are denying Chinese sovereignty over a large part of its own territory. We have made clear to the Chinese Government, and publicly, that we do not support Tibetan independence."
Although many will regard it as a footnote to history, the shift in Britain's policy will be seen as undercutting the legal case for Tibetan separatism. The Wall Street Journal quoted a spokesman for the self-styled Tibetan government-in-exile as saying Miliband was "testifying a falsehood."
Speaking to journalists in Beijing on Saturday, the former governor of Hong Kong, Chris Patten, said the move to abolish what he called a "quaint eccentricity" in British policy was long overdue. He praised Mr. Miliband for bringing the UK into line with the rest of the world, including the Dalai Lama, in recognizing China's sovereignty in Tibet.
(China.org.cn by John Sexton November 2, 2008)