Kenny: Ireland rejects Tibetan independence

Controversial – but Kenny could not have been clearer.

During yesterday’s visit to Beijing, Ireland’s Taoiseach Enda Kenny laid bare his government’s support for China’s position on quashing Tibetan independence in stark terms: “Ireland has always fully followed a one-China policy”.

For those not familiar with China’s “one-China” policy, this is the frame used by the CCP to justify it’s repression of independence movements. As comments like Kenny’s indicate, this framing technique is in many respects much more effective than all-out brute force – at least in terms of
winning legitimacy in the eyes of the West.

I witnessed the power of this argument in 2009 first hand. Travelling with a group of largely American graduate students in Nanjing during the twentieth anniversary of the Tiananmen Square crackdown, many of our group were understandably forceful in condemning the CCP’s treatment of Tibetan monks. Our Chinese host silenced his US critics with strikingly effective phrasing. Instead of trying to convince them of the situation’s ‘complexity’ he suggested its simplicity, stating: “We’ve a one-China policy – just as Lincoln had a one-America policy.”

Take issue with that as you might, but it was an oratorical chess move of admirable sophistication: Know your audience; exploit their values to make your case – don’t deny reality, reframe it.

Perhaps Kenny didn’t realise what “One-China” means, though that’s inconceivable.

Perhaps he figured its endorsement – without, let’s note, any qualifications – is worth the price of Chinese investment?

Someone ought to ask him.

  • Drumlins Rock

    I though the One China Policy related to the Taiwan situation not Tibet?

  • Mick Fealty

    So what’s new? Ben Tonra has argued on these very pages that no party in Ireland can commit to anything but the Chinese veto…

    Welcome to the limits of post war neutrality…

  • sherdy

    The Tibetans are unlikely to be able to help solve the Irish financial problems, whereas ‘one China’ seems willing to give a ‘dig out’ in that direction. Pragmatism wins every time. Its the Enda principles.

  • galloglaigh

    The Irish government has lowered itself considerably here. They have forgotten their history, while they continue to get their pants pulled for a cheque. I watched a programme on Chinese influence in copper mines in Africa. They pay Chinese wages, for Chinese hours. According to one group of workers, the Chinese were the worst of all the foreign employers. They even exploit this by employing migrant workers and paying them the least possible.

    Is that what Ireland needs; another super-power influencing the economy?

  • Alias

    Ireland doesn’t have a sovereign foreign policy. It observes the EU’s one-China foreign policy, as do all of the EU’s member states.

    There is no point in slapping the monkey when it is the organ grinder that you should be talking to.

  • Ruarai

    Drumlins Rock, you’re only partially right but I’m glad you raise that point; that assumption is precisely why I used the Tibet bait. Yes, the One China Policy is supposedly, in the West, about the China-Taiwan situation. But this is a convenient self-deceit by Western diplomats that allows them to avoid challenging how the CCP base a whole host of repressive measures towards other challengers – such as the Tibetans – on this governing principle.

    (How the CCP have leveraged this One China diplomatic principle is itself, in my view, an important window into their growing sophistication in diplomacy – an area they were obviously hopelessly lost in back in their brute force-reliant 1989 days.)

    In practice, One China is used by the CCP (and/or feared by the rest of the world) to apply to many more challenges to Beijing’s authority than just that posed by the Taiwanese government. It essentially is the legitimizing plank used by the CCP to justify its centralized and harsh authority internally, as well as a tool used to chill any potential foreign government’s support for challenges to its authority whether from Taiwan or elsewhere – such as Tibet.

    See for stiffer proof than my minor Lincoln anecdote how the Dalai Lama’s 2011 visa to South Africa was withdrawn last year by a SA government fearful of/intimidated by the One China policy:

    From The Daily Telegraph’s report: “The document said that South Africa’s “strategic relationship” with China depended on Pretoria unconditionally supporting Beijing’s “one China” policy, which rejects Tibetan independence.”

    Kenny’s supporters’ attempts to play they “whatever yer having yerself” card in justifying Ireland approach to uncritically following the One China ‘lead’ provided by the rest of the EU and others may be predicable. (After all, if, as at present, we barely stand up for our own sovereignty, we’re hardly likely to pack much punch should we call attention to strong-arm tactics elsewhere.)

    But as a small nation with a long history of being repressed precisely under the very same One UK policy – as he waxed about in the very same speech! – that does not make it any less lamentable for Ireland’s leader to have added yet one more uncritical foreign PM voice to this policy. (Ditto for the Irish press who have failed, as far as I am aware, to call him on it.)

    We might not have much abroad – but we can at least speak up.

  • Alias

    Ireland, like all of the other member states, is essentially post-sovereign and therefore post-democratic on matters

    of foreign policy. This de facto position will in time become de jure, with Ireland transferring all foreign policy

    matters to the EU and closing its foreign embassies, etc. As the policy is post-democratic there is no point

    campaigning to change it as the will of the people no longer applies. The vision of Ireland as a moral leader in world affairs, perched on its neutrality, is old history with no modern relevance. All hail the EU…

  • Alias

    Format correction:

    Ireland, like all of the other member states, is essentially post-sovereign and therefore post-democratic on matters of foreign policy. This de facto position will in time become de jure, with Ireland transferring all foreign policy matters to the EU and closing its foreign embassies, etc. As the policy is post-democratic there is no point campaigning to change it. The will of the people no longer applies.

    Also, I hate to burst bubbles, but Ireland as the most rabidly anti-Israeli of EU states won’t even dare divert from the EU’s foreign policy on Israel so why do you think it will divert for Tibet?

  • Its not just post WW2 neutrality.
    Its pragmatism and its hardly unique.
    Which is actually better……saying it as it is (as our Taoiseach did) or going all Skibereen Eagle and telling the Beijing Government that we will be keeping our eye on them.
    The Chinese can bankroll Ireland for years.
    And it can bankroll USA for years.
    Last night BBC showed an excellent documentary on “Wikileaks” cables. Maybe 15 minutes of the programme dwelt on US relations with China………and it was a clear case of diplomats saying one thing publicly and another thing privately.

    It was quite clear that the Chinese were impressed by the Americans stifling protests (as there had been in London) while the Olympic torch was in San Francisco (2008).

    American government trampled on its own citizens constitutional rights in USA to protest over Tibet to placate the Chinese.
    Our Taoiseach was hardly giving the green light for Chinese to beat up Chinese.
    On the other hand the Americans did just that.

  • Alias

    Fitz, morality doesn’t enter into it. Ireland could only exercise a moral option in foreign policy if it applied conscience to such policy. To apply conscience, you need freedom of choice. Since freedom is sovereignty, you need sovereignty. That is something that Ireland doesn’t have here. For the same reason, pragmatism – or the absence of morality – doesn’t enter into it either.

    This is why the old hat about Ireland using its neutrality as a force for good in the world is now redundant.

    Ireland no longer decides these matters: they are a collective EU policy, and all of the member states apply whatever policy the EU tells them to apply.

    It is also why such policy is post-democratic and therefore why it is utterly pointless to publish campaigning articles such as this one.

  • Jimmy Sands

    Isn’t that an anti-partitionist policy?

  • PaulT

    I’m sure Kenny was aware of the massive contracts Scotland has recently won to supply salmon to China, at the expense of Norway whose fish were left to rot on the docks after the Nobel Peace prize whohaa.

  • Comrade Stalin

    I think the idea that Ireland has a one China policy, or any other kind of policy that deals with the internal matters of a foreign country, to be obscene. Imagine if the US President told everyone he has a Irish unionist policy. Or a nationalist policy.

    What business is the status of Tibet or Taiwan to anyone other than the people who live there ?

    As for this whole China backslapping thing, it is completely par for the course as I said before, Chris Patten wrote about it extensively in his book. Lots of mutual flattery (such as this) goes on, communiques are signed, billions of dollars in trade are promised, then nothing happens.

  • Mike the First


    Surely “One China” is about foreign policy, in that it impacts on diplomatic relations? That is, a state recognises only one China, and that the People’s Republic of China is its representative (or alternatively, that the Republic of China is its representative) – and so countries can’t hold diplomatic relations with both the PRC and the ROC.

  • lover not a fighter

    Going slightly off topic here but one of my pet hates is the respect/adulation/sympathy that the Dalai Lama gets.

    He is the head of a religion and as far as I know un-elected for any office.

    So why all the respect/adulation /sympathy.

    As we have learned from the catholic church we should not put too much faith in religious institutions as the survival and success of the institution becomes the be all and end all of the said institution.