UEA SU are facing criticism following their decision to remove the Tibetan flag from the Hive, whilst allowing the Taiwanese flag to remain. Student say the decision is “inconsistent” and appears to be endorsing “turning a blind eye to the erasure” of the Tibetan identity.
The Union say they decided to take down a Tibetan flag after Chinese students criticised both the Tibetan and Taiwanese flags being hung in the Hive.
Flags from different countries are hanging in the Hive as part of UEA SU’s Go Global event.
The Tibetan flag, also called the ‘snow lion flag’, was the national flag of Tibet adopted in 1916 but has been banned since 1959 by Chinese authorities.
China has claimed sovereignty over both Tibet and Taiwan for decades. Tibet is autonomous at the province-level but is subsumed into China’s mainland government, the People’s Republic of China (PRC). The ‘free-Tibet’ movement has accused China of religious and political repression, though China denies this.
Taiwan is seen as de facto independent, but a minority in Taiwan want unification with China. Currently, mainland China is controlled by the PRC government and Taiwan is governed by the Republic of China (ROC).
Malaika Jaovisidha, International Students Officer said that the arrangement of flags was “not intended as a stance by the Union supporting anyone’s independence, nor undermine any state’s sovereignty.” She said they were put up in order to “celebrate all the different cultures” on campus.
A member of a group of Chinese students who negotiated the Tibetan flag’s removal would like to know why Tibet’s flag was initially chosen.
She said: “[The Tibetan] flag basically has no cultural meaning but political meaning. It represents Tibetan independence which is illegal in China, and at the same time is not admitted by UK government officially. Our country has an established diplomatic relation with UK, so to showcase the Tibetan flag, in any public place, is inappropriate.
“It is very careless for [UEA SU] to be involved in such a sensitive situation.”
The anonymous student added: “We, the Chinese community, fully respect the freedom of different beliefs at UEA and wish that the multi-cultural tradition can be maintained.
“If one day there is a Tibetan society we believe that the Chinese community can get along well with them because we are all part of UEA.” The SU have said there are no Tibetan students at UEA.
“We think our SU is wise enough to keep the balance among different cultures, different beliefs and different societies. It is better to avoid anything regarding sovereignty issues in order to prevent panic among people.”
However, students have criticised the SU for taking down the flag.
Emily Cutler, a third-year Economics student, said that “the union should take a stand”, calling it “very inconsistent” that the SU has a policy on Palestine but a “separate policy for all other disputed territories, where there are human rights violations.”
Eddie Booth, a second-year International Relations student said the union “should not bend their will to Chinese nationalism. The union speaks often about how it supports the oppressed against the strong, so to be logically consistent they must do the same ere, regardless of the upset to some Chinese students. In my opinion, the flag should be restored, as a symbol of commitment to free expression for everyone.”
Miss Jaovisidha said the Taiwanese flag will remain following discussions with the Taiwanese society.
The President of UEA’s Taiwanese Society Vick Cheng stated: “I said to [the] union ‘Taiwanese society at UEA recognises themselves to be separate from Chinese students, and would like us as a union to respect this request.’”
Miss Jaovisidha said that the society, who are part of Go Global, asked “specifically” to keep their flag, and to be identified as an independent body, and so “we must respect their decisions and requests.”
One of the Chinese students involved in negotiations with the SU told Concrete they felt misrepresented by the SU’s statement. They said that it did not “convey our requests and desires completely”, and had caused “a lot negative comments on our Chinese society.”
They said: “Actually the majority of us understand the SU’s decision about the Taiwanese flag, since Taiwanese society has been a part of the SU for a long time.”
Concrete understands only one student complained to the SU about the Taiwanese flag.
However, Miss Jaovisidha stated that the SU would be acting on the requests of Chinese students to remove the Tibetan flag as she was not “aware of any Tibetan students on our campus” and there is no UEA Tibetan society.
Ollie Ryan Tucker, a second year International Relations and Modern History student told Concrete: “In choosing to remove the Tibetan flag, our union is signalling that turning a blind eye to the erasure and destruction of Tibetan culture and identity is acceptable.”
He added, “For a union that is so clear about Palestinians right to self determine their future, why should we ignore the struggle of Tibetans just because they aren’t as loud and vocal about their oppression?”
Miss Jaovisidha said that students were welcome to object to the names and identities of societies at Union Council. She added that if a Tibetan society were proposed, the union “would involve representatives from across the University (including those from Chinese societies) in the debate about its formation and how it should be represented with any flag.”
Miss Jaovisidha said the SU “regret of [sic] any offence” caused to Chinese students following the initial hanging of the Taiwanese and Tibetan flags.
A third-year student who wished to be quoted anonymously said: “It is ridiculous that some individuals still think it is okay to censor everything that supposedly challenges their political opinion against others’ identity.”
He added: “I cannot speak for any Tibetan students but I am educated enough to know about Taiwan. Stop shutting down conversation, it is not personal. As educated university students who are capable of thinking for yourselves with an open mind, respect others political opinion and identity. It is a debate and disagreement is central to progress.”