Friday, January 8, 2010

Glimmer of hope for Tibetans

The Pioneer published in his Edit Page some extracts of my book The Negotiations that never were.
Here is the link.

The Pioneer
January 8, 2010 |
Glimmer of hope for Tibetans
As we enter a new decade of the 21st century, can there be “understanding and far-sightedness” on the part of the regime in Beijing towards resolving the Tibetan dispute? The three-decade-long history of ‘negotiations’ between Dharamsala and Beijing is indicative of China’s intentions. The traffic has been one-way. The more the Dalai Lama has tried to arrive at a compromise with China, the more the Chinese have held to their position or even backtracked (as in the case of “everything except independence”).
So, is there any hope for Tibetans in Tibet and those living in exile? The only change in view is a change inside China. Interestingly, a report prepared by a Chinese think-tank, Open Constitution Initiative or Beijing Gongmeng Consulting, on the 2008 riots in Tibet is an eye-opener. It entirely contradicts the Chinese Communist Party’s official version. The authors, Li Kun, Huang Li, Li Xiang and Wang Hongzhe, are lawyers “committed to building a modernised China and promoting human rights, democracy, and rule of law in China.”
Their research team spent a month in Tibet “interviewing Tibetan monks, nomads, farmers, scholars, migrants, artists, and business people”. Their objective was to come into personal contact with voices which can give “a clear and objective outline of ordinary people’s living conditions in Tibetan areas”.
The lawyers have pointed out “major errors in Government policy” after the March-April 2008 protests. One was ‘over-propagandising of violence’; another, encouragement of racist sentiment towards Tibetans: “The excessive response of the Government all over Tibet was to regard every tree and blade of grass as a potential enemy soldier.”
According to them, this has further strained the relations between the local Tibetans and the Han immigrants. One of their conclusions is: “Understanding is a precondition for discussion, unity and development. If the promotion of healthy development in Tibetan areas is truly desired then there must be a change in thinking and an adjustment in thinking behind the current nationality theories and policies.”
‘Stability in ethnic areas’ has for a long time been essential to the Central Government policies. The leadership in Beijing (and probably even more the PLA) has emphasised the importance of stability to ‘defend China’s borders’. Soon after the Tiananmen massacre, in October 1989, the Summary of the Central Politburo Standing Committee’s Forum on Tibet Work pointed out two main issues ‘to firmly grasp the Tibet work’: Stability of the political situation and economic development. Since then the dual mantra has been constantly repeated, though ‘stability’ has never been achieved. The lawyers’ report has tried to find out why.
According to them, one of the issues which makes Tibet (and China) so unstable is the emergence of a new aristocracy. The Chinese Revolution is supposed to have wiped out the old aristocracy and emancipated the masses. This has not happened.
The report has found that in Tibet, the difficult terrain has created “locally fixed power networks, which inevitably lead to a high incidence of corruption and dereliction of duty”. For the Chinese lawyers, this new aristocracy, which is ‘legitimised by the Party’, is even more powerful than the old one.
The report analyses in detail the rapport between the new aristocracy and the masses: “There is a lack of any effective supervision over the local officials. …’Foreign forces’ and ‘Tibet independence’ are used by many local officials as fig leaves to conceal their mistakes in governance and to repress social discontent… elevating everything to the level of splittist forces in order to conceal their errors.” The final conclusions are not far from the Tibetan diaspora’s views: “Earnestly listen to the voices of ordinary Tibetans and respect and protect each of the Tibetan people’s rights and interests.”
Regarding ‘stability’, the lawyers’ conclusions are lucid: “Due to the special nature of the political environment in Tibetan areas, ‘stability’ in the state’s Tibet policies has special significance. The Centre considers that, ‘If there is not a stable social environment, then all talk of development is empty.’ Even though ‘development and stability’ are the two trains of thought for Government work in ethnic areas, in the actual exercise of power, ‘stability’ takes on an overwhelming importance.”
The problem, according to the report, is that “there are many people who have learned how to use stability to protect themselves”. A similar conclusion was arrived at in the 70,000-character petition sent by the previous Panchen Lama to Premier Zhou Enlai in 1962, for which the former spent 17 years in jail.
Negotiations are complicated by the fact that a solution for Tibet would have to apply to the 55 other nationalities of the People’s Republic of China. Beijing is clearly not ready to take the jump.
During the ‘General Meeting’ called by the Dalai Lama in November 2008 to assert the opinion of the Tibetans on the future of negotiations with China, a majority were said to be ready to follow the Tibetan leader in his ‘Middle-Path Approach’. But it appears that the Dalai Lama is now trying another strategy: As the present authoritarian regime in Beijing has not shown any signs of “understanding and far-sightedness”, he has begun to enlarge his personal contacts with the people of China.
In this context, a first Sino-Tibetan Conference called ‘Finding Common Ground’ was organised between August 6 and 9 last year in Geneva. In his address, the Dalai Lama pleaded with the Chinese participants: “I have two appeals to our Chinese brothers and sisters who are participating in this conference. First, I seek your advice and frank opinions on what steps to take in future to solve the Tibetan problem. Secondly, I request your help in carrying a message to the Chinese people that we Tibetans harbour no hatred against our Chinese brothers and sisters, and that we Tibetans are neither anti-Chinese nor anti-China.”
The conclusions of the conference, attended by Chinese and Tibetan scholars, educators, writers and human rights advocates, were hopeful: “The common wish of this Sino-Tibetan conference is for the Tibetan people to regain freedom and to prevent the extinction of Tibetan culture. We share a fundamental belief: Freedom is the highest value; Tibetan culture is a precious treasure among the many cultures of humanity. Without freedom for Tibet, there will be no freedom for China. The extinction of Tibetan culture would not only be a tragedy for the Tibetan people, but would be a disgrace for the Chinese people and an irreplaceable loss for the whole of humanity.”
Will this new strategy work better than the previous one?

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