Thursday, February 4, 2010

The Dalai Lama is the Key

Veni, Vidi, Vinci is the famous Latin sentence pronounced by Julius Caesar in 47 BC after a short war against Pharnaces II of Pontus. “I came, I saw, I conquered” cannot be used for the recent visit of Lodi Gyari, the Dalai Lama’s Special Envoy and his colleagues to Beijing.
They went, the saw their Chinese counterparts, but did not conquer anything. But, this is not new. It has been happening since the early 1980’s when the Tibetan leader sent his first representatives to Beijing to discuss with Deng Xiaoping’s officials. The first serious talks between Dharamsala and Beijing held in 1982, yielded nil results (Gyari who was already present as a junior official, knows it).
Interestingly, the main topic of discussion continues to be the same, the fate or role of the Dalai Lama. Already in the 1980’s, the Tibetans had clarified that the Tibetan leader was only interested by the fate of 6 million Tibetans living on the high plateau and not by his status.
In July 1981 in Beijing, the CCP General Secretary Hu Yaobang had told Gyalo Thondup, the Dalai Lama’s elder brother: “The Dalai Lama should be confident that China has entered a new stage of long-term political stability, steady economic growth and mutual help among all nationalities.”
Hu wanted to talk to the Tibetans: “The Dalai Lama and his representatives should be frank and sincere with the Central Government, not beat around the bush.”
At that time, the Central leadership in China was keen on the Dalai Lama’s return to the ‘Motherland’: “The central authorities sincerely welcome the Dalai Lama and his followers to come back to live. This is based on the hope that they will contribute to upholding China's unity and promoting solidarity between the Han and Tibetan nationalities.”
Hu Yaobang was specific about the Tibetan leader; he would be able to enjoy the same political status and living conditions as he had before 1959. However, there was a catch: he would have to remain in Beijing. Hu had added: “of course, he may go back to Tibet from time to time.”
As for the exiled Tibetan officials, they should not worry about their jobs and living conditions, “It will only be better than before”, they were told.
Unfortunately, talks never went further and even a visit of the Tibetan leader to his native land in 1985 was not permitted by the Chinese authorities.
Nearly 30 years later, where are we at?
The Tibetans delegates have come 9 times to China since 2002, they saw representatives of the United Front Work Department of the Chinese Communist Party’s Central Committee, but they have not conquered an inch (my book on the subject is fittingly titled “the negotiations that never were”).
Today, China has become a superpower, the second economy (and first exporter) of the planet; Beijing has brilliantly hosted the Olympic Games and has not only survived the world economic downfall, but it is considered the most important key to an eventual recovery of the planet’s economy.
Despite these tremendous changes in the Middle Kingdom’s status, the Dalai Lama remains at the center of the preoccupations of Beijing’s leadership. Their stance has even hardened; the Party bosses don’t even want to hear about the Tibetan leader whom they call a splittist.
Gyari’s interlocutor, Zhu Weiqun, who is Executive Vice-Minister of the United Front Work Department affirmed that the Dalai Lama is not representing the Tibetan people. During a Press conference held after Gyari’s visit, he said that under the Party leadership, the Chinese government and the government of Tibet Autonomous Region were the only representatives of the Tibetan people.
On his return to India, Gyari publicly objected to this: "It cannot be disputed that His Holiness legitimately represents the Tibetan people, and he is certainly viewed as their true representative and spokesperson by them.” He added: “His Holiness the Dalai Lama speaks on behalf of the Tibetan people, with whom he has a deep and historical relationship and one based on full trust.
The Tibetan Envoy made this point clear during his meeting with Zhu. He said that he told “the Chinese side to stop these baseless accusations against His Holiness and labelling him a separatist."
As long as the Chinese authorities are not ready to recognize that the Dalai Lama has a role to play in the future of Tibet, the ‘talks’ will continue to be fruitless.
During his press conference, Zhu affirmed: “The private representatives have no legal status to discuss with us the affairs about Tibet Autonomous Region. They are only the Dalai Lama's private representatives, so they can only talk about the prospect of the Dalai Lama, at most, the prospects of a small party around him."
Where do we go from here? Probably no where!
A noticeable change however is that Beijing admitted having met the Dalai Lama’s Envoys. In the past, when asked the spokesperson of the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs would just state that some ‘overseas compatriots’ had visited Beijing. Now not only a communiqué was issued a day later, stating that “Communist Party of China (CPC) officials have met with private envoys of the Dalai Lama in Beijing,” but Zhu and two Tibetans officials who met Gyari and his team gave a press conference attended by Chinese and foreign correspondents. In the past, the Tibetans were asked to keep these contacts secret.
The Chinese officials reiterated that no concessions would be made on the issue of China's national sovereignty. It remains though a vague statement as the Dalai Lama is not asking for a solution disputing the ‘national sovereignty’ of China.
During the press conference, Zhu made it clear that Beijing did not recognize the “the so-called 'Tibet government-in-exile composed of those who defected to India” as it “absolutely violates China's laws”.
Without giving any explanation, Beijing rejected the Memorandum for All Tibetans to Enjoy Genuine Autonomy presented in November 2008 by Gyari. The Memorandum was based on the Chinese Constitution and the Dalai Lama’s representative had proposed a formula respecting the Constitution and the Chinese laws.
The point is that today the People’s Republic of China does not implement its own laws and the Constitution is a mere piece of paper at the service of the Communist Party.
At the end, Zhu suggested that the Dalai Lama should correct his mistakes, without naming the ‘mistakes’.
Many young Tibetans are not unhappy about the standstill in the ‘talks’. The day the Envoys arrived in Beijing, Xinhua published an article which will make you understand why. The article said: “Tibet is expected to have 100,000 Internet users this year, a 15 percent rise from 2009, according to the Tibet Autonomous Regional Communications Administration”.
The news item is accompanied by a photo showing two beautifully dressed young women Tibetan using a 3G mobile phone in Tingri county, north of the Nepal border, not far from Mount Everest.
The Chinese often boast of the development that they brought on the Roof of the World, but nobody is fooled (especially after the announced withdrawal of Google from China). Everyone knows that any search containing words like ‘Tibet’, ‘Dalai Lama’ or Tiananmen’ is today blocked by the Great Firewall of China which domestically filters Internet. Why should young Tibetans who enjoy a great freedom in India and elsewhere in the world, suddenly decide to return to a Tibet under military occupation and constant censure.
Step for a minute in a young exiled Tibetan’s shoes. Today they have a leader practicing non-violence, speaking of universal responsibility and preaching the highest human values, would they like to be guided by a bench of politburo members?
While they respect their leader, they are well informed and aware about the situation in China and Tibet. They know that the Dalai Lama was recently accused of ‘pleasing his Indian masters’ by describing himself as ‘a son of India’. Xinhua had written: “People cannot help but ask that since the Dalai Lama deems himself an Indian rather than Chinese, then why is he entitled to represent the voice of the Tibetan people?”
Why should young Tibetans choose to follow these ‘vituperating’ leaders as an American analyst called them?
The latest vituperation: during his press conference, Zhu Weiqun said that a meeting between Obama and the Dalai Lama would "violate international rules". He threatened that China will take ‘necessary measures’ to counter it.
Bill Burton, the White House Deputy Press Secretary rightly replied: “The [US] President told China's leaders during his trip last year that he would meet with the Dalai Lama, and he intends to do so."
The Tibetan delegates may have not conquered, but clearly the mighty Chinese Communist Party has lost one more chance to deal decently with the non-violent Tibetan tribe.
What Hu Yaobang told Gyalo Thondup in 1981 keeps coming to my mind: he said that the Dalai Lama should “contribute to upholding China's unity and promoting solidarity between the Han and Tibetan nationalities”; if the Chinese are sincere, they should see that it is their best bet as he is the only person who possess today the wisdom to bridge the insuperable gap existing today between the Tibetans and the Hans.
Beijing should take advantage of this; the leadership should stop insulting the Dalai Lama and behave like responsible people.
If China wants to conquer, the Dalai Lama is the key. Will they be wise enough to recognize this?

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