Sunday, June 24, 2012
The Negotiations: where do we go from here?
The Tibetan leader also said that a shift towards democracy and better human rights in China was inevitable as the Chinese people 'really want change'.
I am posting here the last chapter of my book, The Negotiations that never were. It shows the futility to 'negotiate' in the present circumstances.
For an external observer, it appears that despite numerous ‘rounds of talks’ during the past thirty years (since Gyalo Thondup met with Chinese officials in Hong Kong in 1978), no serious progress has been made on the Tibet issue. During the visit of the delegation led by Juchen Thubten Namgyal to Beijing in 1982, the Chinese officials had given the parameters of the ‘talks’.
First, no question of discussing the status of Tibet which had been settled once and for all in 1951 when Tibetan delegates signed (‘Under duress’ according to the Tibetans ) the 17-Point Agreement for the Peaceful Liberation of Tibet.
Then in the 1980’s, Beijing was ready to discuss the status of the Dalai Lama and his return to the Motherland (in 1985), but nothing else.
Further, the Chinese Government were never prepared to grant to Tibet a special status (such as the ‘One country, Two systems’ scheme for Hong Kong) or even something like the status offered to Taiwan in the 1980’s (i.e. Nine-point Proposal for Taiwan).
For Beijing, the administrative divisions of traditional Tibet were permanent, there was no question of discussing them again.
For the Dalai Lama, his Strasbourg Proposal was a continuation of the first contacts between Gyalo Thondup and the Chinese officials at the end of the 1970’s. As “every except independence could be discussed”, the logical next step for the Tibetan leader was to renounce independence in exchange for a ‘genuine’ regional autonomy.
Self-determination or full-fledged independence had been rejected from the start by the Chinese leadership. This greatly limited the scope for the Dalai Lama to move and find a ‘middle-path’ solution.
A majority of the Tibetans in exile (even today) do not fully realize all the implications of the Middle Path approach. For example, they would be thereafter be Chinese nationals with Chinese passports. It is only over the years, that the younger generation has begun to understand that their cherished dream for ‘Rangzem’ (or independence) was fading away. However, many believe that there is no harm to continue to dream, that the most improbable dreams sometimes come true, (i.e the Berlin Wall).
In 2006, after the 6th round of talks with Beijing, Lodi Gyari, the Dalai Lama’s Special Envoy stated that though discussions “were candid and frank”, both sides had expressed in strong terms their divergent positions and views on a number of issues.
He added “Our dialogue process has reached a critical stage. We conveyed our serious concerns in the strongest possible manner on the overall Tibetan issue and made some concrete proposals for implementation if our dialogue process is to go forward.”
Two years later and after the Chinese show of strength during the Summer Olympic Games and with an exacerbated nationalism reaching new heights all over China, the situation appeared to be even more critical.
The fact that the Chinese position had not moved an inch during the past three decades is rather disturbing for the Tibetans. It should also be so for India who is trying to sort out its border issue with China. The same delay tactics (or moving the posts) are used in both cases. Whether for the Sino-Indian border or Tibet, Beijing is quite happy with the status quo and can continue this way for decades, if not centuries, if the present regime survives that long.
This is the reason why, when addressing a large audience at the annual Foundation Day of the Tibetan Children Village in Dharamsala, the Dalai Lama declared that his faith in the Chinese government was ‘thinning’ and that he could not anymore hold the responsibility of the negotiations with Beijing.
He reminded the guests and especially the Children assembled about the March/April riots in Tibet: “In the recent past, a crisis has occurred in Tibet. From all over the three regions, individual Tibetans have shown their deep resentment and despair with great courage not only monks and nuns, but government workers, students and especially those from the Central Nationalities University in Beijing.” He then added: “[At that time], I hoped that the Chinese government would investigate the reality and come up with a realistic solution, but unfortunately it didn't happen. Reality cannot be erased.”
His office later clarified that the main issue was that there was no positive response from Beijing, despite “sincerely pursuing the mutually beneficial Middle-Way policy… [The Dalai Lama] lost hope in trying to reach a solution with the present Chinese leadership which is simply not willing to address the issues.”
This was the background of his decision to call for the special emergency meeting to decide the future course of action for the Tibetan political struggle.
The Great Han Chauvinism
An apparently insignificant sign demonstrates the degree of contempt that the Chinese officials have for the Tibetans; they won’t even allow the delegation to have a Chinese-speaking member. As a result, none of the four or five member Tibetan team speaks Chinese. Mr Tsegyam, a Tibetan official fluent in Chinese was ‘permitted’ to attend the 4th round of talks in Bern in June 2005, but since then the Chinese have arbitrarily refused his participation on one pretext or another (each time a different one).
The shy (or compassionate) Tibetans had decided not to make it a public issue, though it shows the way the Chinese Hans have always treated their vassals. In Mao’s time, this attitude was known as the Great Han Chauvisnism.
In July 2008, Lodi Gyari had to state: “In the course of our discussions we were compelled to candidly convey to our counterparts that in the absence of serious and sincere commitment on their part the continuation of the present dialogue process would serve no purpose.”
Already in May, Lodi Gyari had gone to Shenzhen, near Hong Kong for informal talks with some Chinese officials. At that time, The People’s Daily had scornfully stated: “The meeting, arranged at the repeated requests made by the Dalai side for resuming talks, was held between central government officials Zhu Weiqun and Sitar and the Dalai Lama's two private representatives.” The Chinese communiqué added: “Zhu and Sitar answered patiently the questions raised by the two representatives.”
The Tibetans always seem to be out in the position of beggars holding out their bowls for meager alms which are refused anyway.
What is more shocking is the constant stream of insults poured out by Beijing against the ‘Dalai and his clique’.
Qin Yizhi, Lhasa party secretary stated: “Encouraged by the Olympic spirit of faster, higher, stronger, Lhasa people of all nationalities will… resolutely smash the Dalai clique's scheme to destabilise Tibet” Indeed a great understanding of the Spirit of the Games!
His boss and Tibet Party Chief, Zhang Qingli made it more explicit: "Tibet’s sky will never change and the red flag with five stars will forever flutter high above it …we will certainly be able to totally smash the splittist schemes of the Dalai clique”
Dong Yunhu of the State Council even said: “I don't think (the Dalai Lama) is qualified to represent Tibet.”
It appears that the more the Tibetans go out of their way to appease the Chinese, the more Beijing rebuffs them.
Level of Dialogue
Another issue is the low hierarchical level of the dialogue. In 1954-55, when the Dalai Lama first visited Beijing, he used to have regular formal and informal meetings with Mao Zedong and others senior Communist leaders. When he arrived in the Chinese capital, he was received with great pomp at the railway station by the Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai, Deng Xiaoping and other senior dignitaries.
Later in 1957, when the Tibetan leader came to India for the 2,500th anniversary of the Buddha Jayanti, he met the Chinese Premier several times and had in-depth discussions about Tibet and the welfare of his people.
At the end of the 70’s and the 80’s, Gyalo Thondup, the Dalai Lama’s elder brother met Deng Xiaoping, then China’s leader maximo to discuss Tibetan affairs. He also met Hu Yaobang in 1981.
Lodi Gyari’s interlocutors are not senior Party leaders (Zhu Weiqun is a Vice-Minister which is equivalent to a Secretary rank official in India) with no real power of decision.
During an interview, Samdhong Rinpoche was quite pessimistic: “The PRC has full control over Tibet and can do whatever they wish. Today in the world, nobody has the power to stop them.”
On the positive side, the Tibetan delegates say that today they are able to speak frankly to their Chinese counterparts who are ready to listen to them. It is certainly a plus, though as we have seen earlier in this research, the first Tibetans envoys (in 1982 and 1984) conveyed in no uncertain terms their expectations, especially for a unified Tibet.
Many young Tibetans think like Tsoltim N. Shakabpa, who in an article entitled “The Case Against Autonomy for Tibet”, wrote:
Why does the Tibetan Government-in-Exile (TGIE) ask for autonomy for Tibet from Communist China that would give Tibetans considerably less freedom than those of us in exile currently enjoy? Presently, we are free to worship, voice our opinion on political and national issues, travel, practice and promote our religion, culture and traditions, and free to even vote for our Parliament-in-Exile. Why would the TGIE seek an agreement that denies such rights to us?
…So why do we want to get into an official autonomous situation which will be a thousand times worse than the present situation?
Shakapba added: “By asking the Communist Chinese for an official agreement to have autonomous status for Tibet, we will be surrendering many of the rights we are now entitled to and locking ourselves into a constricted and precarious situation forever from which we cannot withdraw.”
It is a fact that it is difficult for the younger generation of Tibetans to dream about a ‘genuine autonomy’ under a totalitarian People’s Republic. ‘Freedom’ or ‘Rangzem’ (Independence) is more exciting and idealistic dream.
Why can’t the Dalai Lama meet President Hu?
The tragedy is that when there are different views or currents of thought in the Communist Party of China and it is usually the most conservative one which prevails. It also holds true for the negotiations between India and China on the boundary. The latter case is compounded by the fact that India often has to go to polls and leaders are unable to take a bolder stand. For example, it is said that during the Third Round of talks on the boundary in October 1983, the officials were close to an acceptable solution. Unfortunately Indira Gandhi refused to take the jump due to the elections coming a year later.
In the Tibetan case, one of the solutions to come out of the impasse would be to have a meeting between the Dalai Lama and President Hu or Premier Wen Jiabao. As mentioned earlier, Mao Zedong, the Great Helmsman himself used to meet the Dalai Lama in his guest house in 1954, when the Tibetan leader spent several months in Beijing. They often discussed different issues threadbare, ranging from the benefits of Marxism to the future of Tibet. It would certainly help to smooth out the hurdles if the Dalai Lama himself could meet senior Party leaders. It appears to be the only way to come out of the stalemate.
For Beijing, the Tibetan issue has sullied the image of the People’s Republic for more than 50 years. The time has come for Beijing and Dharamsala to find a durable solution agreeable to all.
The Dalai Lama is a good man, a sincere leader. Beijing could not get a better interlocutor to bring about a radical change in the relations between Hans and Tibetans. As we have seen in the previous chapters, several intellectual, scholars and thinkers in China concur with this view.
In fact, one could go a step further: the Dalai Lama is today the only leader who can unite China. He is the only person who can convince the Tibetans to work for the harmonious society promoted by President Hu. This in turn, could be an example for other nationalities.
A role for Delhi?
As mentioned earlier, in April 1986, the Dalai Lama wrote a memorandum to Rajiv Gandhi. He made an interesting historic point: India had taken a certain stand vis-à-vis Tibet and adopted a policy, but the situation had now changed. Was it not time to readjust this policy to the present circumstances? The Dalai Lama wrote: “When the Government of India officially recognized Tibet as being a part of China, the Government must have done so because of the reality of the situation then prevailing. For example, there was the 17-Point Agreement between Tibet and China. During my several meetings with Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru in 1956, he stressed the need to execute and implement the terms of this Agreement with China. He advised me to return to Tibet and said that it would be better to deal with the Chinese directly from within Tibet on basis of the Agreement. Therefore, it is clear that at the time the Government of India recognized Tibet as being a part of China, its assumption or understanding was that Tibet, though nominally a part of China, would have minimal Chinese interference and military presence. By signing the 17-Point Agreement with the Tibetan Government, the Chinese recognized the existence of a separate government, although they referred to it as the local government of Tibet. In clause 4 of the Agreement, it is stated, the central authorities will not alter the existing political system in Tibet.
The central authorities also will not alter the established status, functions and powers of the Dalai Lama. The Chinese have violated ail the important terms of the Agreement.”
Nehru had asked the Dalai Lama to work with the Chinese on the base of the 17-Point Agreement. By violating the Agreement and changing the political set up on the Tibetan plateau, the conditions under which Nehru decided his Tibet Policy have changed.
The Dalai Lama elucidated further: “Moreover, the treaty which the Government of India signed with China on Tibet in 1954 lapsed in 1962. Since then the treaty has not been renewed. Therefore, now that the conditions under which the Government of India recognized Tibet as being a part of China have completely changed and are non-existent, I feel it would be appropriate for the Government of India to adopt a new policy in accordance with the changed circumstances.
…I am convinced that there is scope for the Government of India to review and change its policy in regard to Tibet on the basis of this new and changed situation. In consideration of the reasons given above, the issue of Tibet is still alive. The Government of India must publicly recognize existence of the Tibetan issue and its international character and take advantage of it. Consequently every opportunity to voice its concern on this issue must be made. I feel this is important.”
This was written at a time when tensions were high between Delhi and Beijing.
Today, with its relatively good relations with Beijing, Delhi could be a discreet mediator between the two parties. It would be fair to the Dalai Lama and the Tibetans if South Block could be the intermediary between Dharamsala and Beijing. In the long term, this could help to consolidate the bases of a durable friendship between China and India. For Beijing, it would finally remove the Tibetan thorn which has become increasingly infected with the passing years. For Delhi, it is important to have a dependable friendly neighbour at its gate. Is it so unreasonable to think that one day, Delhi could tell Beijing, “We are ready to organize a meeting between the Tibetan leader and any visiting Chinese high dignitary, it is in everybody interest.”
If one thinks at a long-term — and nobody better than the Chinese are able to think decades ahead — if the Tibetan issue is satisfactorily solved, it will be good for China, good for India and for Asia (and of course for the Tibetans themselves). Tensions will be reduced, energies thus liberated could be used for development and reducing poverty in the two giant nations.
All this still seems a dream, as the will to act decisively does not yet exist in the present fractured Indian political context. But only bold and audacious leaders could play a more important role in the world concert.
The Dalai Lama’s Dream
The Tibetan leader dreams of universal responsibility and world peace. It is still a far-away dream. A few years ago in an interview, he told us: “I have dedicated the rest of my life to demilitarization on a global level. As a first step, Tibet should be a zone of peace and completely demilitarized, so that in the future we can help not only China and India but also the world community. This is my vision and hope for the future.”
How long will it take to materialize? It is anybody’s guess.
The human species is superior to the animal because it can smile and dream. In the same interview the Tibetan leader explained the importance of the culture of the Roof of the World: “I feel that Tibetan culture with its unique heritage - born of the effort of many human beings of good spirit, of its contacts with Chinese, Indian, Nepalese and Persian culture, and due to its natural environment - has developed some kind of energy which is useful, and very helpful, towards cultivating peace of mind and a joyful life. I feel that there is a potential for Tibet to help humanity, and particularly our Eastern neighbour, where millions of young Chinese have lost their spiritual values.”
This is why Tibet is not just an issue between the Dalai Lama and Beijing. Like global warming, the financial crisis, terrorism, it is a global issue. Tibet has something special to bring to the planet, something which will be more and more needed to solve apparently unsolvable problems.
However it is certain that a solution has to emerge from drastic changes in China. History is patient, the time will come.