As appeared in www.saag.org
The Middle Way of Dalai Lama:
The recent hard-hitting signed Chinese commentary (Yedor: On the Middle Way’ of the Dalai Lama, in English and Chinese, well publicised during July 18-29, 2006 period through prominent print, broadcasting and visual media inside the country and abroad) by all accounts appear to mark the beginning of a new phase in the media campaign of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) against the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader.
What provides the rationale to Beijing’s fresh publicity drive is perhaps the urgency being felt by China to more effectively project its own views internationally at the present juncture characterised by increasing world attention to Dalai Lama’s giving up of the demand for Tibet independence and turning to a “Middle Way” concept. The admission by Yedor (Apparently a high-level Tibetan cadre who had meetings with the Dalai Lama aides) himself that the ‘Middle Way’ sounds ‘reasonable at first glance’, seems to somewhat betray the Chinese nervousness over the potential of the concept in the matter of appealing to public especially outside the PRC. The Writer’s caution to the world in the same vein that “ in reality, the Middle Way is not different from Tibetan independence” and that the Dalai Lama is ‘playing with words to bargain’, signals Beijing’s intentions to make sustained publicity efforts from now on to turn the world opinion in its favour on the Dalai Lama issue. It is likely that more such articles would appear in the Chinese press in the coming days.
Is China for an open debate now?
Another equally important factor motivating the PRC seems to be its perceived necessity now to engage the Dalai Lama side in a serious open debate on the Tibet issue in addition to holding discussions of rather closed nature during the ongoing informal talks. Beijing may think that the cumulative outcome of such two-tier exchanges, whether positive or negative, may ultimately provide China the much-needed tool in finalising its future strategy on the issue. Yedor’s Commentary serves the open debate purpose. But in doing so, it does not confine itself to the past and instead fine-tunes the past Chinese pre-conditions (spelled out clearly in a Government White Paper on Tibet issued in May 2004 and a subsequent Xinhua Special Commentary published in September 2005) in a contemporary context. Thus while making the central point that there is a firm connection between the Dalai Lama’s past and present stand, the Commentary makes a specific reference to the close relation between the spiritual leader’s recent ‘Middle Way’ concept and the ‘Five-Point’ and ‘Seven-point’ speeches made respectively at the US Congressional Human Rights Committee in 1987 and the European Parliament in Strasbourg in 1988. It draws the conclusion that though the Dalai Lama sees in the concept a way out ‘within the parameters of the PRC Constitution’, in reality it goes against the Article 4 of the very same Constitution which stipulates Tibet as part of China . Finding that the ‘Middle Way’ is thus no different from the policy of ‘Tibet independence’, it reiterates China’s past condition to the Dalai Lama, i.e the latter ‘should truly give up his Tibetan independence policy if he wants to improve relations with the Central Government’.
Yedor gives the same treatment of linking the Dalai Lama’s past and present views to reject outright , in the interests of country’s law and sovereignty, to the Dalai Lama’s renewed emphasis recently on other concepts like ‘one country-two systems’ principle to be applied to Tibet’s case also in addition to those of Hong Kong and Macao, ‘an enlarged Tibet Autonomous Region’ to be formed and special constitutional stipulations providing for measures such as setting up of a ‘Tibetan peace zone’ with no troops deployed leading to ‘real autonomy’ for Tibet, be made.
Regarding the Commentary’s recall of ‘collaboration’ of the Dalai Lama with the “Indian military and American CIA’ in 60s in the matter of organising ‘Indian Tibetan Special border troops’, it needs to be noted that the Chinese official documents have been making similar references periodically, the last one appearing as late as March 9 2005 (China Tibet Information Centre background paper on Tibet’s historical status). Yedor has also quoted the Dalai Lama as saying that ‘it is more reasonable for India to own sovereignty over Tibet than China’ from a cultural point of view. Analysts in India may have valid reasons to suspect the motive behind such recurring observations by China, viewing them as wrong signals to the bilateral ties which have otherwise surged forward in the last four decades or so under the changed strategic, economic and trade imperatives for both. A reality check however does not lead to detection of any specific anti-India intent in the references which only confirms the Chinese tradition of always looking at issues in a historical perspective and in particular, their intention to pin down the Dalai Lama for what place Beijing considers his past mistakes.
Beijing continues to blow hot and cold as a part of its strategy:
Yedor’s neatly packaged preconditions now would pose formidable challenges for the ongoing informal Sino-Tibetan talks. Unless both the sides are prepared to make compromises, substantial progress during such contacts is unlikely How does Dharamsala react to the latest Chinese Commentary? This is a key question. The Tibetan spiritual leader is now 71 and feels that the time is running out for him and the exiled Tibetan community to return to Tibet.
Beijing on its part is blowing hot and cold on the Dalai Lama (reference the writer’s SAAG Paper No.1824 dated May 31, 2006). On one hand besides showing exasperation over the stalemate in talks by declaring that Tibet’s people will decide their fate and that the Dalai Lama will have no role in it (White Paper on Tibet, May 2004), it is calling for a ‘fight to the death’ struggle against the Dalai Lama (new Tibet Party Secretary Zhang Qingli, a protégé of China’s top leader Hu Jintao, experienced in countering Uighur separatism in Xinjiang, May 2006).
On the other, the PRC is proclaiming that its doors are open to the Dalai Lama if he abandons Tibet independence’ demand. In a broad sense, unlike in the past, China is currently dealing with the exiled leader from a new position of strength and confidence. The Central Government has been successful in keeping the political and religious situation in Tibet under control. Achievements made to economically integrate Tibet with the rest of the country are well known- successfull completion of a mega project like the Qinghai-Tibet railway (July 1, 2006). The region’s border trade with India is poised to expand subsequent to the opening of Nathula pass in place Sikkim for the purpose (July 6, 2006). If both the sides could initiate some mutually accommodating steps in such an environment, a new momentum to the Sino-Tibetan dialogue is possible. Formal negotiations, however, appear to be not bright at the moment, as Beijing, for obvious reasons, remains stubborn in treating the Tibetan Government in exile as “illegal”. The Dalai Lama side is indeed insisting on the Chinese recognition of the Government in Exile as a pre-condition for talks, according to the PRC Ambassador Sun Yuxi (New Delhi, October 28, 2005).
Beijing and place New Delhi on the Tibetan Issue:
Beijing recognises that Tibet is no longer a bilateral problem with New Delhi while ruling out any need for Indian mediation during its talks with the Dalai Lama (Ambassador Sun Yuxi, ibid). Such Chinese perceptions do not however preclude the fact that New Delhi will in any case continue to have a stake in the Tibet issue as long as the Dalai Lama and his followers, living in India for long years, do not return to their homeland with honour. Even after their return, the stability in Tibet as a neighbouring region will remain crucial to India’s strategic interests. The Sino-Indian relations are now deepening though a solution to the vexed border issue still eludes both the nations. According to the Dalai Lama, improvement in New Delhi-Beijing ties would in turn favourably impact on efforts to find a settlement to the Tibet problem. It would therefore be in fitness of things if India positions itself to facilitate, if not mediate in, further Sino-Tibetan engagements. The Indian Foreign Secretary Shyam Saran’s reported informal consultations with the Dalai Lama on various matters including the current Sino-Tibetan exchanges (Dharamsala, date March 18, 2006) augur well in this connection. Given the growing India-China bonhomie, it may not be difficult for place New Delhi to make similar soundings on the Chinese side also, without appearing in any manner to interfere in the internal affairs of the PRC.
(The writer, Mr.D.S.Rajan, is a former Director in the Cabinet Secretariat, Government of India, place New Delhi. email: firstname.lastname@example.org)