The Dalai Lama has stated (Dharamsala, 25 October 2008) that he has ‘given up’ on extracting any concessions from Beijing after seven rounds of talks between his representatives and the Chinese side. Officials of the Tibet ‘Government in Exile’ have been quoted as saying (AP, 28 October 2008) that the spiritual leader has ‘lost hope’ in trying to reach a solution with the present Chinese leadership which ‘is simply not willing to address the issues’ and felt that ‘other options’ have to be considered. The officials have said that the Dalai Lama is not going into retirement and a special meeting of the Tibetan exiled community is to be convened from 17 to 22 November to discuss future plans. Speculations are rife that the Dalai Lama’s ‘Middle Path’ approach, which so far occupied main place among Tibetan exiles, may be abandoned during the meeting.
Beijing lost no time in responding to the developments. When asked about the Dalai Lama’s remarks, the foreign ministry spokesperson (Beijing, 28 October 2008) said that the Dalai Lama side should ‘recognize existing situation, exert tangible sincerity and seriously carry out the promises made in July 2008 if it really wanted to improve relations with the central government’. This was followed next day by an official statement (Xinhua, 29 October 2008) that ‘another round of talks with private representatives’ of the Dalai Lama will be arranged in ‘near future’. It added that ‘the Dalai Lama side should treasure this opportunity and make positive responses to the requirements set forth in July 2008 by central authorities, already accepted by it – no disturbance to Olympic games, no support to violent criminal plots in Tibet, no backing to the terrorist activities of pro-secessionist Tibet Youth Congress and no activity to seek Tibet independence’.
Chinese Media Reaction
Statement – sudden activity facing possible US cut in aid
Responses from State-controlled media deserve attention. A signed Chinese language article by an analyst named Si Ma Ping Bang (www.tibet.cn dated 28 October 2008) terms the Dalai Lama’s statement as a ‘threat’, marking a sudden spurt of activity on his part, in the face of a question which has arisen- how long he can rely on the US for money and material. Viewing the ongoing financial crisis in the US as a factor which can lead to changes in the world order, the article admits that the ‘Oppose China, Restrict China’ policy of the US, with the ‘Dalai’, ’Taiwan’, ‘Tibet Independence’ and other factors as its pillars, may not change for 100 years from now; but even the American people cannot say now whether the ‘Dalai’ will continue as a pillar. Observing that Obama, a contender to the post of US president, may possibly not reduce the American assistance to Dharamsala, the write-up says that this may not be of any use to the exiled leader in accomplishing his goals; the ‘Dalai Lama may need more from the US, but Obama can give only little’. Assessing overall, the article points out that the Dalai Lama’s ‘threat’ is in the nature of testing the waters of the US, for that matter of the central government in Beijing also.
Statement – a reaction to changing Western attitudes
A comment of Prof Jin Canrong of the Institute of International Relations, China Renmin University (Global Times, Qingdao, Chinese, 28 October 2008), finds two reasons behind the Dalai Lama’s statement. Firstly, the attitude of a part of the Western world has undergone a bit of change recently, as seen in the French Channel 2 TV, which disclosed the taking up of Tibet independence issue by the Dalai Lama in his closed door talks with the country’s parliamentarians, a point denied by the spiritual leader later. (Remarks: Also relevant in this connection would be a People’s Daily dispatch in Chinese of 29 October 2008 on the ‘pro-Dalai Lama’ German Chancellor Merkel’s moving closer to Beijing). The Dalai Lama wants to arrest such trends and hence his statement. Secondly, the remarks of the exiled leader could be linked to his inability to seize the opportunity provided by talks with the central government. As felt by the scholar, there will be no advantage to the Dalai Lama, if he abandons a moderate line and if he chooses a radical approach, the West will not support him; as such, the ‘threat’ from the exiled leader lacks in substance.
Referring to the approach of the Western media in their coverage of Dalai Lama’s statement, an expert of Tibet affairs, Zha Luo, alleges (Global times, Chinese, 30 October 2008) that Western institutions, specialists and political personalities have a ‘high degree of tacit understanding’ among them- applying pressure on China through the Tibet issue. The expert accuses them of remaining unable to distinguish between the right and wrong while examining the issue and adopting a partial view of the changes happening in Tibet, especially in rural areas.
The Dalai Lama representatives have till recently been somewhat optimistic about the future course of Tibet dialogue. As they see it, there has been a forward movement in the aftermath of March 2008 unrest, with both sides ‘demonstrating willingness to seek common approaches, especially agreeing to discuss specific ideas on regional autonomy under the framework of China’s constitution’ (Lodi Gyari, Harvard University, 8 October 2008). The Chinese side, on its part, is hoping for ‘positive outcome’ of the dialogue (Hu Jintao, May 2008); the level of rhetoric in China against the exiled leader also appears to be gradually declining. Description of the Dalai Lama as ‘instigator’ of the unrest is rarely being seen now a days. The usually hawkish top Tibet Party leader Zhang Qingli in his recent address at the Regional Conference on Unity of Nationalities at Lhasa, has avoided personal attack on the Dalai Lama and confined himself to highlighting the need to struggle against ‘splittism’. Such atmospheric signals continue to be noticed in general, notwithstanding occasional criticisms against the Dalai Lama (for e.g Chinese government White Paper on Tibet, 25 September 2008, which described the ‘regional autonomy’ proposal of the Dalai Lama as ‘political conspiracy’ and a research paper carried by www.tib.cn on 23 October 2008, linking the now-defunct Tibet Communist Party, allegedly supported once by the Dalai Lama, with the Tibet Independence demand).
The question therefore arises- why then the Dalai Lama appears to have become desperate now? Is it due to his realization that there will be talks and talks, but with no tangible results within his lifetime? Is it an indirect reaction to the situation inside Tibet being caused by the reported dispatch of additional troops to and military colonization of Tibet, along with tightening of police control over lamaseries? (China Brief, the James Town Foundation, 3 September 2008). No doubt, the first mentioned factor may represent the correct picture on the position of the exiled leader. But Dharmasala needs to realize that talks are better than ‘no talks’ and that more time is required to attend to serious bottlenecks before both the sides like ‘single administration for Tibetan people’, ‘genuine autonomy’, ‘Han influx’, ‘the role of the People’s Liberation Army’, ‘Tibet Youth Congress’ and last but not least,’ Tibetan independence’. This being so, what can not be denied is that in the immediate sense, the statement is likely bring China under some amount of pressure as the date for next round of discussions approaches. Beijing may be aware of this, but its reaction so far on the whole has been in the nature of concealing the same. It has rather responded coolly and made prompt announcement of next round of talks. A new element emerging in China’s calculations vis-à-vis the Dalai Lama, seems to stem from Beijing’s perception of the likely inability of the US, portrayed as a power hit by worst financial crisis, to maintain the level of its assistance to the exiled leader. Examining in an overall perspective, time seems to be on China’s side; it can afford to continue talks with the Dalai Lama without facing any conditionality for a deadline to find an amicable solution to the Tibet issue; more importantly, such a strategy, in the present crucial stage of its modernization, may help China in projecting itself before the international community as a power willing to ‘develop peacefully’ and play the role of a responsible stakeholder in the international system.
(The writer, D.S.Rajan, is Director, Chennai Centre for China Studies, Chennai, India. Email: email@example.com)