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China's Tibet Policy Remains Unworkable

The Chinese leaders must understand that turmoil in Tibet is in nobody’s interest. India has made it clear innumerable times that it will not get involved in this issue as it is China’s internal affair. In its latest policy India, by not repeating ad nauseum the Chinese line on Tibet and Taiwan in every bilateral declaration, has sent a message to Beijing to “keep us out of your internal problems”. India has all along refrained from commenting on China’s dismal human rights, religious rights, and minority issues.

For the Dalai Lama and his establishment in-exile, turmoil only brings greater pain on the Tibetans in Tibet. Having failed to persuade the Chinese to agree to the minimum demands of autonomy for the Tibetan people, perhaps even less than what the Chinese central government had agreed to in the 17-point agreement of 1951, be decided earlier this year to step down from political responsibilities.

The Europeans cannot keep their opinions out even though they have significant economic exchanges with China. The issue of human rights and religious freedom form the basic platform of European ideology, and the European people will not allow their governments to ignore such issues.

The United States has a significant constituency focussed on human rights and religious freedom, and view the Dalai L:ama as a symbol of these issues. The US congress is particularly concerned and will not allow the government of the day to drift too far from these issues. And on these, they spare no country. In many countries where the governments do not take up these issue with China, the people generally are concerned. The Dalai Lama and his policy has

huge popular support. For example in Russia, in the Republic of Kalmyka where the people follow Buddhism and their president is a disciple of the Dalai Lama, he enjoys huge adulation.

Yet, no country supports independence of Tibet. But this is something the Chinese leaders refuse to believe. For how long can they keep ignoring international opinion, especially when China is an important member of the global village?

Most importantly, the Chinese leaders are also not willing to hear the views and opinions of their own people, the Han Chinese, on the Tibet issue, A Chinese NGO, the Gongmen Law Research Centre, Beijing, did an extensive field study in Tibet, going down to far flung villages. Their objective was to bring to the notice of the government that the money being spent in Tibet was not going to the Tibetans the intended recipients, but to the Han settlers. The report published in 2008 only led to the closure of the NGO, but its report was also banned.

There are talks among Chinese intellectuals who are increasingly dismayed by the CCP’s and the government’s Tibet policy. As China’s prodemocracy movement spreads, such views will be heard more.

The even harder approach to the Tibet issue was first voiced after the March 2008 uprising in Lhasa, but also from the Tibet Communist Party Secretary Zhang Qingli during the March National People’s Congress (NPC) in Beijing. He promised no quarters would be given to any protests by Tibetans.

It is an established fact that the Dalai Lama’s move to step down from the political scenario and make way for an elected Prime Minister and cabinet

which will run the political affairs of the Tibetan government-in-exile, disturbed the established Chinese strategy. China, of course, could not accept the new Prime Minister or Kalon Tripa and his government to interlocute as that would accord recognition of the movement. The question was would the talks between the Dalai Lama’s representatives and the Chinese authorities be resumed, and when and under what conditions?

The answer has come now. In an interview with the latest issue of the China’a Tibet magazine, Zhu Weiqun, vice-minister of the CCP’s United Front Work Department (UFWD) declared that any talks (with Tibetans-in-exile) should be restricted to the political status of the Dalai Lama and conducted between Beijing and the Dalai Lama’s personal emissaries.

Zhu Weiqun clarified that the CCP had “two basic points in regard to the negotiation” adding “The first is that the identity of the other party only be the personal representatives of the Dalai Lama. The second is (that) the subject is limited to the Dalai Lama’s personal future, or at most it would also include (the future) of a few of his personal aides”. He also warned that Beijing could launch a military crackdown if there were any violent upheavals by Tibetans.

For the record, Zhu blamed the Dalai Lama as the main source of social unrest in Tibet, and called him the “royal tool of international anti-China forces”. His observations came on the eve of the 60th anniversary of China’s takeover of Tibet. Zhu Weiqun’s views are the consensus view of the CCP politburo and its 9-member Standing Committee, headed by Party General Secretary and

President Hu Jintao, who heads the party’s group on Tibet, and who was Tibet’s Party Secretary during the protest by monks and nuns in Lhasa in 1987.

It is clear that they want the Dalai Lama to resume his political role. At the same time they have severely limited the ambit of the discussions – no talk on the future status of Tibet. From the CCP’s point of view, that has been settled.

What the Chinese want to discuss with the Dalai Lama’s representatives is how to come to an amicable agreement in the process of recognizing the 15th Dalai Lama in due course, and rehabilitation of his emissaries in China but not necessarily in Lhasa, in institutions like the NPC and Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), a body that includes representatives from non-party members but is led by the CCP.

One cannot say for certain if what Zhu Weiqun said is the complete Chinese offer of the talks. If it is, it could be difficult for the Dalai Lama to accept the offer, because he would remain deprived of his basic minimum dream for the Tibetan people. He has made significant concessions to the Chinese already. Accepting would amount to sacrificing whatever of the Tibet cause that is left. And it is unlike of the Dalai Lama to let down his people.

The stepped up coercive policy towards Tibetans became visible in late March in dealing with the monks in the Kirti monastery in Ngba county. The monks protested against an attempt by the authorities to take groups from among them for political (re)education. The problems there continue with several arrests having been made and many monks severely beaten up by security

forces. And, Tibetans inside China have been warned about harder times to come.

The Chinese statements and actions do not display confidence. On the contrary, they reflect confusion and high concern among China’s leadership on how to deal with the entire Tibet question. The Chinese leadership appear to be digging themselves into a hole. Earlier this month, they dispersed a gathering of house churches. According to official statistics there are 160 million Christians in China. Pro-democracy voices are being locked up in jails in increasing numbers, the latest being the well known artist Ai Weiwei

It would be advisable for the Chinese authorities to re-evaluate their internal policies if they want to save the communist party as the sole ruling party of China. Satisfy the basic aspirations of the people like a benevolent emperor in Confucian tradition, allow the people to speak, learn from them and correct mistakes. Very few in the country want a multi party political system. But using a hammer to kill a fly may result in so many flies accumulating under the proverbial carpet that they may one day fly away with the carpet. It will not happen today, tomorrow or the day after. But it will happen eventually. Man is born free!

(The Writer, Mr. Bhasker Roy, is an eminent China Analyst based in New Delhi. Email:

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