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Tibet: Dangers Of Backlash

What one is seeing across the world since the outbreak of the disturbances in Lhasa on March,10,2008, is a no-holds-barred confrontation between a small group of Neo Red Guards (as yet unidentifiable) in China, who are increasingly dominating policy-making on Tibet, and a very active group of Tibetan youth—many of them citizens or residents of Western countries— who are decreasingly amenable to the advice and guidance of the Dalai Lama.

2. The hold of the Neo Red Guards on policy-making on Tibet can be seen from the kind of absusive references to His Holiness reminiscent of the kind of language used by the Red Guards at the height of the Cultural Revolution in the 1960s, the disproportionate reactions of the State in Lhasa and Beijing to the indigenous Tibetan protests in Tibet, Sichuan, Gansu and Qinghai as well as to the dogged demonstrations by Tibetan youth in London, Paris and San Francisco on the route of the Olympic Torch, the reversion back by the Ministry of Public Security in Beijing and its offices in Tibet and other Tibetan-inhabited areas to Stalinist and Mao Zedong era practices of brainwashing in the name of “patriotic re-education” of Tibetan monks and youth in one more attempt to eradicate the influence of His Holiness on their mind—-despite the miserable failure of the paast attempts to do so.

3. The increasing disregard of the Dalai Lama and his advice by some sections of Western-resident Tibetan youth is evident from their going ahead with their attempts to disrupt the movement of the Olympic Torch and to sabotage the forthcoming Beijing Olympics despite the repeated statements of His Holiness against any act of disruption. For many months, His Holiness has made it clear that he was not opposed to the holding of the Olympics in Beijing. At the same time, he welcomed the opportunity provided by the Olympics to remind the international community of the continuing violation of the human rights of the Tibetans by the Chinese authorities. What he was having in mind was a non-violent movement similar to the movement launched by a group of activists headed by Mia Farrow against the Chinese assistance to the Government of the Sudan and by a group of Myanmar activists against the Chinese assistance to Myanmar’s military junta. They have been following a policy of non-confrontational agitation in the form of protests in the media, peaceful demonstrations and processions, moral pressure on the Western corporate houses co-sponsoring the Olympics to withdraw their co-sponsorship if the Chinese do not change their policies and political pressure on their Governments either to boycott the Olympics or to downgrade its imporrtance by not participating in the opening ceremony. At the same time, they have not indulged in any acts of disruption similar to those indulged in by some Tibetan activists and their Western supporters.

4.The Neo Red Guards do not seem to realise that their shockingly abusive rhetoric and actions have only created greater sympathy for the Tibetan cause all over the world, with calls from many leaders for the resumption of the dialogue between His Holiness and the Chinese leadership. Even Mr.Kevin Rudd, the new Australian Prime Minister, who is not a compulsive critic of China, has openly expressed his disquiet over the Chinese policies during a visit to China and called upon Beijing to resume the dialogue.

5. The Chinese leadership has to realise that after what has been happening since March 10,2008, it can no longer push the Tibetan issue under the carpet.It has to come to terms with the ground reality that it has not been able to win the confidence of the Tibetan people despite the undoubted economic miracle in Tibet and that it can never hope to regain the confidence of the Tibetan people unless its policies are in tune with the wishes and aspirations of His Holiness and the Tibetan people.

7. It would be unrealistic to expect the Chinese leadership to agree to a resumption of the dialogue before trhe Olympics are over. They would see it as a loss of face for them and as likely to increase further agitations by the radicalised sections the Tibetan youth.But if the leadership in Beinjing is wise, it would realise quickly the harm that is being done to China’s image by the rhetoric and actions of the Neo Red Guards and de-escalate the situation by reversing the present abusive campaign against His Holiness and by stopping the “patriotic re-education” classes.

8. Fortunately, President Hu Jintao has till now maintained a total silence on Tibet, thereby evidently keeping his options open. Despite his past controversial record in Tibet where he was posted for some years, he has a reputation that unlike his predecessor Mr.Jiang Zemin, he shuns unnecessary confrontations and has an open mind on important policy issues. It is said that he genuinely wants the distrust of China in some international circles to be diluted. Knowlegeable Chinese experts, who hold this view, cite as an example how he has de-escalated the Jiang era tensions over Taiwan with the US. It is time for him to assert himself and start a de-escalation process over Tibet too.

9.Since 2003, there have been indications that a group of foreign citizens —mainly from the West—- of Tibetan origin have been radicalising the Tibetan Youth Congress (TYC) and egging it on to disregard the advice of His Holiness in favour of non-violence and moderation and to adopt an increasingly confrontational line. In September last year, this group assumed a dominating influence in the TYC and has been behind the confrontation witnessed recently in Tibet, London, Paris and San Francisco.

10. The disruptive activities of this group are already showing signs of creating a backlash among other groups agitating over issues such as the Chinese policies on the Sudan and Myanmar. The backlash is partly due to jealousy over the greater public attention to the Tibetan activists and partly due to exasperation over the agitational style of the radical sections of the Tibetan youth.

11. One has to pay a tribute to the TYC for the determined manner in which it has succeeded in rousing the conscience of the international community on Tibet. At the same time, one has to caution it that some of its methods as seen in London, Paris and San Francisco could prove counter-productive.

12. It is doubtful whether the international community would have come out as vocally as it has on the Tibet issue but for the respect and attention commanded by the Dalai Lama. He is the best asset that the Tibetan cause has today. That asset should not be weakened by the Tibetan youth by disregarding his words of caution and going on a path of their own.

13. It is important to keep up the momentum of the Tibet movement alive. At the same time, it is equally important to discard methods which could damage the movement. (10-4-08)

(The writer, B.Raman, is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies Chennai. He is also associated with the Chennai Centre For China Studies. E-mail: )

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