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Thirty odd years for nothing?

Date: Friday, 14-November-2008
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Claude Arpi (India)
November 13, 2008

Sometime in November 1978, Gyalo Thondup, the Dalai Lama's elderbrother arrived without warning in Kanpur where his brother wasgiving a religious teaching. The Dalai Lama remembered: "To mysurprise, he announced that he had heard through some old and trustedfriends of his in Hong Kong that Xinhua [New Agency] wanted to makecontact with him." Thondup wanted the permission to go ahead. TheDalai Lama was thoughtful. As he wrote later: "The developments ofthe past two years all looked very promising [after Mao's demise];however, as the ancient Indian saying goes, when you have once beenbitten by a snake, you become cautious even of rope."

Nevertheless Thondup got the green light. During the following fiveor six weeks, he met several times with Li Ju-sheng, who, althoughcertainly not a journalist, was designated as 'Xinhua Director No. 2'in the then British colony.

At the beginning, Gyalo Thondup did not know that Li was a closeassociate of Deng Xiao-ping (who had closely watched his intelligencework in Indonesia in the 1960's). After a few meetings, Lirecommended to his boss to invite Thondup to Beijing to discuss thesituation in Tibet.

China: What after the Games?

The meeting between the new supreme leader of the People's Republicof China and the Dalai Lama's brother took place in Beijing inFebruary 1979 (around the time the Indian Foreign Minister Vajpayeewas visiting China). Immediately, Deng told Thondup that he wouldlike to invite the refugees in India to return to Tibet: "It isbetter to see once than to hear a hundred times".

It is during this encounter with Gyalo Thondup that Deng Xiaopingsaid: "The door is opened for negotiations as long as we don't speakabout independence. Everything else is negotiable."

Hence, 20 years after they had fled their native land in the mostdramatic conditions, three fact-finding delegations were sent by theDalai Lama in 1979 and 1980 to visit Tibet.

Let us not forget the Dalai Lama's situation who, followed by 85,000of his countrymen, had taken refuge in India. As he reached theIndian border near Tawang in March 1959, he was given asylum by theNehru government with the condition that he would not indulge 'inpolitics' on the Indian soil. From then on, his hands were tightly bound.

Tibet keeps alive true spirit of the Games

  On March 10 1973, in an annual Statement, the Tibetan leaderclearly outlined his main concern, the happiness of 6 millionTibetans: "If the Tibetans in Tibet are truly happy under Chineserule then there is no reason for us here in exile to argueotherwise." This would remain the guiding principle of his policyduring the following decades.

After having written a long personnel letter to Deng Xiaoping in1981, in-depth discussions were held in 1982 and 1984 in Beijingbetween the Dalai Lama's representatives and Chinese officials.Unfortunately with no tangible progress! The Chinese only wanted todiscuss the status of the Dalai Lama and his future role, in case hecame back to the 'motherland'. This was not acceptable to the DalaiLama who wanted to 'negotiate' the fate of his countrymen, not hisown future. For Beijing, the status of Tibet has been fixed once andfor all in 1951, when a Seventeen Point Agreement for the PeacefulLiberation of Tibet was signed (under duress, say the Tibetans).

Earlier this month, when the Dalai Lama's Envoys met Du Qinglin, thevice-chairman of the National Committee of the Chinese People'sPolitical Consultative Conference, the latter said that the DalaiLama "should respect history, face reality and conform to the times,as well as fundamentally change his political propositions."

It is not really clear what is meant by 'change his politicalpropositions', but 'face reality' probably signifies that regardingTibet's status even a small degree of autonomy (guaranteed in theChinese Constitution but never implemented) is not negotiable.According to Xinhua, Du made clear: "Concerning the fundamental issueof safeguarding national unification and territorial integrity, notthe slightest wavering or departure would be allowed, noting that no'Tibet independence', 'half independence' or 'covert independence'would be tolerated." In other words, no discussion on 'a meaningfulor genuine' autonomy!

Strangely, the same words were used by the Chinese when the DalaiLama presented his Strasbourg Proposal in June 1988. To theconsternation of many, the Tibetan leader decided to surrender theindependence of his country and resign himself to obtaining a genuine autonomy.

On that day of June 1988, in front of the European Parliament inStrasbourg, he made a huge compromise by renouncing 'independence', adream cherished by millions of his countrymen, and accepted to settlefor 'autonomy' within the People's Republic of China.

Confronted with 'vast seas' of Chinese migrants who "threaten thevery existence of the Tibetans as a distinct people," the Tibetanleader had crossed the Rubicon and formalized his 'Middle-Path' approach.

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For the past 20 years, the Tibetans, especially the youngergeneration, are torn between their aspiration for freedom and theirlove for their leader.

Many young Tibetans think like Tsoltim N. Shakabpa, the son of aformer Finance Minister who traveled abroad on a Tibetan passport inthe 40's: "Why does the Tibetan Government-in-Exile (TGIE) ask forautonomy for Tibet from Communist China that would give Tibetansconsiderably less freedom than those of us in exile currently enjoy?Presently, we are free to worship, voice our opinion on political andnational issues, travel, practice and promote our religion, cultureand traditions, and free to even vote for our Parliament-in-Exile.Why would the TGIE seek an agreement that denies such rights to us?"

A few weeks before the visit of his Tibetan Envoys to China,addressing a large audience at the annual Foundation Day of theTibetan Children Village in Dharamsala, the Dalai Lama surprised manywhen he declared that he had 'given up' on China: "It's difficult totalk to those who don't believe in truth [the Chinese]. I haveclearly mentioned that I still have faith in the Chinese people, butmy faith in the Chinese government is thinning." He added thatdespite sincerely pursuing the mutually beneficial Middle-Way policyin dealing with China, there was no positive response from Beijing.

Like thirty years ago, the Tibetan leader asserted: "The issue athand is the welfare of the Tibetan people and is not about mypersonal status and affairs."

Probably sensing the tensions within the Tibetan community betweenthe pros and cons 'Middle Path' and considering the 'serioussituation inside Tibet', the Dalai Lama called for a 'SpecialMeeting' with old and present Cabinet Ministers, current and formermembers of the Tibetan Parliament in Exile, government officials,Tibetan NGOs, and intellectuals to deliberate between November 17 to22 in Dharamsala on Tibet's future and its relation with China.

There is of course the danger of Tibetans tearing themselves apart;many want 'independence' while others feel that to go against theMiddle Path is to go against the Dalai Lama. At the same time, theTibetan leader has asked his people to come out with their ownsolution to the cul-de-sac.

For Beijing also the situation is not that simple. Paradoxically, theChinese leadership needs to hold the 'talks' to show the world thatthey are serious about sorting out the issue. The dissident WangLixiong analyzed: "Beijing sees the talks as an end in themselves.They do not need any resolution, and do not want any resolution, justthe process is enough. From the start, their objective was to prolongthe process as long as possible."

A catch 22 situation for everybody!

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