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"As long as human rights are violated, there can be no foundation for peace. How can peace grow where speaking the truth is itself a crime?"

Olympic torch ignites dialogue over Tibet

May 12, 2008

By Lisa van Dusen
The Toronto Sun
May 11, 2008

Notwithstanding what you may have heard on the street, the Dalai Lama
doesn't play hardball.

The 72-year-old Buddhist spiritual leader portrayed by the government
of China as a stealthy, Machiavellian "splittist," devotes as much of
his meditation to the people of China -- and their government -- as
to the plight of his own people in Tibet and elsewhere.

That same compassion is what puts the Dalai Lama and his envoys at a
fundamental disadvantage in their dealings with China.

Of all the ethnic, religious, political and territorial
intra-national disputes of the past two decades, China's feud with
Tibet begs more than most for a United Nations-appointed mediator.

Beijing was pushed into a resumption of its stalled dialogue with the
Dharamsala, India-based Tibetan government-in-exile recently by the
public relations disaster of the repeatedly thwarted Olympic torch
relay and by growing international support for the Free Tibet movement.

China's horror at the prospect of an escalation -- athlete
disruptions during medal presentations and possible boycotts of not
just the opening ceremonies but of the August games themselves --
helped Beijing see the need to resume talks with the Dalai Lama's
representatives, which were suspended last year after a handful of
fruitless sessions. Nudging from President George W. Bush, the U.S.
Congress and the International Olympic Committee didn't hurt.


"It's important that there be a renewed dialogue -- and that dialogue
must be substantive so we can address, in a real way, the deep and
legitimate concerns of the Tibetan people," Bush told a gathering in
Washington last week, before the two sides met in Shenzhen, China, on May 4.

But none of the growing number of leaders from the West willing to
confront China on this issue has publicly suggested mediation and
China has repeatedly told the Tibetan envoys this is an internal
matter, meaning they'll balk at outside interference.

The agenda on May 4 was about containing the violence in the streets
of Lhasa, the Tibetan capital, where the Tibetan government-in-exile
says more than 200 people have been killed and at least as many have
been arrested since protests began on March 14.

The broader issues of human rights and autonomy are not yet back on
the table, and China has not yet agreed that they will be.

Meanwhile, China's agreement to "resume talks" with the Dalai Lama's
envoys has created the illusion of both a real negotiating process
where none exists and a misleading calm before the likely storm of
the Olympic torch's arrival next month in Lhasa.

The Tibetans have a unique window between now and the Olympics to ask
for what they need while the world is watching, while the Dalai Lama
is still alive and before an increasingly radicalized generation of
young Tibetans further escalates this cause in respectful defiance of
the Dalai Lama's policy of nonviolence.


In any other dynamic, international mediation would have already been
demanded by the weaker party or leveraged by the United States and/or
the United Nations as a matter of course, as was the case in disputes
over Northern Ireland, Cyprus, Kosovo, East Timor, Kashmir, the
Middle East and elsewhere. (The highly respected former Finnish
president, Marti Ahtisaari, who just wrapped up his mandate in
Kosovo, might be a good choice as envoy).

But the same overwhelming economic weight and trade power that give
China a pass on other human rights files inform the international
community's behaviour in this dispute.

So while the Dalai Lama is far from isolated, his popular support was
worthless in pressuring Beijing until the Olympics inflated the
currency of public perception.

This is why his side needs to demand a mediator now because it will
never happen once the games are over, and if it doesn't happen, the
likelihood of his other demands being met is drastically reduced if
not nullified.

There is a theory of political activism embraced by dissidents and
writers who lived under Soviet repression called the "as if" approach.

It proposes that, when dealing with a dysfunctional, repressive
regime, one should behave "as if" things are normal instead of
second-guessing official insanity and anticipating neurotic intransigence.


That way, the extent of the regime's corruption is exposed as a
matter of course.

In the longer term, as another step in China's integration with the
international community, it will be part of the Dalai Lama's legacy
to have done the world's work for it.

Not only is there something fittingly Buddhist about it, it just might work.
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