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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?"

Tibet: Autonomy vs Independence

May 13, 2008

R. Venkatesan Iyengar
MeriNews (India)
May 10, 2008

SIino-Tibetan relations have soared enormously. In this dynamic world order, it would be prudent for the Tibetan groups to give up their demand for independence. Instead, they should bargain for an autonomous status for Tibet within the Chinese setup.

HE SNOW-clad icy heights of Mount Everest were treated to a rare spectacle on May 8, 2008. Five Chinese climbers, all dressed in red, unfurled the Chinese national flag, the Olympic flag and a flag, bearing the Beijing Olympic logo atop the world’s highest peak and shouted jubilantly, “Long live Tibet, long live Beijing!”

Literally translating the Chinese government’s dream of taking the torch onto the Himalayan heights, one of the climbers carried the Olympic torch in the last few steps to the top of Everest. Interestingly, the fact that the climber who took the Olympic torch to the summit happened to be a Tibetan woman did not go unnoticed by the world.

While the Chinese government would have thought that such a symbolic gesture was necessary to assuage the ruffled feelings of the world vis a vis the rekindled Tibetan issue, the exiled Tibetan officials and rights groups have chosen to view the entry of the Olympic torch into the Tibetan side of the mountain as a provocative gesture.

This episode once again serves to demonstrate what the Tibetan issue is all about: While China tries to send direct and indirect messages to the world in general and the Tibetans in particular that Tibet is an inalienable part of China, the Tibetans see such gestures and pronouncements as a move by the country to reassert its control over Tibet.

True, the hosting of the Olympic Games by China this year, has given Tibetan groups a renewed opportunity to draw, yet again, the world’s attention to the vexed issue of Chinese occupation of Tibet and the latter’s efforts for gaining nationhood.

However, it is doubtful whether the disruptions caused by Tibetan protesters during the Olympic torch relay would have the desired effect, as the world response to the issue is rather mute. That is understandable. After all, China is not only a military superpower, but also has emerged as an economic giant in its own right. And, in today’s world, economy, and not history or polity, determines foreign policies and initiatives of the nations.

In other words, if China had failed as a socialist state, like the erstwhile Soviet Union, perhaps, it would have been easier for Tibet to get the support of the world in its struggle for independence. But China’s success as an economic power means that nations can afford to antagonise China, only at a considerable loss to their own business interests.

Also, pure economic interests dictate that it would be better for Tibet to remain as a part of China, irrespective of what each party to the dispute claims as the ‘historical’ truth.

At a time when independent countries look for a cooperative and collaborative arrangement to stay competitive in the globalised world, it is not advisable for Tibet to seek separate nationhood. It is precisely why some of the Tibetan groups and exiled leaders should rethink their long-held stands if they are really serious about finding a realistic and feasible solution to this issue.

Right now, Tibetans are divided into ’pro-Independence’ and ’pro-autonomy’ groups. The former should give up their stance and join forces with the latter and bring enough pressure on the Chinese government to consider granting Tibet, political and social autonomy within the Chinese setup. Under this arrangement, Tibetans can have the right to have a flag of their own (for example, Scotland, which is a part of the UK, has its own flag) and the right to choose their own Lamas. Such autonomy also guarantees them their religious and cultural freedom within the confines of the Chinese nationhood and helps to protect their unique identity and land.

Special provisions that guarantee the Tibetans fundamental rights, ownership of property in their provinces and limited local self-governance can be thought of; excepting finance, foreign affairs, defence and communications to the Chinese government.

On May 4, 2008, a beginning was made in this direction when Beijing resumed talks with the representatives of the Dalai Lama in the southern town of Shenzhen, following international pressure to reach an accommodation with the Dalai Lama.

A recent news report quotes an envoy to the Dalai Lama as saying that the Chinese negotiators have shown their readiness to engage with the Tibetan side during talks, despite major differences on important issues. The Chinese foreign ministry spokesman, Qin Gang, is also reported to have said that his government’s attitude towards the dialogue is sincere.

However, much needs to be done still, and it can be done if both China and Tibet approach the whole gamut of issues with an open mind and a give-and-take attitude.
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