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"We Tibetans are looking for a legitimate and meaningful autonomy, an arrangement that would enable Tibetans to live within the framework of the People’s Republic of China."

The End of the Line for the Dalai Lama?

October 27, 2008

John Pomfret
The Washington Post
October 26, 2008

It wasn't really surprising that the Dalai Lama finally announced
this weekend that he's given up on talks with China. But it's pretty
sad nonetheless. And it means that unless there's a fundamental
change in the PRC's attitude toward Tibet, the Dalai Lama is likely
to die outside of China and Tibetan culture will, like so many others
around the world, just fade away.

"I have been sincerely pursuing the middle way approach in dealing
with China for a long time now but there hasn't been any positive
response from the Chinese side," the Dalai Lama said in Tibetan at a
public function Saturday, according to the AP. He made his remarks in
the north Indian mountain town of Dharmsala that has been home to
Tibet's government-in-exile ever since the Dalai Lama fled China in 1959.

"As far as I'm concerned I have given up."

This is extremely blunt stuff from a leader who is always holding
open the door to compromise and almost preternaturally optimistic.
But it's also an accurate reflection of reality. The Chinese
government has been dabbling in talks with representatives of the
Dalai Lama for years. But at no point was there ever really a sense
that the Chinese were sincere in their attempts to solve the Tibetan problem.

At regular junctures during the talks, Chinese government spokesmen
would issue a set of demands. On a regular basis, the Chinese upped
the ante. First they wanted the Dalai Lama to accept Chinese
sovereignty over Tibet. He did. Then they wanted him to announce that
Tibet was not only part of Chinese territory but that Taiwan was,
too. (This was to punish him for traveling to Taiwan.) Then they
wanted him to pretty much confine his potential role in Tibet to that
of a religious or cultural figure. He said he would do that as well.
In June, he told Nick Kristoff of the New York Times that he could
accept the socialist system in Tibet under Communist Party rule.

"The main thing is to preserve our culture, to preserve the character
of Tibet," the Dalai Lama told Kristoff. "That is what is most
important, not politics."

The latest demand was that the Dalai Lama confine his focus to what
is known as "political Tibet." The Dalai Lama has also expressed
concern about the destruction of Tibetan culture in areas outside of
Tibet, in Yunnan, Sichuan, Gansu and Qinghai provinces, for example.
The Dalai Lama has been reluctant to accede to this demand because a
large percentage of the 200,000 some Tibetans in exile hail from
those provinces.

Following the Tibetan riots in Lhasa and Tibetan protests in many
other provinces this year, China resumed "talks about talks" with
representatives of Dalai Lama. The Chinese government did this in the
run-up to the Olympics as a political measure to take the heat off.
But it's clear now that the PRC was never really interested in a solution.

So what is China's policy towards Tibet? I've had several long
discussions with Chinese officials about this issue over the years.
Each time I've laid out my analysis and asked them to disagree with
it. Each time, they have not challenged me. My analysis is simple:
China's government is waiting for the Dalai Lama who is 73 to die.
When he does, their calculus is that the Tibetan movement, denied a
charismatic leader, will split into factions. The romantic idea of
Tibet, which has been so important to the movement over the years,
will lose its traction in Hollywood and among the jet setting
cognescenti. The Tibetan movement will devolve into just another
movement of a minority culture in a very big world. And China will be
essentially off the hook.

To be sure, there are optimistic Westerners as well who think that
China will do the right thing and let the Dalai Lama return to China
to attend to his people and attempt to preserve what remains of their
culture. But I think the optimists are wrong for two reasons. First
is that currently (and I'd wager for the foreseeable future) no
leader in China will have the heft to push such a big change like
this through a party-state structure hardwired to be cautious.

Over the past 70 years of history, China's leaders have grown
increasingly weaker. Mao was a supremo; Deng was pretty tough; Jiang
grew in power over time, but still could not compare with Deng; and
Hu Jintao, the current No. 1, runs the show with eight other guys
looking over his shoulder.

Second, China's security services are deathly afraid of the Dalai
Lama because he retains enormous influence among his people. In the
late 1990s, the Dalai Lama asked to visit a Buddhist center in
northern China called Wutai Shan. The security services nixed the
trip because, as one official told me, "there would be a line of 2
million praying Tibetans stretching from Lhasa across my country." He
and others predicted that If the Dalai Lama returned, Tibet would
most surely rise up against Chinese rule.

The Dalai Lama has called for a special meeting of Tibetan exiles in
the second week of November to discuss the future of the Tibetan
movement. It's a grim future no matter how you cut it.
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