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Comment: Has China finally shut the door on Dalai Lama?

November 12, 2008

By Mayank Chhaya
November 11, 2008

The door has been peremptorily shut on the Dalai Lama's quest for a
"middle path" peaceful solution to the over five-decade-old Tibet
dispute with China accusing him of seeking "ethnic cleansing" across
the region.

The startling assertion by Zhu Weiqun, a vice-minister of the Chinese
Communist Party's united front work department, comes just days
before a special general meeting of the Tibetan exile community to
decide on the future course of action. The meeting is scheduled
between Nov 17 and 22 and comes in the shadow of the Dalai Lama's
rare expression of loss of "faith and trust" in dealing with the
Chinese leadership.

"If [the Dalai Lama] seizes power he will, without any compunction or
sympathy, carry out ethnic discrimination, apartheid and ethnic
cleansing," Zhu was quoted as saying at a news conference after the
eighth round of talks with the Dalai Lama's special envoys Lodi Gyari
and Kelsang Gyaltsen from Oct 30 to Nov 5.

He said there was no progress in the talks with the envoys and blamed
the Tibetan leadership. Zhu called the current system "perfect",
adding there was no need for any revision. "There is no other way," he added.

While the Chinese have been forthcoming about the outcome, or lack
thereof, of the talks the Tibetan envoys have not made any detailed
comments, perhaps conscious of the upcoming special meeting.
Characterising the Dalai Lama's position as wanting to seek ethnic
cleansing is by far the harshest denunciation coming out of Beijing
in recent times. It has frequently accused "the Dalai clique" of
carrying on "splittist" activities but charging him with wanting to
carry out apartheid and discrimination in Tibet goes well beyond
anything heard in recent times.

Among the interpretations of the latest hardening of Beijing's
positions is that it wants to push the exiles towards a more radical
approach and then use that as an excuse to call off any more
dialogue. In any event, with the Dalai Lama himself wondering whether
it made any more sense to continue on the "middle way", there is very
little room for flexibility left.

There may be several calculations behind China's latest
pronouncements. Chief among them is its long held but never
articulated strategy of waging a war of attrition against the Dalai
Lama, which essentially means talk about what to talk until he dies.
Although the Dalai Lama's health is reported to be fine in the
aftermath of his surgery, Beijing sees hope in any decline in the
73-year-old leader's health. Another calculation may well stem from
the current financial meltdown and the world community's
preoccupation with it to the exclusion of any other issue. Given
China's obvious importance to the global economy, Western countries
may be particularly reluctant to muddy the water by raising Tibet. A
third factor could be a tactic to push the exile community over the
edge and provoke them to do something unprecedented and then use it
as way to isolate it internationally.

China ought to be conscious that the United States, the only power
that may have influence with Beijing, has just had its presidential
election in the midst of the worst financial crisis since the Great
Depression. President-elect Barack Obama will naturally be focused on
the economy, two wars and a host of other domestic challenges. He is
unlikely to find any time to address the Tibetan question with a
country which has significantly bankrolled the United States.

The convergence of all these factors could well mean that the Nov
17-22 special meeting in Dharamsala would at the very least decide to
introduce more teeth to the middle way approach, if not abandon it
altogether. The Dalai Lama's acknowledgement that his approach has
not led to any solution may prompt the younger leadership within the
exile community to try something more aggressive. Whatever option the
exile Tibetan leadership might choose, Beijing appears to have
decided to give short shrift to them.
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