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"Canada can, within a positive friendly atmosphere, ask the Chinese government to resolve the Tibetan situation."

Tibet dreams of full autonomy dealt big blow

November 14, 2008

Britain's decision to recognize China's authority and Dalai Lama's
fragile health seen as setbacks
Bill Schiller, Asia Bureau
The Toronto Star (Canada)
November 13, 2008

BEIJING -- Is it finally over, then, for Tibet?

Chinese government officials said flat out this week during a
televised press conference that the Dalai Lama will "never" win the
autonomy he seeks for Tibetans.

But there was something decidedly different in their delivery.

The normal Chinese defensiveness over its dealings with the Dalai
Lama was gone.

Demeaning references to the dastardly "Dalai clique"? Gone too. The
usual over-the-top invectives, hectoring and virtual finger-wagging? All gone.

Instead, Chinese officials seemed strong, sure-footed, even smug in
reporting on recent talks with the Dalai Lama's representatives.

And why not?

Some say Tibet has now been stripped of the last vestige of what many
believe was its legitimate, legal claim for special status within China.

While the world was swept up in the heights of Obama-mania and the
depths of a financial meltdown, Britain changed its policy on Tibet –
and that makes all the difference.

Experts note Tibetan hopes hinged on British foreign policy: Britain
was the only Western power ever to have had official dealings and
written agreements with the so-called "Roof of the World." London
kept a government mission in the Tibetan capital of Lhasa for 15
years during the last century.

Britain long made clear it would only recognize China's "special
position" in Tibet if China granted Tibet significant autonomy.

Now -- that too is gone.

On Oct. 29, Prime Minister Gordon Brown's government informed
Parliament in a written statement that this previously held policy
was "unusual," an "anachronism" and based on an "outdated concept."

Britain announced it unconditionally recognizes China's absolute
authority over Tibet.

The announcement -- coming out of the blue -- stunned Tibet experts.

"This is a monumental shift," said Robbie Barnett, director of modern
Tibet studies at Columbia University. He called the development "the
biggest coup in China's diplomatic dealings on Tibet in recent decades.

"Never in history has China been able to say the entire international
community agrees that Tibet is part of China. Now it can say that –
and that's a huge difference."

That shift, coupled with the Dalai Lama's increasingly fragile health
and the security crackdown currently underway inside the Tibetan
capital, constitutes a massive setback for Tibet supporters.

Some observers, like Barnett, feel talks between China and Tibet may
effectively be over.

"The talks have basically collapsed," he said. "If the British were
really thinking that this would help – exactly the opposite has happened."

With the previous British policy in place, the Tibetan delegation
could speak to the Chinese on the basis of a legal, historic claim.

Without it, they are likely to be seen as "supplicants ... begging
their powerful overlords for some concessions."

What Barnett worries about now is what comes next.

"Will there be unrest, tensions, uprisings, protests like there were
earlier this year?

"I think everybody would hope things wouldn't go that far. But at the
moment, it's looking like that may be the only area from which
political change might come ... and that's a shame."

What perplexes many is why the British government chose to change a
policy it had held for 94 consecutive years, without any public
consultation; and why it was announced just two days before the Oct.
31 to Nov. 5 talks began.

Tibetan envoys were en route to Beijing with a memorandum of
understanding to present to the Chinese side that relied heavily on
Britain's historic position, said Matt Whitticase, of the U.K.-based
Free Tibet Campaign.

"This literally pulled the rug right out from under the Tibetan
envoys' feet," said Whitticase, "and with spectacularly bad timing.

"Worse," he said, "this effectively withdraws all incentive for the
Chinese to actually talk to the Tibetan side."

Claims by the British government that the change was nothing more
than "tidying up" are "utterly disingenuous," Whitticase said.

"This was a huge concession," he said, adding the British must have
asked for something in return.

"What that is, we don't yet know."

In reporting on the talks, senior Chinese official Zhu Weiqun said
this week the Dalai Lama's representatives had continued to press for
a "Greater Tibet" that would include not only China's Tibet
Autonomous Region – as it is known – but also parts of Sichuan,
Yunnan, Qinghai and Gansu provinces where sizeable Tibetan minorities
are found.

Zhu claimed the demand, if conceded, would gobble up "one-quarter of
China's territory."

He said the Dalai Lama also insisted all Chinese military be
withdrawn from Tibetan areas.

"No country in the world would withdraw its army from its own
territory," said Zhu.

But he insisted that talks had not collapsed.
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