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COMMENTARY: Tibetan options: few, if any

November 21, 2008

FRANK CHING
The Globe and Mail
November 19, 2008

The latest round of talks between representatives of the Dalai Lama
and the Chinese government predictably failed to make progress, and
now hundreds of Tibetans are meeting in the northern Indian town of
Dharamsala to discuss their options.

Since the two sides had a totally different understanding of the
talks, it wasn't surprising they couldn't reach a deal.

The Dalai Lama's representatives wanted to discuss the situation in
Tibet, where there were riots in March, and genuine autonomy for the
region. But China insists there is no Tibet problem and says it
represents the interests of all ethnic minorities, including
Tibetans. The Tibetan government-in-exile is only "a product created
by a small group of separatists who launched an armed rebellion in 1959."

Beijing's position, however, is ambiguous. It says talks with the
Dalai Lama's representatives can only be about his own future role.
But, in July, Chinese officials actually invited views on the degree
or form of autonomy the Dalai Lama is seeking. Hence, this time
around, his representatives presented a "memorandum on genuine
autonomy for the Tibetan people," which called for a single
administrative entity governing all areas inhabited by Tibetans (an
area a fourth of China's territory) and for Tibetans to create their
own regional government with the central government in Beijing
powerless to abrogate or change Tibetan decisions.

China rejected these proposals out of hand. At a press conference
announcing the failure of the talks, officials said the Tibetan
leader should "completely give up his ideas and actions to split China."

It appears that China, which sent more troops into Tibet after the
disturbances, believes it has the situation under control. It sees
the Dalai Lama himself as the root of the problem and, now that he is
73 and ailing, Beijing thinks it's just a matter of time before he
dies and the problem's solved.

The latest meeting was the third such round this year. In May, China
agreed to resume talks, which had not been held since 2006, after
calls from American and European leaders in the wake of the Tibetan
disturbances. Renewal of the dialogue was sufficient to keep Western
leaders quiet. Now, with the Olympics over, Beijing evidently sees
little need to keep talking, although it insists the door is always
open if the Dalai Lama wishes to "return to a patriotic stance."

With China taking such a hard line, it's little wonder that Tibetans
in exile are meeting this week to re-examine their options. But they
don't have many options.

For years, there has been discussion as to whether they should opt
for independence or for true autonomy within China. Similarly, there
were arguments over whether they should resort to violence to achieve
their goal.

Independence is unrealistic since no nation recognizes Tibet as a
separate country. A decision to resort to terrorism will have to be
disavowed by the Dalai Lama, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate. Moreover,
the Indian government would withdraw its hospitality to the exiled
Tibetans. Besides, since China indicates its willingness to continue
the dialogue, a decision by Tibetan exiles to stop talking would send
a negative signal to the international community.

The Dalai Lama sounds like a man at the end of his rope. "Tibetans
are being handed down a death sentence," he said recently. "This
ancient nation, with an ancient cultural heritage, is dying." And
yet, even before this week's "crisis meeting," his aides said he
continues to believe dialogue is the only way to resolve the deadlock.

If Tibet explodes after the Dalai Lama's death, China may well regret
its decision not to take him seriously. Then there will be no one who
can help to pacify angry Tibetans.

Frank Ching is author of China: The Truth About Its Human Rights Record.
CTC National Office 1425 René-Lévesque Blvd West, 3rd Floor, Montréal, Québec, Canada, H3G 1T7
T: (514) 487-0665   ctcoffice@tibet.ca
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