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"For a happier, more stable and civilized future, each of us must develop a sincere, warm-hearted feeling of brotherhood and sisterhood."

Limited options leave Tibetans seething

November 21, 2008

By Frank Ching
The New Straits Times
November 20, 2008

THE latest round of talks between representatives of the Dalai Lama
and the Chinese government predictably failed to make progress. Now
hundreds of Tibetans are gathering in Dharamsala, India, for a
week-long crisis meeting to discuss the way forward. Since the two
sides have totally different understandings of the nature of the
talks, it was not surprising that they could not reach agreement.

The Dalai Lama's representatives wanted to discuss the situation in
Tibet, where there were riots in March, and genuine autonomy for the region.

The Chinese government 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 is ambiguous, however. It says that 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, his representatives this time around presented a "Memorandum
on Genuine Autonomy for the Tibetan People", which called, among
other things, for a single administrative entity governing all areas
inhabited by Tibetans -- an area roughly a fourth of China's territory.

The memorandum also called for Tibetans to create their own regional
government, with the central government in Beijing rendered powerless
to abrogate or change Tibetan decisions.

These proposals were rejected out of hand by Beijing, with Chinese
officials seeing such ideas as but thinly disguised attempts at independence.

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

It appears that China, which sent additional troops into Tibet after
the disturbances, believes that 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 is just a matter of time
before he dies and the problem is 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 disturbances
in Tibetan areas and a Chinese military crackdown.

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 Chinese officials insist that the door is
always open if the Dalai Lama wishes to "return to a patriotic stance".

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

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 country in the world recognises
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 no doubt will withdraw its
hospitality to the exiled Tibetans, which has been extended for half a century.

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, where many hope for
an eventual compromise.

The Dalai Lama sounds like a man at the end of his tether.

"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 the convening of the "crisis meeting", his aides
announced that he continues to believe that dialogue is the only way
to resolve the deadlock.

The plight of China's Mongolians offers an object lesson for
Tibetans. Mongolians now account for only 20 per cent of the
population of Inner Mongolia, and Mongolian identity is under threat.

Similar migration of Han Chinese into Tibet would lead to a similar
result. Tibet may lose not only its autonomy but its distinct culture
and religion. And there is a danger that the threat of extinction may
lead to violence.

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 could help pacify angry Tibetans.
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