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"On my part, I remain committed to the process of dialogue. It is my firm belief that dialogue and a willingness to look with honesty and clarity at the reality of Tibet can lead us to a viable solution."

Commentary: Gwynne Dyer: Is violence inevitable in Tibet's future?

November 27, 2008

By Gwynne Dyer
Georgia Straight (Canada)
November 25, 2008

The Dalai Lama spoke in his customary platitudes, and the Chinese
regime responded with its habitual bluster, but a corner was turned
in the China-Tibet dispute last week. From now on, it's likely to get worse.

After a five-day meeting in Dharamsala, India, that gathered together
Tibetan exiles from all over the world, the Dalai Lama emerged with
his authority unchallenged and the policy towards Beijing unchanged.
"[The] majority of views have come up supporting the Middle Way path
to the Tibetan issue...which is right," he declared on Sunday. In
other words, the Tibetans should seek only autonomy under Chinese
rule, not full independence.

The regime's official mouthpiece in Lhasa, the Tibet Daily, replied
that "the so-called 'Middle Way' is a naked expression of 'Tibetan
independence' aimed at nakedly spreading the despicable plot of
opposing the tide of history." The gutter-Marxist vocabulary is out
of date in today's China, but the Tibet Daily got the Chinese
regime's attitude right: the Communists have never believed that the
Dalai Lama was telling the truth.

It's because the ultra-combative Communist mindset makes them see
everyone they do not control as an enemy and a plotter. Yet the Dalai
Lama was potentially their greatest ally among the Tibetans, for he
calculated the odds on Tibetan independence long ago and found them
to be hopeless. So he opted for the next best thing: autonomy.

For decades, he has been offering Beijing a deal. If it respects
Tibet's culture and stops trying to drown the historic identity of
Tibetans under a wave of Han Chinese immigrants, he will deliver
Tibetans' loyalty to China. It has never been clear that he could
actually do that, but he certainly meant to try, because he could see
no other path that didn't end in tragedy.

Unfortunately, the Beijing regime has never understood that the Dalai
Lama was its best chance of reconciling Tibetans to Chinese rule.
Instead, it defined Tibetan nationalism as an artificial phenomenon
that was stirred up from outside by evil plotters—so the man who did
most to contain the wilder extremes of Tibetan nationalism became, in
Beijing's view, the arch-plotter.

For all the sophistication of its views on other issues, the Chinese
regime lives in a cave when it comes to nationalist movements among
its subject peoples. When violent protests against the presence of so
many Han immigrants broke out in Lhasa and other Tibetan cities last
March, Beijing reflexively blamed the apostle of non-violence, the
Dalai Lama. It is leaving itself nobody to negotiate with -- but
then, it doesn't think it will ever have to negotiate.

Beijing's unspoken calculation, based on the delusion that Tibetan
nationalism is the artificial creation of a hostile religious leader
backed by malevolent outside forces, is that it just has to stand pat
and wait for the Dalai Lama to die. He's 73 now and not in the best
of health, so that shouldn't take too long—and then Tibetan
separatism will evaporate as all the fraternal Tibetan patriots are
enfolded in the bosom of the beloved Chinese motherland.

I'm not exaggerating, you know. That is how they think. So it will
come as a nasty surprise to the Chinese regime when the post-Dalai
Lama Tibetan leadership opts for a violent struggle for full
independence, and many inside Tibet answer their call.

The signs are already visible. Younger, more radical Tibetans at the
Dharamsala summit bowed to the Dalai Lama's wishes one last time, but
the meeting also concluded that if China made no effort to meet his
demands for autonomy, then other options, including calls for
independence and self-determination, would be put forward.

Nobody talked about violence, but they didn't have to. We already saw
lots of spontaneous anti-Chinese violence in the riots last March.
Tibetans feel their country is vanishing around them as more and more
Chinese immigrants flow in, and their reactions are becoming more extreme.

This is bad news for Tibetans who dream of independence. The only way
Tibet could ever win its independence back is during a transition in
China from Communism to more or less democratic rule. That moment may
come some day, and if it does a brief window of opportunity may open
for Tibetan independence, just as it did for the various non-Russian
republics of the old Soviet Union when Communism collapsed there in 1991.

But there is a proviso. Chinese people would only ever assent to
Tibetan independence if they were sure that the country was not a
threat to them. A guerrilla and terrorist campaign that targets
ethnic Chinese people in Tibet would produce the opposite conviction
in China, and end all hope of Tibetan independence. Yet such a
campaign may now be only a few years away.

Why is the Chinese regime pushing the Tibetans into this disastrous
strategy? Simple ignorance will suffice as a motive for the highest
leadership cadre, but surely the senior intelligence people in China
understand the implications of China's stone-walling on Tibetan autonomy.

Of course they understand, and what does that tell you? It tells you
that senior Chinese intelligence officers realise that a Tibet with a
violent, ethnically based separatist movement has even less chance of
achieving independence than a peaceful, cooperative Tibet. So they
advise their relatively naive superiors to follow policies that will
make the violence inevitable.

Or do you think I am being too cynical?

Gwynne Dyer's new book, Climate Wars, has just been published in
Canada by Random House.
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