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"We Tibetans are looking for a legitimate and meaningful autonomy, an arrangement that would enable Tibetans to live within the framework of the People’s Republic of China."

Road ahead for Tibet still in darkness

November 27, 2008

By Claude Arpi,
New Indian Express
November 26, 2008

"Since I was very young, I realised that the transformation of our
governance into a democratic system was of utmost importance for
Tibet's immediate and long-term interest. Therefore, after taking
responsibility as the spiritual and political leader of Tibet, I
worked hard to establish such a democratic set-up in Tibet," the
Dalai Lama said recently. As soon as he went into exile in 1959, the
Tibetan leader continued his efforts to democratise Tibetan society.

A few weeks earlier, addressing a large audience at the annual
foundation day of the Tibetan Children's Village in Dharamsala, the
Dalai Lama declared that he had 'given up' on China: "It's difficult
to talk to those who don't believe in truth (the Chinese). I still
have faith in the Chinese people, but my faith in the Chinese
government is thinning." He added that despite pursuing the mutually
beneficial Middle Way policy in dealing with China, there was no
positive response from Beijing.

Watching a press conference held by the Dalai Lama's envoys on the
eve of the Special Meet to deliberate on Tibet's future, it was clear
that for the past 30 odd years, the main bottleneck of the
'negotiations' with Beijing has been the issue of democracy.

 From the time of the first contacts between Beijing and Dharamsala
in the early 1980s, the Chinese have insisted that they will speak
only to the Dalai Lama's representatives, while the Tibetans believe
the envoys represent six million Tibetans around the world.

When they visited Beijing in November this year for talks, the envoys
were reminded by Pema Trinley, executive vice-governor of the Tibet
Autonomous Region (TAR), that they could not pretend to represent the
people of Tibet.

Only officials appointed by Beijing had this prerogative.

The Chinese have consistently camped on their position. Whoever goes
to Beijing is received (and it is always highlighted in the press
communiqués), as 'private' representative of the Dalai Lama. As
immediate consequence, the envoys have, for Beijing, no mandate to
discuss a 'special' status for Tibet. Clearly, the Chinese and the
Tibetans are not on the same wavelength.

The contacts between the two parties began in February 1979, when
Gyalo Thondup, the Dalai Lama's elder brother met Deng Xiaoping, the
new PRC leader.

Deng told Thondup: "The door is open as long as we don't speak about

Everything else is negotiable," but was the status of Tibet
negotiable in his mind? Doubtful! Two years later, the Dalai Lama
addressed a personal letter to the leader: "The time has come to
apply, with a sense of urgency, our common wisdom in a spirit of
tolerance and broad-mindedness in order to achieve genuine happiness
for the Tibetans." The answer of the Chinese government came
indirectly in July 1981 through their embassy in Delhi. To the Dalai
Lama's consternation, it only mentioned his personal status and his
future role, in case he came back to the 'motherland': "The Dalai
Lama could enjoy the same political status and living conditions as
he had before 1959." This was not acceptable. The Tibetan leader
wanted to "negotiate" the happiness and fate of his six million
countrymen, not his own future.

In 1973, in his annual March 10 statement, the Dalai Lama had
outlined his prime aspiration, "If the Tibetans in Tibet are truly
happy under Chinese rule there is no reason for us here in exile to
argue otherwise." The basis of the 'Middle Path' was laid down in
Strasbourg in June 1988 in front of the European Parliament when the
Dalai Lama renounced independence and stated: "The whole of Tibet
should become a self-governing democratic political entity founded on
law by agreement of the people for common good and the protection of
themselves and their environment, in association with the People's
Republic of China." A 'self-governing democratic political entity'
was not negotiable for communist China in 1988. It is still not
palatable today.

After the return of Lodi Gyari, the Dalai Lama's special envoy,
earlier this month, his Chinese counterpart and vice minister of the
United Front Works Department, Zhu Weiqun publicly stated that though
the talks "were frank and sincere, the two sides had great divergence
over China's policy over Tibet".

The 'democratic process' is certainly the most serious 'divergence',
though for the past 20 years another accusation has been thrown at
the Dalai Lama and his Administration in exile, splittism, one of the
worse crimes for the People's Republic of China.

Beijing has the impression that the demand for 'genuine' or
'meaningful' autonomy is only a first step towards 'splitting the
motherland'. The Chinese leadership believes that giving away Central
control over the 'nationalities' areas such as Tibet, Mongolia or
Xinjiang could bring about a dismemberment of the People's Republic.

Du Qinglin, vice-chairman of the Chinese People's Political
Consultative Conference, one of Lodi Gyari's interlocutors, told
Xinhua News Agency that no 'Tibet independence', 'half-independence'
or 'covert independence' would be tolerated.

The Chinese used the same words when the Dalai Lama presented his
Strasbourg Proposal in June 1988.

But whether the Tibetans want 'independence' or follow the Middle
Path it will not solve the issue of 'democratisation' of the society
in China. It is a far tougher proposal.

For Beijing too the situation is not easy. The Chinese leadership
needs to hold the 'talks' to show the international community that it
is serious about sorting out the issue. But it sees the talks as an
end in themselves, as a Chinese dissident put it: "They do not need
any resolution, and do not want any resolution, just the process is
enough. From the start, their objective was to prolong the process as
long as possible." Clearly a solution is not in sight.
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