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"As long as human rights are violated, there can be no foundation for peace. How can peace grow where speaking the truth is itself a crime?"

Opinion: Dalai Lama leads a better protest

December 1, 2008

By Lisa Van Dusen
London Free Press (Canada)
November 29, 2008

The carnage in Mumbai, no matter which group was responsible, was a
bloody, unnecessary reminder of the lengths to which some non-state
actors will go to try to force new political realities or destabilize
existing ones.

One week earlier, elsewhere in India, there was an equally powerful
example of how other non-state actors go about seeking change. In
this case, instead of bombs and bullets they used the Internet, open
dialogue and the basic tools of democracy to make a statement.

The Dalai Lama's open call for members of the Tibetan diaspora to
meet Nov. 17-22 in Dharamsala, where the Tibetan government-in-exile
is based, produced three results.

The first was an endorsement of the 73-year-old spiritual leader's
moderate, "Middle Way" approach to dealing with China, which invaded
the region in 1951 and keeps a firm lock on what it now slyly calls
the Tibetan Autonomous Region.

That included backing of the Dalai Lama's decision to pull his envoys
out of negotiations with Beijing, a process that has produced nothing
but talk and a lot of overwrought finger-pointing about the "Dalai
clique" and the "evil intent" of the benign Buddhist leader by
Chinese officials.

The second was a qualifier stating, for the first time, if the
approach fails to produce meaningful autonomy the international
Tibetan community will launch a full-blown independence movement.

The third was a promise that the Tibetan people remain totally
committed to a non-violent struggle for freedom.

In response, the government of China, which has been emboldened in
its anti-Tibet stance since the economic meltdown enhanced its
economic leverage over the west, cancelled an EU-China trade summit
in Lyon, France, because French President Nicolas Sarkozy has a date
with the spiritual leader in Poland Dec. 6. The EU's trade deficit
with China was $207 billion last year, an imbalance that was to be
addressed in Lyon.

China's demonization of the Dalai Lama isn't swallowed outside its
own controlled propaganda environment, but it has allowed the Chinese
government to pay lip service to negotiations over Tibet's political
status, cultural protections and human rights because no other
country has had the leverage or the courage to force legitimacy on the process.

During the run-up to the Beijing Olympics, when world attention was
focused on Tibet through the Olympic torch protests and China's
crackdown in Lhasa, Western leaders were unwilling or unable to
leverage anything but an agreement from China to resume talks, the
last round of which failed Nov. 11.

What the Dharamsala meeting showed was Tibetan exiles worldwide are
getting more, not less, organized largely thanks to an active online
community that is thriving despite China's efforts.

For the United States, whose influence is make or break in such
conflicts, Tibet has been one of the few issues on which political
leaders from both the right and the left agree.

In their farewell meeting at the APEC summit in Peru, President
George W. Bush urged Chinese President Hu Jintao to resume talks with
the Dalai Lama which, in the current economic context, was actually a
bold diplomatic move.

The next day in Dharamsala, Karma Chophel, speaker of the Tibetan
parliament-in-exile, asked in his closing remarks to the exiles
meeting that the Chinese government stop "making baseless allegations
against His Holiness the Dalai Lama" because it "hurts the feelings
the all those people who have respect and love for His Holiness the
Dalai Lama and his untiring work for world peace and universal responsibility."

Not exactly the talk of radicals.

As incoming president, Barack Obama may not have any more big-stick
leverage with China but he may have an overriding interest in using
softer persuasion with Beijing toward a legitimate process of
establishing and protecting enough basic rights and freedoms in Tibet
to counterbalance the process begun in Dharamsala.

It might also be a way to show the world that hope and faith are more
powerful than bombs and bullets.
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