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Opinion: Dissing the Dalai Lama

October 28, 2009

Kelley Currie
The Weekly Standard Blog
October 27, 2009

When the news broke that President Obama was not
going to meet with the Dalai Lama during his
recent visit to Washington -- ending a practice
that has spanned the past two decades and three
previous presidents of both parties -- some China
hands and Obama sycophants applauded the decision
as a pragmatic step to avoid antagonizing a
regime whose cooperation was needed on "more
important" matters. When they weren’t dismissing
their predecessors’ meetings with the Dalai Lama
as "cheap symbolism," White House officials tried
to spin their preemptive capitulation as being
what the Dalai Lama wanted and a move that would
actually help the Tibetans. Placed in a no-win
situation, the Tibetans and their supporters
attempted to put the best face on it by playing
down the slight, at least until someone at the
White House flatly told the New York Times that
they really did throw the Dalai Lama under the
bus because a meeting might be "substantially damaging to the relationship."

Now come reports out of Tibet that up to four
Tibetans have been executed after dubious trials
in Lhasa. Can there now be any doubt that dissing
the Dalai Lama failed to improve the situation of
the Tibetans? Whereas in the past when an
American president was planning a visit to
Beijing for important summitry, the Chinese have
released a token political prisoner or two, this
time around they have executed Tibetans (and,
possibly some Uighurs too) just before Obama’s
arrival. While it would be hyperbolic to say the
Chinese made the decision to execute these people
as a result of Obama’s downgrading of human
rights concerns, we’ll never know if different
signals on human rights and Tibet issues might
have delayed or even diminished their
punishments. When I asked the State Department
last Friday why they had not yet commented, I was
told they could not confirm the executions but
not to expect much even if they did; meanwhile,
the Brits had already confirmed -- and condemned -- two of the executions.

But at this point, the Chinese are not even
politely pretending to care that the U.S. or
others may have any concerns about their brutal
treatment of the Tibetan population. In a recent
German magazine interview with Zhu Weiquan, a
senior Chinese ethnic affairs official, he made
it clear that the Chinese feel no need to
modulate their current policies in Tibet or
engage in meaningful talks with the Dalai Lama or
anyone else about that topic. Some choice words from Vice Minister Zhu:

"The Tibet issue is purely China's internal
affair. We will brief foreign friends on the
issue, answer relevant questions and invite you
to report in Tibet. But we will never allow
foreigners and foreign organizations to meddle in
the issue or pretend to be a mediator or moral guardian in Chinese affairs.

I know that some foreign individuals and
organizations have been extremely enthusiastic
and eager to be engaged in the relationship
between us and the Dalai Lama, as well as the
so-called "Tibet issue." Let me repeat here:
there is neither necessity nor possibility in this regard."

You really have to read the whole (really long)
thing to get the full sense of China’s arrogant
dismissal of international concerns about Tibet,
but this is a pretty in-your-face message to
Obama that any effort to curry favor with Beijing
by snubbing the Dalai Lama is completely misguided.

So is anyone at the White House listening? Do
they even care, or were their promises to unleash
their "smart power" on Beijing for the Tibetans’
benefit next month just a cynical ploy to keep
important Tibet supporters from criticizing their
preemptive capitulation? Signs point to the
latter, as a desperate-sounding Valerie Jarrett
took time last week to resurrect those hollow
promises in another attempt to defend the Dalai
Lama snub. With the likes of Czech dissident hero
Vaclav Havel calling them out as cowards and even
Maureen Dowd -- yes, Maureen Dowd –- questioning
the White House’s judgment on this one, White
House credibility on this issue is pretty thin.
And this was before the Chinese started executing Tibetans.

Several commentators have noted that those who
have "Free Tibet" and Obama campaign bumper
stickers on their fuel-efficient cars should be
thinking about removing one or the other. Its
time to get out the razor blades and WD-40.
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