His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s Special Envoy Lodi G. Gyari and Envoy Kelsang Gyaltsen arrived in China on January 26,2010, for the ninth round of discussions with the representatives of the Chinese leadership.The eighth round terminated without any agreement in November 2008. The present dialogue started in 2002. They were accompanied by senior assistants Tenzin P. Atisha, Bhuchung K. Tsering, both members of the Tibetan Task Force on Negotiations, and Jigmey Passang from the Secretariat of the Tibetan Task Force. As the talks progress, China seems to have suspended for the time being its campaign of demonisation of His Holiness. Even overseas supporters of His Holiness concede that the Chinese Government and the Communist Party have toned their rhetoric against His Holiness.
2. Messages coming out of commentaries and editorials on the resumption of the talks after an interval of 14 months are that unless His Holiness adopts a more realistic attitude in the present round of talks, there will be no useful outcome. By a realistic attitude, the Chinese mean His Holiness accepting the present constitutional and political status of the Tibet Autonomous Region without raising demands for a merger of all Tibetan inhabited areas and without insisting on the expansion of the autonomous powers of the re-constituted Tibetan region. After the failure of the last round, the Chinese had also stated that the Dalai Lama should stop raising the issue of the alleged Han colonization of Tibet and should accept the need for the continued presence of the People’s Liberation Army troops in the Tibet Autonomous Region. While accepting that Tibet is a part of China, His Holiness reportedly wants for it a special status similar to the status enjoyed by Hong Kong. The Chinese have already ruled this out.
3.In a commentary titled “Dalai Should Seize Chance Provided by Talks” published on January 28,2010, the “Global Times” run by the party-owned “People’s Daily” group, explained in the following words what the Chinese expected of His Holiness: “Now, at the age of 75, time is not on the side of the Dalai Lama. Though the March 14 riots in Tibet in 2008, plotted by the Dalai clique, caught the world's attention for a while, it is always the progress of China, including Tibet, which has impressed the world. For his own sake, the Dalai Lama needs to make the most of the opportunity provided by the current round of talks with the central government. As the new round of talks in eight years, also the first since November 2008, is underway, it is time for him to reflect on the discussions thus far, the reasons for them getting stalled and adopt a more realistic approach to keep the dialogue going with the central government. Only when he gives up "Tibetan independence", eschews separatist activities, and acknowledges Tibet as an inalienable part of China can the talks yield results. Any unrealistic request – such as greater "autonomy" in Tibet and some Tibetan-populated regions, proposed by his envoys during the last talks – are certain to be turned down. The realistic appreciation of Tibet – and not as a mysterious Shangri-la steeped in esoteric religious and cultural traditions – can help clear up the misunderstanding between China and some Western countries over Tibet. The mystification of Tibet has added to the confusion, and even prejudice against the Chinese central government's policy in Tibet. Some sections of the West have gone further by playing the Tibet card to embarrass China, either out of ignorance of Tibet's past and present, or in pursuit of their own political agenda. That explains why the Dalai clique's deliberate agitation and disguised attempt to seek "Tibetan independence" in the name of "autonomy" could once gain some momentum in the West. But more Westerners have come to realize that supporting the Dalai Lama will be in vain and do them no good.”
4. Overseas supporters of His Holiness say that the Chinese initiative for holding another round of talks with the representatives of His Holiness was preceded by the holding in Beijing of a Tibet strategy session from January 18 to 20, 2010. Since the People’s Liberation Army occupied Tibet in 1949-50, Chinese leaders are reported to have held five such strategy sessions under the name the Tibet Work Forum. The latest session called the Fifth Tibet Work Forum was reported to have been attended by about 300 Party, Government and military leaders playing a role in policy-making on Tibet.
5. The strategy session was held at a time when China had successfully weathered international pressure on it on the question of the human rights of the Tibetans. During his visit to China in November last, President Barack Obama was reported to have suggested the resumption of the talks with the representatives of His Holiness. However, it is not clear whether his raising the issue played any role in the Chinese decision to resume the dialogue with His Holiness.
6. Why was a new strategy session held at this time when there is seeming normalcy in Tibet after the anti-Chinese uprising of 2008 and when the international pressure on China on the human rights issue has eased after its successful holding of the Beijing Olympics in August,2008? Does it indicate Chinese nervousness about a fresh spell of trouble in Tibet after the exit of His Holiness, particularly if the person nominated by the Chinese as His Holiness’ reincarnation is not accepted by large sections of the Tibetan population? Do the Chinese want to explore the possibility of reaching a compromise with His Holiness on the modalities for his succession in order to avoid a controversy and fresh violence? Will the Chinese take the initiative in proposing any new ideas to the emissaries of His Holiness instead of merely reacting negatively to suggestions emanating from His Holiness and rejecting them as they were in the habit of doing in the past? While advising the Dalai Lama to be realistic, are the Chinese prepared to be realistic themselves and realize that future peace in Tibet depends on an uncontested succession process endorsed by His Holiness?
7.These are important and relevant questions, but no answers are forthcoming in the Chinese commentaries on the ongoing talks. The International Campaign For Tibet, a Washington DC based organization of His Holiness’ supporters, has come out with a detailed analysis of the recent strategy session on Tibet held by the Chinese leadership. Some interesting points emerging from the analysis are quoted below:
The Fifth Tibet Work Forum concluded days before the envoys of the Dalai Lama, led by Lodi Gyaltsen Gyari, arrived in China for the ninth round of the Sino-Tibetan dialogue. Speculation on the timing of the ninth round of dialogue so soon after the Fifth Tibet Work Forum has raised expectation that this could be a pivotal moment for Tibet.
The Fifth Tibet Work Forum was the first since the protests and crackdown beginning in March, 2008; the fourth was held in June, 2001. It was not announced in the official media until two days after the meeting was over, and the only prior indication that it was about to take place was a series of brief online articles in the state media in English referring to previous Tibet Work Forums. Since then, a carefully-chosen selection of statements from the meeting has been published in the official press, including speeches by Party Secretary and President Hu Jintao, and Prime Minister Wen Jiabao.
Reports on the Fifth Tibet Work Forum in the official media do not indicate a policy shift on Tibet – the emphasis is still on consolidating central control by further assimilation of Tibet into a ‘unified’ Chinese state – but there is a difference in tone and approach, with a notable lack of virulent rhetoric against the Dalai Lama, which is usually such a prevalent feature of official comment and reporting on Tibet.
Reports indicate that there is more of an emphasis on improving conditions in rural areas, although this emphasis still exists within a model of economic development based on infrastructure construction and resource extraction that has shown to deepen the marginalization and poverty of Tibetans. While this new focus on improving conditions in rural areas could be a positive step, the strategy for Tibet’s development as a whole needs to be addressed. The reports suggest that there is less emphasis on the large amount of funds spent on major ‘aid and development’ projects compared to previous Party and government planning documents on Tibet, which may signal a recognition that flooding Tibet with money does not automatically secure loyalty to the state. Tibetans from some of the most ‘developed’ areas of Tibet including Lhasa and parts of eastern Tibet were at the forefront of protests from March 2008 onwards.
Reports from the Fifth Tibet Work Forum demonstrate that Tibet is not of marginal concern but is a core issue to the Party, as evidenced by the strategic significance of Tibet laid out in the published statements. Compared to previous high-level meetings and in line with global concerns on climate change, the Fifth Tibet Work Forum emphasizes security issues linked to the environment of the Tibetan plateau, which is the source of Asia’s major rivers. The Party’s assertion of control over Tibet’s natural resources and fragile eco-system is in the context of an increasing international awareness of the global significance of the impact of climate change in Tibet. Many scientists characterize the Tibetan plateau as the earth’s ‘third pole’ because it has the biggest ice-fields outside the Arctic and Antarctic.
While the Fourth Tibet Work Forum in 2001 focused on the Tibet Autonomous Region, the Fifth includes all Tibetan areas in Sichuan, Yunnan, Gansu and Qinghai provinces – encompassing the eastern Tibetan regions of Amdo and Kham – which may indicate a trend towards regional integration of policies across all Tibetan areas of the PRC. Government statements have typically represented only the Tibet Autonomous Region as ‘Tibet.’ The protests that began in March 2008 spread to all Tibetan areas in the PRC, indicating a shared Tibetan identity, a commonality of grievances, concerns and a determination to express a shared loyalty to the Dalai Lama.
The Chinese authorities have announced that they would hold the First Work Forum on the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (East Turkestan) after the regional capital Urumchi erupted in protests and rioting in July 2009. The strategy for Xinjiang is framed with a stronger emphasis on the “fight against splittism” and independence activism than in the Fifth Tibet Work Forum statements seen to date. This could indicate a distinction in the way the Party is now handling policy on Xinjiang and Tibet. ( 1-2-10)
( The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai. He is also associated with the Cennai Centre For China Studies. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org )