News and Views on Tibet

China’s Colonial ‘March’ in Tibet

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by Vijay Kranti

Year 2009 has very special significance in the history of today’s People’s Republic of China (PRC). In October this year the Communist rulers of Beijing will celebrate the 60th anniversary of their coming to power and the founding of PRC. This year also marks the 60th anniversary of People Liberation Army’s entry into Tibet with the aim of ‘liberating’ and assimilating her back into ‘Great Motherland’ after over a century of “imperialists’ deceptions”. While Dalai Lama, the exiled ruler of Tibet, completes 50 years of his exile and his refugee compatriots have observed the 50th anniversary of Tibetan people’s uprising against the occupying PLA on March 10, Beijing rulers have decided to ‘celebrate’ the escape of Dalai Lama to exile. March 28, when Dalai Lama escaped to India, has been designated as the ‘Serf Emancipation Day’ and a national holiday. According to the report submitted by the International Commission of Jurists in 1960 to the Secretary General of United Nations, it was in this very fortnight (from March 10 to 28) when the PLA gunned down more than 80000 such Tibetan ‘serfs’ in Lhasa and other parts of Tibet who rose up against the occupation of Tibet by the PLA.

This year President Hu Jin Tao too has good reasons to celebrate the 20th anniversary of imposition of Martial Law in Tibet that paved the way to his current supreme position. As the Governor of Tibet he had effectively used tanks and armoured vehicles in Lhasa in March 1989 to crush the Tibetan people’s second major uprising against the Chinese colonial rule on Tibet after 1959. It was Hu’s this very ‘Lhasa Model’ which Beijing rulers emulated to save their control on China three months later on June 4 in the wake of an unprecedented upsurge of China’s democratic youths at Tien Anmen Square in Beijing against the Communist Party’s one party rule. No wonder, the wonderful efficacy of Hu’s Lhasa Model brought to light Comrade Hu’s special talents as a ‘disciplinarian’. It made him stand out of the crowd of comrades and subsequently lead to his induction into the inner power circle of the Party.

However, in addition to this spate of anniversaries at hand, the Chinese leadership has good reasons to peacefully revisit some major issues this year that stare into eyes of today’s PRC, but had to be kept on the backburner due to the government’s six year long focus on Beijing Olympics. One such issue is corruption that has seeped too deep into the system and acquired too serious dimensions to ignore any more. Another is finding some long lasting solutions to the unending resistance of PRC’s two most difficult colonies namely Tibet and East Turkistan (Xinjiang). Third one, rising unemployment and the resultant socio-political unease, may be a bit old problem, but has gained new dimensions for the Chinese leadership in the wake of a perpetually worsening world economy and its serious impact on China’s work force.

Present review is focused at the Tibetan issue that has come to stay as a major source of political and moral embarrassment to China’s communist rulers on the national as well as international fronts. An unending resistance from Tibetan population inside occupied Tibet for over half a century has seriously damaged PRC leaders credibility as well as their control over this colony. In the wake of recent breakdown of dialogue between Beijing and Dalai Lama’s Dharamsala based ‘Tibetan government in exile’ (TGIE), we shall review what stands between the two sides and if there is still some hope and space left for a peaceful and mutually acceptable solution.

Historically speaking, the dialogue process between the Chinese and Tibetan governments started in 1950 after the just-found PRC’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) attacked and occupied big chunks of Tibet’s Eastern provinces of Kham and Amdo. In the wake of this national emergency, the caretaker council of regents of Tibetan government forced the 16-year old Dalai Lama to take over the reigns of the state two years ahead of due time. In the wake of threats from Beijing, Dalai Lama was shifted to a safer place Dromo in southern Tibet near Indian borders.

In this backdrop of events the Chinese government invited the Tibetan government to send a delegation to Beijing for mutual consultation in early months of 1951. Beijing surprised the boy Dalai Lama and his colleagues in the Tibetan government when Radio Beijing broke the news of ‘peaceful liberation’ of Tibet through a ‘17-Point Agreement’ between the two sides on May 23, 1951.
Recalling those moments in his autobiography ‘Freedom in Exile’, Dalai Lama writes, “….Every evening I would listen to the Tibetan language broadcasts of Radio Peking…… However, one evening, as I sat alone, there was a very different sort of program. A harsh, crackling voice announced that a ‘Seventeen-Point Agreement’ for the Peaceful Liberation of Tibet had that day been signed by representatives of the Government of the People’s Republic of China and what they called the ‘Local Government’ of Tibet. I could not believe my ears. I wanted to rush out and call everybody in, but I sat transfixed……. What was most alarming, however, was that Ngabo* had not been empowered to sign anything on my behalf, only to negotiate. I had kept the seals of state with me at Dromo to ensure that he could not. So he must have been coerced….”. Later it became clear that Beijing forced the Tibetan group leader to sign an already prepared ‘agreement’ under a seal of Tibetan government that was manufactured by Beijing especially in a hurry for this purpose. *(Ngabo Ngawang Jigme : a junior minister and leader of Tibetan delegation. He was the Governor of Kham provice when China’s PLA attacked and defeated Tibetan army to occupy Kham in 1950.)

In the recorded history of China and Tibet it was second time that an ‘agreement’ based on a ‘dialogue’ was being claimed to have been ‘signed’. The first recorded treaty dates back to 821-822 AD which was signed between a powerful Tibetan king Trisong Dretsen and the Chinese king Hwangti (Wen We Hsiao-te Hwang-ti). This treaty remains engraved in Tibetan and Chinese languages on two identical stone pillars, one installed in Tibetan capital Lhasa and other in China. Opening with the declaration of an ‘alliance’ between the two kingdoms, this treaty clearly defines independent character of the two countries and calls for conditions that ensure that ‘Tibetans shall be happy in the land of Tibet, and the Chinese in the land of China’ in future. The operative sections read:
“The Great King of Tibet, the Miraculous Divine Lord, and the Great King of China, the Chinese Ruler Hwang-ti being in the relationship of nephew and uncle, have confirmed together for the alliance of their kingdoms…..Tibet and China shall abide by the frontiers of which they are now in occupation. All to the east is the country of Great China; and all to the west is, without question, the country of Great Tibet. Henceforth on neither side shall there be waging of war nor seizing of territory….. According to the old custom, horses shall be changed at the foot of the Chiang Chun pass, the frontier between Tibet and China. At the Suiyung barrier the Chinese shall meet Tibetan envoys and provide them with all facilities from there onwards…… Between the two countries no smoke nor dust shall be seen. There shall be no sudden alarms and the very word ‘enemy’ shall not be spoken…… This solemn agreement has established a great epoch when Tibetans shall be happy in the land of Tibet, and the Chinese in the land of China…. If the parties do not act in accordance with this agreement or if they violate it, which ever it be, Tibet or China, nothing that the other party may do by way of retaliation shall be considered a breach of the treaty on their part……”

The language of the 17-Point ‘agreement’, though claimed by China to be the outcome of a ‘dialogue’ between the two sides, gives away the feeling that it was outright a Chinese draft that was simply pushed through the Tibetan government’s throat. Although the title “The Agreement of the Central People’s Government and the Local Government of Tibet On Measures for the Peaceful Liberation of Tibet” presumes Beijing’s unquestionable authority as the ‘Central’ government over Tibet as just a ‘local government’, yet the very opening paragraph of the main statement admits Tibet’s status as a separate entity where, for whatever reasons, China did not enjoy any effective control for “over the last hundred years and more”.
Most of its clauses simply testify to the status of the Tibetan government, led by Dalai Lama, as an independent entity until the day China decided to walk in. Seeking support of Tibetans on so many counts, the ‘agreement’ also exposed the status of invading Chinese army as ‘outsiders’. For example, the very first point of the ‘agreement’ starts with calling upon the Tibetan people to ‘drive out’ some imaginary ‘imperialist aggressive forces’ from Tibet and expects that the Tibetan people “shall return to the big family of the motherland–the People’s Republic of China.”

The second point, which reads: “The Local Government of Tibet shall actively assist the People’s Liberation Army to enter Tibet and consolidate the national defences,” too exposes what level of control the ‘Central Government’ or its army enjoyed in Tibet. This surely does not jell favourably with the present PRC leadership’s claims that ‘historically Tibet has been an inalienable part of China’.

While assuring the people of Tibet that they “have the right of exercising national regional autonomy” (Point-3) the same clause takes it back simultaneously through the rider which clarifies that this autonomy would operate “under the unified leadership of the Central People’s Government.”

The ‘agreement’ made many other promises too to the Tibetans which included “not (to) alter the existing political system”, especially the “established status, functions and powers of the Dalai Lama” (Pt-4); freedom of religious belief (Pt-7); development of Tibetan language (Pt-9); and “no compulsions” on reforms on the part of the ‘Central Authorities’ (Pt-11). The ‘agreement’ even went to the extent of assuring the Tibetans that the funds for the Chinese Army and administration would be provided by the ‘Central People’s Government’ (Pt-16) and that “the PLA entering Tibet … will also be fair in all buying and selling and will not arbitrarily take even a needle or a thread from the people.” (Pt-13).
In lieu of all these ‘concessions’, the ‘agreement’ also announced the privileges which China was going to enjoy in Tibet. These included the predominance of PLA through dissolution of Tibetan troupes as “Tibetan troops will be reorganised step by step into the People’s Liberation Army” (Pt-8); and an end to all ties of Tibetan government with the outer world as PRC decided to take charge of ‘all external affairs of the area of Tibet” (Pt-14);

As expected, the civilised world took note of this forcible takeover of Tibet by PRC as yet another case of colonising a powerless country. But no government or international organisation like the erstwhile ‘UNO’, demonstrated the guts to challenge the government of China on this issue. Even a country like India, the most affected by this sudden change in the Asian map, chose to discourage the UNO from taking any steps against China on the basis of Chinese Premier Chou En-Lie’s personal assurances to her Prime Minister Jawahar Lal Nehru, that PRC would honour the unique cultural identity of Tibet and Tibetan people. No wonder, this meek and indifferent international response only encouraged the PRC leaders to take their own course in occupied Tibet.

In next few years the much hyped 17-Point ‘agreement’ was more known for breach of most of the clauses than following its spirit or letters. The promises of autonomy were overturned as the control of political and administrative system shifted to the hands of communist cadres and PLA’s machinery, thus, leaving no scope for Dalai Lama to play any meaningful role. The sudden arrival of hundreds of thousands of PLA soldiers and cadres is a thinly populated Tibet pushed up food prices to unheard levels. Forced cultivation of wheat in place of traditional barley too led to unprecedented food shortages and food riots all over Tibet. The cadres’ intolerance for Tibetan religion forced closures of monasteries and monastic schools in favour of Chinese language schools. PLA’s armed attacks on monasteries forced the dominant community of monks and nuns to join the resistance movement which was already spreading across Tibet, especially in the eastern regions of Kham , Golok and Amdo.
Things came to a head in March 1959 when a 100,000-strong crowd of visiting pilgrims in Lhasa clashed with the PLA. Soon this clash morphed into a Tibetan uprising against the occupying Chinese army. What followed was the escape of Dalai Lama to exile in India and PLA killing over 80,000* Tibetans across Tibet in order to put a decisive end to the uprising.

The following two decades saw a completely closed and non-communicative PRC as far as Tibet was concerned. This was the period when Tibet witnessed the most intense and longest spell of political suppression and cultural destruction. Believing that religious faith and unique culture of Tibet were the only barriers holding the Tibetan masses back from assimilating into the socio-political system of ‘Motherland China’, the regional administrators of Tibet and communist party cadres did everything imaginable to destroy every visible symbol of Tibet’s religious, cultural, social and national personality. Far away from the eyes and physical control of central leadership in Beijing, remotely located Tibet faced the worst form of the Red Guards’ Cultural Revolution for a much longer time and with a far devastating impact.

Out of total population of about six million Tibetans, over a million died of unnatural reasons. These reasons included direct execution of citizens by the Public Security Bureau (PSB) for various ‘crimes’; torture in jails; public death sentences in humiliating ‘Thamzing’ (public street trials) sessions which became a part of daily indoctrination and cleansing of “peoples’ enemies” in towns and villages across PRC; PLA’s killing of rebellious Tibetans who took to armed resistance to the Chinese rule; and starvation due to perpetual food shortage caused by the state’s colonial policies in Tibet. Barring a very few (less than 10) among the 6259 monasteries and other religious centres, almost all were either closed, destroyed or taken over by the PLA and party to accommodate their soldiers, cadres and their animals (horses, mules and pigs). In the fateful days of Cultural Revolution, even a ‘crime’ like making Bod-Chha’ (traditional Tibetan tea with yak butter and salt) was labelled as a ‘reactionary’ act, even ‘treason’, which could end up into public execution in a ‘Thamzing’ trial. In later years Communist Party leaders did admit and regretted these atrocities in Tibet, but also termed it as of ‘little consequence’ compared to what happened in mainland China during Cultural Revolution.

However, things started changing when Deng Xiaoping emerged on the scene with a brand new economic and political outlook. The Tibetan situation made him realise that attempts to win hearts through attack on faith and coercion had proved counter productive. He could see that Tibetan people’s faith in their exiled ruler and religious leader Dalai Lama had, rather increased during two decades of Tibetan occupation. His own pragmatic approach and PRC’s new interface with the civilised world made him understand that if handled properly, Dalai Lama could be made a part of the solution than treating him as ‘the problem’. It was at this stage that Chinese leadership started realising that Dalai Lama was a key that could unlock the Tibetan problem and, hence, deserved PRC’s special attention.

An extreme view that emerged from this thinking, and still dominates the minds of a section of Chinese leadership, is that the real problem is Dalai Lama and not the Tibetan people. Most of their policies emerge from the assumption that return of Dalai Lama to China on China’s terms will end the Tibetan problem or, in the absence of such an eventuality, the death of ageing Dalai Lama will automatically see the end to the Tibetan headache of PRC.
All this encouraged Deng to establish a dialogue with the exiled Dalai Lama. In early 1979 he sent a message to Dalai Lama in India through the latter’s elder brother Gyalo Thondup. A senior political functionary of China ’s government controlled news agency Xinhua, who personally knew Gyalo Thondup from their Hong Kong days, played a pivotal role in fixing his meeting with Deng in March 1979. To many Tibet observers, Beijing ’s choice of using Gyalo Thondup as its link to Dharamsala came as a surprise. For it was Gyalo Thondup who played a pivotal link between the American intelligence agency CIA and “Chu Shi Nga Druk”(meaning ‘Four Rivers, Six Ranges’), the fiery Tibetan guerrilla force that spearheaded the armed resistance against occupying Chinese forces inside Tibet. (In mid 1970s when USA ’s honeymoon with China overwhelmed its love affair with Tibet and its resistance movement, sudden withdrawal of CIA support to the guerrilla force made Beijing ’s job easier. Before Tibetans disbanded Chu Shi Nga Drug Beijing over ran its command centre in Mustang , Nepal and gunned down most of its leaders with active help of Nepalese Royal Army.)
Deng asked Thondup to communicate to Dalai Lama that “except independence, all other issues can be resolved through negotiations”. This marked the opening of a new door between Beijing and Dharamsala, the seat of Dalai Lama and his Tibetan Government-in-Exile (TGIE) in northern India . TGIE functions through a democratically elected Parliament and an impressive paraphernalia of ‘ministries’ and representative offices in over a dozen important countries.

Even though these talks broke down in 1993 and Beijing-Dharamsala contacts remained almost snapped until 2002, the 1979-1993 period saw some significant developments in these ties. The hope of bringing back the Dalai Lama to the fold of ‘great motherland’ encouraged Beijing leaders to usher in some relief in the life of Tibetan masses inside Tibet. They adopted relatively more liberal policies inside Tibet thereby bringing some relief for Tibetans who have been used to seeing difficult days.
This welcome change provided some fresh breathing space to the Tibetan masses in matters like religious practice, social interaction and travel to other parts of Tibet and China. It was in this atmosphere that something unimaginable happened. Communist Party Secretary Hu Yaobang offered a public apology to the Tibetan people when he visited Lhasa in 1980. He termed the unfortunate happenings as, ‘excesses of some over enthusiastic party cadres’ in Tibet in the past.

However, it was much later that these liberal policies were condemned and reversed by the later regime of Hu Jintao in Tibet in the wake of Tibetan uprising in 1987 and 1989 and the Martial Law that followed. It was believed among the dominant section of the Communist Party that these relaxations gave Tibetan ‘reactionaries’ fresh opportunities to reorganise and rise against the government. But openness on the part of PRC had its demonstrable impact on Dalai Lama’s side too. It encouraged the Dalai Lama to publicly climb down from his people’s popular demand for ‘Rangzen’ (total independence) to a more liberal concept of ‘Middle Path’ that calls for just ‘genuine autonomy’ for Tibet within the political framework of PRC.

However, what followed the opening of doors in 1979 between the two warring sides reads more like a war of wits. The PRC leaders remained focused on enhancing their physical grip on Tibet during this period and prolonged the dialogue process to buy more time to achieve their goals of population transfer to Tibet. Dalai Lama too made a few brilliant moves to make best of this Chinese enthusiasm about bringing him back to their fold. Following the open invitation from Deng’s government for a dialogue, the Dalai Lama went public to express his eagerness to visit Tibet provided he was convinced that conditions inside Tibet were normal and as good as the Chinese claimed. Biting the monk statesman’s bait, an overenthusiastic Beijing offered him an invitation to come, even if on a short visit ‘to see things with his own eyes’ and to ‘seek truth from facts’.

In his response the Dalai Lama accepted the offer ‘in principle’ but proposed to start the process by sending his ‘fact-finding’ delegations from among exile community to verify the Chinese claims of ‘progress, prosperity and happiness’ of Tibetan community under the Chinese rule. Between August 1979 and 1985 Dharamsala sent four such ‘fact-finding’ delegations. First three delegations namely the High Power Delegation of senior Tibetan leaders, the Delegation of Youth Leaders and the Educational Delegation were sent in quick succession between August 1979 and September 1980. The nature of study of each delegation was designed in such a manner that each got the privilege of travelling to all the three Tibetan provinces of Kham, Amdo and U-Tsang. Citing reasons like hugeness of the geographic area, lack of good transport system and tiring journeys, the travel plans of each delegation were spread over 2-3 months each to ensure that the delegates had enough time to see things and meet maximum number of Tibetan people.

The delegations were comprised of senior serving and former cabinet ministers of the exile government, senior religious leaders, members of exile parliament; and other well informed community leaders. Almost all of them were such individuals who were familiar with pre-1959 Tibet and, hence, could make sense of the changed situation. An interesting aspect of this delegation diplomacy was that even though Beijing has been highly sensitive about presenting only ‘Tibet Autonomous Region’ (TAR) as the ‘real Tibet’, yet it permitted the delegations to visit those areas of Kham and Amdo provinces of Tibet which now belonged to the adjoining Chinese provinces of Yunnan, Sichuan, Qinghai and Ganzu.

These delegation visits proved a bit too shocking for Beijing leaders as far as the response of Tibetan masses was concerned. Relying heavily on the feedback reports of self-serving party leaders and government functionaries in TAR, the Beijing leadership had come to religiously believe that Tibetan masses were ‘extremely happy’ under the Chinese rule and that the country of ‘former serfs’ was too opposed to the Dalai Lama to see him back in Tibet. In their enthusiasm to make the guests comfortable in their former homeland and to save Beijing from any embarrassment caused by public hostility, the government propaganda machinery went in over drive to educate the Tibetan masses on how and how not to treat the visiting guests. In addition to regular radio broadcasts, loudspeaker fitted propaganda vans were specially sent to villages and towns to warn the Tibetan masses against ‘stoning’, ‘spitting’ or any other kind of ‘misbehaviour’ against the visiting representatives of the fugitive Dalai Lama.
However, the actual public response turned out just opposite of what the Chinese leadership was expecting. The delegations were mobbed by massive cheering crowds who listened respectfully to them, cried and competed with each other to shake hands or touch them to seek their blessings. It was first chance for the Tibetan masses to hear in their own language that their ‘Yeshi Norbu’ (‘Precious Jewel’, a common address for Dalai Lama in Tibet) was fine and what kind of life and freedoms the Tibetan refugees enjoyed in exile. At places the crowds swelled into such huge gatherings that the Chinese Public Security Bureau personnel were left with no choice but to stand aside and watch the unimaginable surge with surprise.

The second delegation, comprising of some prominent youth leaders of the exile community, had to face trouble following similar public response from Tibetan masses in some areas. The visit of this delegation was cut short by the Chinese government alleging that the delegates indulged in provoking the Tibetan masses against it.

A common feature of all these delegations was that many delegates had to leave behind their personal belongings to accommodate hundreds of hand written memoranda, presented by individuals and communities, addressed to the Dalai Lama. This exceptional experience had its own messages for all three parties viz. the Tibetan masses, the visitors as well as the Beijing rulers of Tibet.
No wonder the Beijing regime kept the visit of the fourth and last fact-finding delegation on hold till 1985 when some senior religious leaders from exile were allowed to have a look at the religious situation in Tibet. The intervening period between the first three delegations and the fourth witnessed the beginning of a new process of negotiations between Beijing and Dharamsala. In 1981 Beijing invited Gyalo Thondup again. His meeting with Chinese leader Hu Yaobang on July 28 paved the way for opening a discussion process that was aimed at ‘probing the possibilities of detailed talks on the future of Tibet’. This was the real beginning of what many call the phenomenon as “Talks about Talks” between Beijing and Dharamsala.

Two high-level Tibetan delegations under the leadership of Kalon Tripa (Prime Minister) Juchen Thupten Namgyal visited Beijing in 1982 and 1984. Interestingly, the Chinese perceptions on Tibetan problem remained predetermined and never moved beyond the person of Dalai Lama. From the very onset Beijing appointed the Central United Front Work Department, as the exclusive interface between PRC and Dharamsala to underline the ‘local’ and ‘internal’ nature of the Tibetan issue. This Front, an internal organ of the Communist Party of China, was created by late Chairman Mao during his Long March days to win ‘cooperation’ of all those non-Chinese nationalities that Mao intended to absorb in his ‘People’s Republic of China’. Though the Front appears to be headed by a ‘Minister’, the overall status of the Front is nothing more than a ‘department’ of the Communist Party of China. Its focus remains till this day on ensuring how the Dalai Lama and/or his fellow exiles are won back to the fold of PRC as just other ‘Chinese’ citizens. Beijing government’s official communiqués have been consistently presenting the delegations from Dharamsala as ‘overseas Chinese’ who were on ‘private’ visit to meet their relatives. At no stage Beijing recognised the Tibetan delegates as the ‘representatives of Dalai Lama’ or that of ‘Tibetan Government-in-exile’.

In addition, almost on each occasion China has been demanding Dalai Lama to give certain undertakings. One such undertaking demanded him to accept and declare that “Tibet has been an integral part of China through history”. To this Dalai Lama’s consistent response has been that although this is untrue and though he can not go back in history to rewrite it, yet he is ready to accept Tibet as a part of PRC provided some ‘genuine autonomy’ for Tibet and Tibetans is ensured. Another Chinese condition which Dalai Lama has been finding difficult to fulfil is to declare that “Taiwan is an integral part of China”. To this his response is that since he has no authority to speak on behalf of people of Taiwan, Chinese leaders should better contact Taiwan government directly on this issue.

On the other hand the Tibetan side has been showing keen interest in evolving a special, long term and mutually acceptable arrangement for Tibet and Tibetans within the framework of PRC. They have been keen to have a special arrangement which ensured some special status for Tibet on similar lines as was being discussed by Beijing for Taiwan and Hong Kong under a ‘one country two systems’ idea at that time. But Beijing’s approach was limited to reaching an arrangement which ensured that Dalai Lama could be allowed to return and settle comfortably in Beijing. In response to this Dalai Lama’s consistent stand has been that “Dalai Lama is not the real issue. The real issue is the happiness of six million Tibetans living inside Tibet.” In his annual address to Tibetans on March 10, 1980, the Dalai Lama said, “…. I would like to remind everybody that the core of the Tibetan issue is the welfare and ultimate happiness of six million Tibetans in Tibet. The limited leniency that the Chinese have introduced is a welcome first step. But we are still nowhere near being satisfied that the Tibetans in Tibet are content…” However, he also took care that Beijing’s interest in the dialogue was not lost. In February 1983 he pleased Beijing by repeating that he was very keen to visit Tibet.

However following the visit of fourth fact-finding delegation of religious leaders in 1985 the change of guards in Beijing cooled the dialogue process with Dharamsala. Moreover, in the wake of two major Tibetan public upheavals in Lhasa in 1987 and 1989 against the Chinese regime the talks suffered a serious set back. Rather, the magnitude of the Tibetan uprising in March 1989 and the decision of Hu Jintao, then Governor of Tibet, to crush it with a heavy hand with the help of army tanks and armoured vehicles, spoiled the atmosphere beyond immediate repair. Only three months later, the Chinese youths’ democratic uprising against the one-party rule of Communist Party over PRC and the subsequent massacre at Tien Anman Square shifted Beijing’ priorities to an altogether different direction.

This upheaval inside China and sudden collapse of world’s most prominent communist heaven i.e. the Soviet Union, wiped out whatever enthusiasm remained in the hearts of Beijing rulers about a dialogue with the exiled Dalai Lama. The Chinese embassy in New Delhi functioned as the only contact point between Dharamsala and Beijing till 1993 when the relations broke down completely. 1989 also saw the death of Panchen Lama who lived in China and was used by Beijing leaders extensively as a counter against Dalai Lama. On a rare visit to Shigatse, the town of his main religious seat at Tashi Lhumpo monastery, he died under suspicious circumstances only a day after his public speech which was highly critical of Chinese regime for its mistakes in Tibet. Interestingly, it was not first time he had openly criticized Beijing leaders for their mistakes in Tibet. Despite siding with Beijing during fateful period of 1950s, Panchen Lama had to undergo public humiliation and 12-year long confinement in a labour camp during Cultural Revolution for submitting a list of Chinese misdeeds in Tibet to Chairman Mao.

Beijing-Dharamsala relations nosedived to lowest ever heights in 1995 when the Chinese government arrested the 5-year old boy Gedhun Choeky Nyima, authenticated by Dalai Lama from exile as the next reincarnation of the deceased Panchen Lama. This boy was quickly replaced by Beijing by another boy of its choice. Despite all efforts by Dalai Lama and his supporters across the world, Beijing has refused to give any information on Gedhun during past 14 years.

While maintaining his contacts with Beijing, Dalai Lama has been busy in evolving a long-term strategy and winning support from the world community to find a lasting solution to the Tibetan problem. His address to the U.S. Congressional Human Rights Caucus on September 21, 1987 was the first milestone in this direction. It was here that he launched his peace offensive against the Beijing regime. Addressing the Chinese sentiments about maintaining Tibet as an ‘integral part of China’ he presented a five-point peace plan which underlined basic problems of Tibet under Chinese occupation. These five points are:

1.Transformation of the whole of Tibet into a zone of peace;
2.Abandonment of China’s population transfer policy which threatens the very existence of the Tibetans as a people;
3.Respect for the Tibetan people’s fundamental human rights and democratic freedoms;
4.Restoration and protection of Tibet’s natural environment and the abandonment of China’s use of Tibet for the production of nuclear weapons and dumping of nuclear waste; and
5.Commencement of earnest negotiations on the future status of Tibet and of relations between the Tibetan and Chinese peoples.

But Beijing rejected his demands outright saying that it smacked of asking for independence for Tibet from China. Next year at Strasbourg (France) the Dalai Lama presented a refined and detailed version of this proposal before the European Parliament on June 15, 1988. In this version Dalai Lama clearly offered to let Tibet remain within the framework of PRC and accepted Beijing’s right to conduct foreign relations of Tibet. In return he demanded a ‘self governing’ democratic system for entire Tibet which, as against the Chinese concept of Tibet as a much truncated ‘Tibet Autonomous Region’, comprises of ‘Cholka-Sum’ the traditional Tibet comprising of U-Tsang, Kham and Amdo provinces.

In his address, Dalai Lama elaborated each point in details:
“The whole of Tibet known as Cholka-Sum (U-Tsang, Kham and Amdo) should become a self-governing democratic political entity founded on law by agreement of the people for the common good and the protection of themselves and their environment, in association with the People’s Republic of China.
“The Government of the People’s Republic of China could remain responsible for Tibet’s foreign policy. The Government of Tibet should, however, develop and maintain relations, through its own foreign affairs bureau, in the field of commerce, education, culture, religion, tourism, science, sports and other non-political activities. Tibet should join international organisations concerned with such activities.

“The Government of Tibet should be founded on a constitution or basic law. The basic law should provide for a democratic system of government entrusted with the task of ensuring economic equality, social justice, and protection of the environment. This means that the Government of Tibet will have the rights to decide on all affairs relating to Tibet and the Tibetans.

“As individual freedom is the real source and potential of any society’s development, the Government of Tibet would seek to ensure this freedom by full adherence to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, including the rights to speech, assembly and religion. Because religion constitutes the source of Tibet’s national identity and spiritual values lie at the very heart of Tibet’s rich culture, it would be the special duty of the Government of Tibet to safeguard and develop its practice.

“The Government should be comprised of a popularly elected Chief Executive, a bi-cameral legislative branch, and an independent judicial system. Its seat should be in Lhasa.

“The social and economic system of Tibet should be determined in accordance with the wishes of the Tibetan people, bearing in mind especially the need to raise the standard of living of the entire population.

“The Government of Tibet would pass strict laws to protect wildlife and plant life. The exploitation of natural resources would be carefully regulated. The manufacture, testing, stockpiling of nuclear weapons and other armaments must be prohibited, as well as use of nuclear power and other technologies which produce hazardous waste. It would be the Government of Tibet’s goal to transform Tibet into our planet’s largest natural preserve.

“A regional peace conference should be called to ensure that Tibet becomes a genuine sanctuary of peace through demilitarisation. Until such a peace conference can be convened and demilitarisation and neutralisation achieved, China could have the right to maintain a restricted number of military installations in Tibet. These must be solely for defence purposes.

In order to create an atmosphere of trust conductive to fruitful negotiations, the Chinese Government should cease its human rights violations in Tibet and abandon its policy of transferring Chinese to Tibet……”

As expected, this too was rejected, rather more strongly, by Beijing. Besides strong objections to almost all other points, it specifically refused to accept the concept of ‘Cholka-Sum’ for defining Tibetan boundaries.

This Chinese reaction to Dalai Lama’s 5-Pt Peace Plan is natural because since absorption of most parts of Kham and Amdo provinces into adjoining Chinese provinces China has settled millions of Chinese in these areas to reduce Tibetans into a meaningless minority in their own home regions. Today only few Tibetan pockets remain in Yunnan, Sichuan, Ganzu and Qinghai with some Tibetan character amidst a sea of Han towns and villages. During recent visit to Xiling, the captal of Qinghai, the home province of present Dalai Lama, this author was surprised to note that one would have to watch over 500 Chinese pass a road junction before one could see the first Tibetan face. Things were no different in towns and villages of Kham in Yunnan and Sichuan either.

According to the TGIE’s claims the population of entire Tibet (Cholka-Sum) was 6 million before occupation by China. Today the Tibetan population accounts for 0.5 percent of the Chinese population while Tibet contributes over 25 per cent of land in PRC’s present geography. Figures from China’s official Statistical Year Book-2002, (China Statistics Press, p-100) show that only 3.5 million Tibetans live among a total population of 154.7 million in these four Chinese provinces of Sichuan, Yunnan, Qinghai and Ganzu:

Tibet (Truncated) i.e. TAR 2,616,329
Sichuan 82,348,296
Yunnan 42,360,089
Qinghai 4,822,963
Gansu 25,124,282

*Tibet (Original) 6,000,000
(*As claimed by Dalai Lama and his TGIE)

Following a total breakdown in Beijing-Dharamsala talks in 1993 it was only in 2002 when Beijing, pushed by an ultimatum from the European Parliament and pulled by its own internal needs, restarted its talks with Dharamsala. It’s a different matter that the process was abruptly stalled in November 2008 without taking it anywhere through eight rounds.

On July 6, 2000 that happened to be the 65th birthday of Dalai Lama, the European Parliament passed a resolution (nr. B5-0608, 0610, 0617, 0621, 0641/2000) which called upon the Beijing authorities to restart their negotiations with Dharamsala. In a stern language it underlined that “Tibet was invaded and occupied in 1949 and 1950 by the Chinese armed forces” and called upon PRC government to “….reach a new status for Tibet which guarantees full Tibetan autonomy in all areas of political, economic, social and cultural life, the only exceptions being defence and foreign policy.”

Since the fateful events of 1959, it was first time when an international forum of this status threatened Beijing with as serious consequences as recognising the ‘Tibetan government in exile as the ‘legitimate representative of the Tibetan people’. The operative part of this resolution “Calls on the governments of the Member-States to give serious consideration to the possibility of recognising the Tibetan Government in exile as the legitimate representative of the Tibetan people if, within three years, the Beijing authorities and the Tibetan government in exile have not, through negotiations organised under the aegis of the Secretary-General of the United Nations, signed an agreement on a new Statute for Tibet.”

Though Beijing demonstrated all its contempt to this resolution, yet it finally announced in 2002 that it was keen about restarting the talks with Dharamsala on how to find a solution to Tibetan issue. Beijing had its own compelling reasons and designs behind eating this humble pie. It had already moved ahead on its ambitious plans of hosting the Olympics in 2008. The PRC leaders were in no mood to invite direct confrontation with the European community and the rest of Western block and thereby take the risk of seeing Beijing Olympics to go the Moscow Olympics way. The projects of connecting Tibet with railway to rest of China and developing new townships for future Chinese settlers too were in full swing at that time. Any major confrontation with Dharamsala would have rocked the boat inside Tibet to create problems for these projects which were essential requisites for Beijing’s plans of implementing the ‘last solution’ to Tibetan problem through population transfer.

Moreover, Beijing leaders who have high hopes of seeing the Tibetan issue end with the death of current Dalai Lama, feel that each passing year in the life of an ageing Dalai Lama is highly ‘precious’. No surprise that Beijing decided to buy this precious time by agreeing to ‘talk about talks’. This, surely, did not surprise those Tibetans and international friends of Tibet who had their reservations about Dalai Lama’s climb down from ‘Rangzen’ to ‘Genuine Autonomy’ and who believe that talks were just a ploy of Beijing to buy time.

The fears and warnings of these groups came true in November 2008 when Beijing leaders banged the door on the Tibetan delegation. Now anybody could see how Beijing had been dragging its feet on talks for six years. It had not taken talks an inch further from where they were in 1993. Just a month before the Beijing Olympics China asked Dharamsala to present its concept of ‘Genuine Autonomy for Tibet’, a step it should have taken on day-one of the dialogue. Now any body could see that it was on the first available opportunity after the successful conclusion of the Olympics that Beijing threw back Dharamsala’s memorandum on its face with all contempt at its command and called off the talks on the grounds that not a single of the five-point proposal was acceptable to it.

Adding insult to injury, Zhu Weiqun, executive vice minister of the United Front Work Department (UFWD) in his press statement after the meeting advised the Dalai Lama “to do something beneficial for the people of Tibet” before he dies. He categorically rejected all the five points saying that the ideas were just unacceptable. He termed the concept of ‘Cholka Sum’ as that of a ‘Greater Tibet’ which ‘never existed’ before 1951. “The unification of the motherland, territorial integrity and the national dignity are the greatest interests of the Chinese people. We will never make a concession,” Zhu Weiqun, told reporters in Beijing on November 10, 2008.

He ruled out any kind of special status for Tibetan areas. “China is a country in which various ethnic groups live together. If ethnic groups in China all ask for an autonomous region in which only people of their own groups could live, the whole country would be cast into chaos,” Zhu said.
As expected, China also refused to take Dalai Lama’s call on ‘demilitarising’ Tibet. “Everybody knows that the army is a basic guarantee of territorial integrity, national security and social stability… I believe not a single nation would agree to withdraw its own army from its own territory,” Zhu declared.

Zhu also reiterated that the door for the Dalai Lama’s return to a patriotic stance had always been open and would remain open, “But the door for ‘Tibet independence’, ‘half independence’ and ‘independence in a disguised form’ had never been open, nor would it be open in the future,” he clarified.
On the issue of settlement of the Chinese population in Tibet, Zhu made it clear that Beijing has no intention of stopping or undoing what the Dalai Lama side terms as ‘the demographic aggression’. He even went to the extent of accusing the Dalai Lama of having intentions to “… carry out ethnic discrimination, apartheid and ethnic cleansing…” in the name of restoring Cholka-Sum to Tibetan population.

On the other side of the Himalayan divide, Dharamsla appears to have already anticipated this Chinese response. At least that is what reflected from Dalai Lama’s decision in September 2008 to use his special constitutional powers to call for a general international meeting of leading Tibetan leaders and opinion makers in Dharamsala and a special conference of international Tibet Support Groups after the conclusion of the next and eighth round of talks which was scheduled for October 31 to November 5.

Thee two conferences, held from November 17th to 22nd and from November 30 to December 1 were asked to discuss the situation following the results of the 8th round and to give their suggestions on future course of action. Expressing their dismay on the Chinese response on the memorandum, both the gatherings, attended by respective galaxies of leading Tibetans and Tibet supporters, reiterated their faith in Dalai Lama’s leadership and advised him to carry forward his ‘Middle Path Policy’ on Tibet in near future. Both the conferences underlined that the concept of ‘Rangzen’ i.e. complete independence for Tibet should not be abandoned altogether. An immediate gain for Dalai Lama from these two conferences was a demonstration to Beijing and the world community that despite failure of talks he still commanded support and respect of his followers and friends.

The net-sum of this 29- year long contact is a mix of gains and setbacks for both sides. Although the two sides have been engaged in talks since 1979 with the aim of finding a mutually agreeable solution, they have been simultaneously busy in their own ways to prepare for the future. Beijing has been frantically focused on ensuring a ‘permanent solution’ to the problem by fortifying its position inside Tibet. Its major focus has been on cementing its military position inside occupied Tibet through a widespread network of roads, other transport and communication facilities and defence installations inside Tibet as well as along its borders with other countries in South Asia.

Of late, Beijing has been busy in ushering in a new economic environment in Tibet to accommodate millions of new Han settlers. By extending the Chinese railway network up to Lhasa in 2006, China has successfully removed the last hurdle that discouraged Chinese from mainland to settle permanently in Tibet. Already used successfully in taming most of other 55 national minorities like the Manchurians and Mongols, this population transfer policy has been advocated by successive Chinese Premiers as the ‘Last Solution’ to the unending Tibetan problem. Thanks to abundance of invaluable minerals and timber across Tibetan plateau, establishment of this rail link has converted Tibet from a net financial liability to a ‘national asset’ for China. Beijing is already working on at least three more similar rail links to Tibet besides its plans to extend the present Gormo-Lhasa rail to Nepalese border.

Dalai Lama too, like a typical Buddhist monk who would use current life time to prepare for his next life, has been busy preparing for a Tibetan system that can outlive his own life time. Internally, he has already succeeded in replacing an outdated theocratic political system of old Tibet into a highly modern democratic system which functions through its an elected Parliament and is presided over by a Prime Minister who too is elected through a direct secret vote by the Tibetan community. Today Dalai Lama can claim that in his absence following his death, this democratic system is capable of carrying Tibetan people’s struggle forward.

Thanks to the tremendous help and autonomy provided by the government of India to Dalai Lama, the Tibetan community of nearly 100000 refugees across India, has successfully revived its lost national and cultural identity. This well organized community has revived a wide range of over 500 cultural, religious and other institutions which can boast of their most authentic Tibetan character. An autonomous and widespread modern educational network of schools and technical institutions, including three universities in India too has played an important role in converting a hopeless and helpless bunch of refugees into a self sufficient community with one of the highest literacy rates among Indian communities.

A chain of fact-finding delegations and direct links between Dharamsala and Beijing have encouraged Beijing to bring some relaxation and economic progress in the life of Tibetan masses. All this has helped Dharamsala in establishing communication links with the people. These links and information about the outer world have improved people’s organising skills and internal communications which have come handy in build up a resistance movement across Tibet despite Chinese controls. Instant public demonstrations in almost all areas of ‘Cholka-Sum’ during the March-April 2008 uprising was an unheard phenomenon and a major highlight of changing situation inside occupied Tibet in the past six decades. Beijing’s enthusiasm to bring in economic development in Tibet and to open it for international tourism too has helped the Tibetan freedom movement inside Tibet in many ways. New tools of communication like mobile phones, internet and fast road networks have had their own contribution to strengthening this movement.

On the international front too, Dalai Lama has covered an impressive distance. Although Beijing has been consistently avoiding conferring any official status to Dharamsala’s TGIE establishment or its representatives, but accepting them across the table itself has given a de facto international recognition to Dalai Lama and the TGIE as ‘the representative’ of Tibet and Tibetan people.

Because of Dalai Lama’s style of whirlwind travels and his impressive style of promoting peace and universal responsibility, he has emerged as the most popular statesman of current era. (His average travel itinerary logs in around 250 days away from his exile home despite his +70 age during past many years). Almost every time his foreign travels are marked by Chinese threats to the heads of states across the world against allowing the Dalai Lama to enter their country or meeting him personally. But these travels invariably end up with new irritants for Beijing leaders in the shape of his addresses to Parliaments, hugely attended public meetings and/or photo sessions with Prime Ministers, Presidents and all those who matter.

In past two decades more than two dozen Parliaments have adopted over 50 resolutions expressing their appreciation and support to Dalai Lama and his Tibetan cause. Literally speaking, by now he must have collected more ceremonial keys than his own body weight to European and American towns which are gifted to him by enthusiastic city mayors. His list of international honours, starting with the Nobel Peace Prize and Magsaysay Award has become almost endless by now. A regiment of around 300 Tibet support groups across the world too has come to stay as a pain in the neck for visiting Chinese leaders in almost every state capital and big city of the world.

But there have been some serious negative impacts of Dalai Lama’s ‘Middle Path’ on the Tibetan side too. This ‘less than freedom’ policy has not only confused the Tibetan masses and their international supporters, it has also pushed in an element of demoralisation among them. Having directly suffered traumatically at the hands of Chinese, the older generation of refugees finds itself split between their unending dreams of free Tibet and the new idea of accepting China’s sovereignty over their occupied motherland. A good section of the new generation, perpetually used to singing songs of freedom and shouting slogans for ‘Ranzen’ since their nursery days in refugee schools, feels lost and abandoned. This, no doubt, has made its own contribution towards splitting the energies of this already microscopic community in two different directions. This dilemma has also impacted the morale of the Tibetan people living under occupation. However, the Tibetans’ unquestionable faith in Dalai Lama still remains the inspiration and binding force that has kept the community united and focussed. Luckily for the Tibetan movement, a six-year long run up to the Beijing Olympics during the talks period helped Tibetans and their international supporters in overcoming this confusion because opposition to Beijing as the Olympics venue proved to be the most effective binding glue in the movement’s recent history.

This sudden breaking up of the dialogue process has its own implications for both sides. Having already put all his bargaining chips on the table, Dalai Lama is left with no further climb down options. By declaring his stand for ‘Choka-Sum’ as the real Tibet, he has no more choice of making any major change because he cannot afford losing support of either Khampa Tibetans or of the Amdo Tibetans. He also can not afford to abandon his concept of ‘genuine autonomy’ for Tibetans in lieu of the PRC’s offer of ‘autonomy for nationalities’ which has already seen nationalities like the Manchurians and Mongolians of ‘Inner Mongolia’ and many dozen other nationalities had tasted before vanishing into PRC’s ‘Museum of Nationalities’.

On the other hand, the Beijing leadership may have good reasons to feel confident on the strength of their absolute physical control on Tibet; the PLA and PSB’s Nazi like grip on the Tibetan community; direct control of newly settled Chinese over the economy and other resources of Tibet; and China’s newly acquired financial and political influence on the international scene. But events of March 2008 have proved beyond doubt that despite all such advantages China can not, unlike the gory days of Cultural Revolution, hope to remain insulated from international answerability.

Ever increasing stature of Dalai Lama in the international arena has made him a force to reckon with. Even all Chinese leaders put together can not hope to match his international charisma. In view of increasing age of Dalai Lama (he is 73 plus today) a section of Chinese leadership might be nursing hopes of seeing the Tibetan problem vanishing away with his death. They should have understood by now that despite a gigantic propaganda machinery and resources at their command they have failed miserably in getting their own ‘Panchen Lama’ accepted by their Tibetan colonial subjects. They even failed to hold on to Karma Pa who enjoyed Beijing’s patronage and Tibetan people’s faith. (he escaped to exile in 2000 to join Dalai Lama). On the strength of a fake Panchen Lama in hand and the real one somewhere in house arrest, their dream of installing a puppet baby ‘Dalai Lama’ after present Dalai Lama’s death has too little chances.

Rather than hoping to play a gamble of manipulating things after the death of current Dalai Lama, it may be more sensible for Beijing leaders to make best use of his popularity among China’s Tibetan subjects and his credibility at international levels. With his given faith in peace and coexistence, and his total command on Tibetan minds, this ‘Living Buddha’ may prove a far more precious asset to PRC than a fake reincarnate baby of a dead Dalai Lama in a confusing situation which is bound to be dominated by a set of unpredictable Tibetan leaders who are liable to be pushed around by conflicting international interest groups.

The author is a veteran journalist, and has been associated with the Tibetan cause for more than 3 decades. He edits the journal in Hindi, “Tibbath Desh” published by Office of His Holiness the Dalai Lama in New Delhi.


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