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Beijing Misses Its Chance for Peace in Tibet
Wall Street Journal[Tuesday, March 09, 2010 22:55]
The latest anniversary of the 1959 Llasa uprising is an opportunity for China's leaders to get serious about negotiations with the Dalai Lama.


Last year, I wrote in these pages of my hope that the 50th anniversary of the Tibetan people's uprising on March 10 might inspire the Chinese government to reappraise its policies and adopt a more realistic approach to Tibet. As we mark the 51st anniversary today, it's becoming increasingly clear that Beijing isn't serious about resolving the crisis peacefully.

A heavy Chinese military presence is the new norm in Lhasa. (Photo: AP)
A heavy Chinese military presence is the new norm in Lhasa. (Photo: AP)
In response to the 2008 uprising in Tibet, Beijing resorted to a violent crackdown and a more severe imposition of the same policies that had led to the protests in the first place. These include an intensified indoctrination campaign—so-called political education—for monks as well as vitriolic personal denigration of His Holiness the Dalai Lama. China says its crackdown is aimed at avoiding another crisis, but the government's actions will only stoke more local resentment.

Meanwhile, efforts to resolve the differences through negotiation seem to be faltering. Tibetan representatives returned to Beijing in January for the ninth round of talks that have occurred sporadically since 1981. Based on the outcome of the eighth round in 2008-09, there is little reason for optimism.

In those meetings, the Tibetan side submitted at Beijing's request a draft "Memorandum for All Tibetans to Enjoy Genuine Autonomy." This document outlined in some detail how Tibetans could live peacefully within the People's Republic of China—Tibetan requests included ensuring implementation of the rights guaranteed to the Tibetan people within the People's Republic of China's constitution, such as religious freedom and more autonomy in local governance.

Beijing dismissed this good-faith proposal out of hand. The Chinese government refused to make any concessions and instead launched a propaganda offensive against the Dalai Lama, the exiled leader of Tibetan people. Indeed, China's leaders have consistently refused to acknowledge the legitimate grievances of Tibetan people. Instead, the country's leaders insist that "the Dalai clique" is responsible for stirring up the trouble in Tibet.

Beijing continues to assert that the Communist Party's policies on Tibet are "totally correct." China's government insists that the only problem is the inability of the Dalai Lama to return from exile. The government will allow the Dalai Lama, who is now nearly 75 years old, to return home to spend his last years in Tibet if, and only if, he expresses deep remorse for his "mistakes," such as his "violation" of the Chinese constitution by fleeing into exile to India in 1959. This intransigence is most unfortunate both for the Tibetan people and for the people of China who aspire to see their great nation respected in the outside world.

There are models for how a mature, civilized country can deal with the aspirations and concerns of a people with distinct linguistic, cultural and historical heritages without undermining the integrity of its international borders. From Quebec in Canada to Scotland in Britain, from Catalonia in Spain to Tyrol in Italy, from Greenland in Denmark to the Laplanders in the Nordic countries, there is no shortage of examples from various parts of the world.

The key in all these cases is a genuine recognition of the legitimacy of the rights of the concerned peoples to safeguard their dignity as a people with distinct identity, language and cultural heritage. That recognition makes it possible to devise constitutional and political mechanisms that allow these distinct national and cultural characteristics to thrive with dignity within the larger national family. The example of Hong Kong demonstrates that, given political will, Beijing too can embrace a similar approach.

So far, even with its emergence as a global economic power, China is failing both in magnanimity and justice when it comes to the Tibetan people. Given that, the Tibetans have no choice but to carry on with their struggle, despite how painful it may be for ordinary Chinese to see the Tibetans complain about their nation. For the Tibetans this is a question of their survival as a people.

By failing to seize the rare opportunity offered by the Dalai Lama to peacefully resolve the question of Tibet within the constitutional framework of the People's Republic of China, the Beijing leadership is demonstrating a real deficit in imagination and political courage. If the precious window of opportunity to bring about a lasting solution to the problem of Tibet is allowed to slip by, history will judge the current Beijing leadership to have done a real disservice to the nation of China and its proud people.

The educated Chinese who have access to free information are aware that, thanks to the Dalai Lama's conciliatory and pragmatic leadership, the independence of Tibet is today not on the negotiating table. Nothing guarantees, however, that this question will not come back, with all the attendant emotional power and charge, once the Dalai Lama retires from an active leadership role. It's time that Beijing's leadership seized the moment.

Mr. Jinpa has been the principal translator for the Dalai Lama for more than 25 years.
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