Baogang He & Barry Sautman
(Draft of 15 June 2005)
In recent years, the Dalai Lama has pursued a dialogic approach to the Tibet Question. He has significantly modified his views of autonomy and made a number of fundamental concessions. His present position should now clearly be distinguished from the stance he had from the late 1980s until recently. The Dalai Lama’s views from that time are still fixed in the minds of many people, but in the main they no longer constitute his approach.
From the late 1980s until recently for example, the Dalai Lama had refused to even imply Tibet is part of China. He stated in 2000 that “The Beijing government often puts pressure on me and wants me to declare that Tibet is a part of the Chinese territory. However, this is not a fact. I will not make such an erroneous statement.” He also maintained until recently that Tibetans and (Han) Chinese have no common bonds. In 1987, the Dalai Lama said that “Tibetans and Chinese are distinct peoples each with their own country, history, culture, language and way of life” and in 1995, he put it that “the Chinese and Tibetans are very fundamentally different peoples . . . We speak different languages; are of different civilizations, have different customs; our religion and culture, and even our written languages are completely different.” The Dalai Lama, as we will show, now no longer excludes Tibet from the Chinese state or the possibility Tibetans can be part of the supra-ethnic Chinese nation; at least he has indicated a willingness to confirm these views if negotiations with the Chinese government go forward.
From the late 1980s until a few years ago, the Tibetan Government-in-Exile (TGIE) maintained that for an accommodation to be reached, China would have to renounce all control over affairs in Tibet except those involving foreign affairs and defense. We will also show that the Dalai Lama has altered the focus of the autonomy he seeks for Tibet by downplaying enhanced political and economic power and pursuing greater power as to religion and culture. Even in those spheres, he no longer claims an exclusive domain, but acknowledges a willingness to have the People’s Republic of China (PRC) “govern and guarantee to preserve our Tibetan culture, spirituality and our environment.”
The change in the Dalai Lama’s view is linked to prospects of negotiations for greater autonomy being pursued as a result of regular visits by his special envoys to China. Three visits were made in 2002-2004, creating a quasi-institutionalized forum at which both sides meet, discuss, and address issues in a regular manner. A fourth visit, for discussions of autonomy with officials of the United Front Work Department (UFWD) of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) will take place in 2005. The visits are seen by the TGIE both as part of a way to “’create atmosphere’ in a ‘long, drawn-out process’” and as setting the stage for resolving differences within a set period.
It is the expression of greater flexibility on key issues of the Tibet Question, together with a push to regularize contact between the parties that constitute the Dalai Lama’s new initiative for autonomy. The prime minister of the Tibetan Government-in-exile (TGIE) Samdhong Rinpoche has indicated as much:
Ever since the envoys of the Dalai Lama began meeting the Chinese government officials on three successive trips over the last three years, we are trying to create a congenial atmosphere to pave the way for starting formal negotiations between the two sides. We do not regard China as an enemy anymore, but more as a party with which we will have to negotiate. They have sought a reassurance from us on this.
Through recent statements on the relationship between Tibetans and China, the Dalai Lama has tried to provide that reassurance, as a result enduring unusually sharp criticism from Tibet independence supporters. When PRC premier Wen Jiabao paid a visit to India in April, 2005, moreover, Samdhong Rinpoche welcomed it, the first time the TGIE had ever welcomed the visit of a Chinese leader. In what follows, we examine the background to the Dalai Lama’s new initiative, outline recent developments, discuss obstacles to a breakthrough dialogue on autonomy, and suggest ways to overcome them.
In the late 1980s, the 14th Dalai Lama proposed that the government of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) could remain responsible for Tibet’s foreign policy, while Tibet would be governed by its own liberal democratic constitution A decade later, he expressed disappointment that “the Chinese government has not responded positively to my proposals and initiatives over the past 18 years for a negotiated resolution of our problem within the framework, stated by Deng Xiaoping”; that apart from the question of total independence of Tibet, all other issues could be discussed and resolved.
Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush have pressed PRC leaders to hold talks with the Dalai Lama and in 2001 the US Congress passed a Tibetan Policy Act with the same prescription. European Union (EU) External Affairs Commissioner Chris Patten and Indian Defense Minister George Fernandes called on China in 2002 to begin dialogue with the Dalai Lama. A European Parliament (EP) delegation to China that year did the same, but were told by Beijing leaders that they were not ready for talks with the Tibetan leader. Indeed, Hu Jintao, CCP General Secretary and PRC President, stated "it is essential to fight unequivocally against the separatist activities by the Dalai clique and anti-China forces in the world, vigorously develop a good situation of stability and unity in Tibet and firmly safeguard national unity and state security."
In the late 1980s and 1990s, the collapse of the USSR brought a ray of hope to the Dalai Lama. He declined a 1989 invitation from the Chinese Buddhism Association to attend the Beijing funeral of the second highest figure in the Tibetan Buddhism, the 10th Panchen Lama, and he won the Nobel peace prize. The US Congress passed a non-binding resolution in 1991 stating that “Tibet is an occupied country” and urging the US to recognize the TGIE as the legitimate government of the Tibetan people.
Times have changed since then. Western and Indian media observers now write about a notable decline in support for the “Free Tibet movement” among political leaders and in wider circles. It now appears the disintegration of China hoped for by Tibetan exile leaders is unlikely. Instead, China has become an ever-greater regional power, a hub for world manufacture, and a catalyst for East Asian integration. Meanwhile, support for independence has seemingly diminished in Tibet, with both exile leaders and foreign supporters acknowledging there is no visible opposition movement there. The growing middle class, fostered by PRC government subsidies to the region, has not panned out as a force for separatist nationalism, but is inclined to seek stability; staying with China is seen as the best guarantor of Tibet’s interests and prosperity.
As a growing power, China has gained support from the international community for the maintenance of its recognized territorial boundaries. During his 1992 electoral campaign, Bill Clinton openly supported the Tibetan exile cause, but changed his policy toward Tibet as soon as he entered the White House. In 2000, George W. Bush said that US would defend Taiwan if the mainland attacked it, but in 2003-2004, he opposed Chen Shui-bian’s referendum proposal and has provided no meaningful support for the Tibetan exile cause. In the 2004 presidential campaign, Democratic candidate John Kerry even endorsed China’s “one country, two systems” proposal for Taiwan. A year 2000 EP resolution called for appointment of an EU Special Representative for Tibet and recognition of the TGIE as the legitimate representative of the Tibetans, if Beijing refused to hold talks with the Dalai Lama within the next three years. Meeting with the Dalai Lama a month before the three-year deadline was to expire, Anders Fogh Rassmussen, prime minister of Denmark, an EU country with longstanding ties to the exiles, stated he did not believe there was a need for new initiatives by the EU or Denmark. When the sixth EU-China Summit was held in October 2003, Tibet was not even mentioned. The EU is now contemplating lifting its arms embargo against China and has asked the PRC to meet four human rights conditions for that to happen, but none of them involve Tibet.
The Dalai Lama’s two major traditional allies have changed their position on Tibet. Britain, which had since 1906 spoken in terms of China’s “suzerainty” in Tibet, in an attempt to turn Tibet into a neutral buffer between India and China, now acknowledges PRC sovereignty. During the 2003 visit to China of Indian Prime Minister A. B. Vajpayee, the Indian government, which had inherited the British “suzerainty” notion, stated that the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) is a part of China. In return, China recognized Sikkim as a part of India. Although Indian officials argued their statement represented no change in policy on Tibet, the pronouncement proved a disappointment to Tibetan exiles, with the largest exile organization, the Tibetan Youth Congress (TYC), stating that “Vajpayee’s signing of the declaration amounted to obliterating Tibet.” TGIE Kalon Tripa (prime minister) Samdhong Rinpoche said after Vajpayee’s visit that “the reality is that Tibet is China’s autonomous part” The affirmation of PRC sovereignty by Vajpayee’s right-wing regime, which might have been expected to be hostile to China on the Tibet question, was likely a factor in causing the TYC president to speculate that it may take 500 or 1,000 years to make Tibet free and in inducing exile leaders to come closer than ever before to meeting the prime PRC condition for negotiations -- a public statement by the Dalai Lama that Tibet is an inalienable part of China. During a November 2003 trip to the Vatican, he reportedly stated “We accept Tibet as part of the People’s Republic of China.”
The Dalai Lama is entering his 70s and is sometimes ill. Indeed, his life was thought to be in danger in 2002 and the question of his reincarnation was inevitably raised. In an interview with a Taiwanese journalist in 2000, he had already stated that the Tibetan theocracy, based on a reincarnation system, should be abandoned, and that he would not take part in politics if he returns to China. In a speech to Taiwan’s Legislative Yuan, he again expressed his preference for ending the system. Many Tibetans in exile disfavor this option, viewing it as an abandonment of Tibetan tradition. The most that the Dalai Lama would concede however is his intention to not be reincarnated in PRC territory.
Even if the Dalai Lama dies outside the PRC, it is likely that two 14th Dalai Lamas will emerge, one outside China, and the other chosen within China and affirmed by PRC authorities. Such an outcome will weaken the 14th Dalai Lama’s power, undermine Tibetan tradition, and increase tensions among Tibetan exiles, China, and the country where the reincarnation is found. The TGIE thus may now prefer that the Dalai Lama dies and is reincarnated within Chinese territory. The 17th Gyalwang Karmapa, the next most prominent Buddhist leader in exile, has stated that “’If in his wisdom the Dalai Lama decides to take rebirth in China-held territory, one should not be surprised.” Many Tibetans want the Dalai Lama to die in Tibet because if he dies on foreign soil, his “head” and “body” will be separated. This is an important reason why the Dalai Lama is pressing China to speed up the dialogue process.
Given these conditions, as US Tibet specialist Melvyn Goldstein points out, the Dalai Lama and TGIE have three, not mutually exclusive options: 1. maintain the status quo by continuing the campaign of enhancing international support; 2. escalate the conflict by encouraging and even organizing violence in Tibet; and 3. compromise by sending Beijing a message that the Dalai Lama is ready to scale down his political demands in order to preserve a more homogeneous Tibetan homeland. Evidence indicates that the Dalai Lama has chosen the third option and made significant concessions.
The Dalai Lama’s Concessions
New Thinking about Autonomy
The Dalai Lama’s Five Point Peace Plan, presented on Washington’s Capitol Hill in 1987, and his 1988 Strasbourg Proposal before the EP, laid out his initial positions on autonomy. Under the Proposal, the PRC would remain responsible for Tibet’s foreign policy, while Tibet would be governed by its own constitution or basic law. The Tibetan government would comprise a popularly elected chief executive, a bicameral legislature and an independent legal system. It would have a special duty to safeguard and develop religious practice. The Proposal’s inclusion of a directly elected chief executive and independent judiciary represents a fundamental rupture in the current Chinese political system and makes no room for the CCP, implying an end to party leadership. Given its authoritarian system, Beijing will not accept a proposal of this kind.
In 1992, the Dalai Lama demanded that Chinese leaders allow Tibet, Inner Mongolia and East Turkestan [Xinjiang] “to become free and equal partners in a new world order.” In recent years however, the Dalai Lama has emphasized cultural autonomy, played down political autonomy, and shown respect for the Chinese constitutional framework. There was an internal discussion among Tibetan exiles in 1999 about the possibility of proposing a power sharing mechanism. It is also suggested that the TGIE recognize the reality of CCP leadership in Tibet and the role of the central government in a transitional arrangement. While the central party organization would have the right to appoint Tibet’s party secretary, Tibet would have the right to elect its governor. Learning from the practice of India, it is suggested the center would have the right to remove the governor if necessary. If China lists convincing reasons for an appointed chief executive, the TGIE would agree to postpone direct elections for ten-years.
In a 2005 interview, the Dalai Lama presented a substantially changed view of Tibet’s relationship with China and prospects for governance in Tibet. He recognized that PRC Tibetans are in some measure Chinese, because Tibetan culture and Buddhism are part of Chinese culture and Tibet is part of China's 5,000 year history. He also affirmed that Tibet gains materially from being part of China. His previous view was that Tibet might benefit in the future from being part of China, but that it does not presently, because China exploits Tibet, so that it benefits from having Tibet and not the other way around.
It was also reported that a TGIE official stated that the Dalai Lama now only wants autonomy as to religious and cultural matters, not political, economic and diplomatic affairs. This position was pre-figured by a 2004 statement of Thubten Samphel, the TGIE’s spokesman, that Tibetans “should be allowed genuine spiritual and cultural autonomy, and a degree of political space.” In terms of religious and cultural autonomy, the Dalai Lama reportedly has been concerned he be able to live year-round in Lhasa’s Potala Palace, travel in and out of China and to all Tibetan areas, have full control over the publication and editing of religious texts, and have undisputed authority to appoint abbots of monasteries and supervise the choice of reincarnations of important lamas. Such concerns are vastly different from those reflected in past assertions that Tibet must have a liberal political system. The Dalai Lama now speaks of enhanced autonomy under the PRC constitution and the need to remain in China to foster economic development.
The borders of an autonomous Tibet
Its conception of Tibet’s borders is one of the most sensitive aspects of the Dalai Lama’s 1988 Autonomy Proposal: Tibet would take in the whole Tibet Plateau, encompassing the traditional Tibetan areas of U-Tsang, Kham and Amdo, an area one-fourth of PRC territory. Besides the TAR, “greater Tibet” would include most of Qinghai province and parts of Gansu, Sichuan and Yunnan, areas where 53% of PRC Tibetans live amidst Han Chinese and other ethnic groups. Greater Tibet would become a self-governing democratic political entity.
Although before the 1950s, Tibet’s boundaries and political status were not determined by modern standards, “greater Tibet” is at the core of modern Tibetan nationalism. Since 1959, Tibetan nationalists have sought to create a pan-Tibetan identity, fueling antagonism with PRC leaders, for whom Tibet is confined to today's TAR, the area previously ruled by the Dalai Lama. By 1996, the Dalai Lama had already acknowledged that much of the eastern Tibet Plateau had not been under Lhasa’s rule and expressed an interest in cultural preservation, rather than political control of the area. While the TGIE until at least 2003 still insisted that “The whole of Tibet inhabited by the Tibetan people should be given genuine autonomy,” the Dalai Lama no longer uses a concept of greater Tibet in the sense of insisting on unification of all Tibetan areas, but focuses on cultural protection within a Tibetan cultural zone. He avoids emphasizing political boundaries, has stated that “my concern is culture, and spirituality, and environment,” and seems to accept there will be no boundary question under the constitutional framework of China.
In a forum on Tibetan autonomy, Prof. Ezra Vogel of Harvard University asked whether re-drawing boundaries to include Tibetans outside the TAR would be acceptable to China. Zheng Shiping, a US political scientist originally from China, replied, "I don't think it would be possible to change the boundaries. It would just be a waste of time." Bhuchung Tsering, director of International Campaign for Tibet, stressed however that "We should look at this issue from a different perspective. Let's put the emphasis on the survival of the Tibetan people. I don't see why this can't be accommodated within Chinese limitations. To the Chinese, the idea of a 'Greater Tibet' seems very sinister. But the survival of the Tibetan people would be acceptable." The provision to Tibetans outside the TAR of any social and cultural benefit accorded TAR Tibetans may be a suitable way to realize this goal. For example, for a quarter century TAR Tibetans have not had to pay regional taxes on farming and herding income. In 2004, Sichuan province exempted its autonomous area minorities (mostly Tibetans) from paying such taxes. By the same token, TAR Tibetans would be allowed rights accorded Tibetans elsewhere; for example, the right to publicly display photos of the Dalai Lama.
The withdrawal of Chinese troops
The Dalai Lama’s 1988 Autonomy Proposal demanded withdrawal of Chinese troops, to transform the whole of Tibet into a zone of peace. Only with the withdrawal of troops could a genuine process of reconciliation begin. China would have the right to maintain a restricted number of military installations in Tibet, solely for defensive purposes, until a peace conference is convened and demilitarization and neutralization achieved.
In 2003, the Dalai Lama stated that the number of paramilitary People's Armed Police should be reduced in Tibetan cities, implying his acceptance of the deployment of Chinese troops. The Dalai Lama no longer demands a complete withdrawal of the Chinese army, nor does he insist on any withdrawal as a precondition for negotiations.
The Hong Kong Model of Autonomy
The Dalai Lama has demanded that Hong Kong’s one country two systems policy be applied to Tibet and many commentators have considered its suitability for Tibet. Under it, Beijing would be responsible only for Tibet's foreign affairs and defense, while Tibetans would be free to make their own decisions as to other matters. To endorse a Hong Kong model for Tibet however, the Dalai Lama must be aware of its political implications. Under it, China’s sovereignty includes a Hong Kong garrison, Beijing’s appointment of all high-level officials, and executive dominance through the tight circumscription of legislative power. This set-up differs fundamentally from what the Dalai Lama demanded in his original autonomy proposal, which was essentially an American-style system of governance. The Dalai Lama does seem impressed however with Hong Kong’s ability to control the movement of population from mainland China. Though it will not totally end migration of Han into Tibetan areas, a Hong Kong model would slow the process. Tibetan autonomy could then focus on preservation of culture and religion, with Tibetans having a greater say about such matters.
In late 1978, the Dalai Lama established his first direct contact with PRC leaders since 1959. That came to an end in 1993, but indirect contacts via private persons and semi-officials continued. In January, 2002 a face-to-face meeting between the Dalai Lama’s representatives and PRC officials responsible for Tibet policy took place outside China. This paved the way for a September 2002 visit to Beijing, Shanghai, Chengdu and Lhasa by a four-member Tibetan exile delegation, headed by the Dalai Lama’s special envoys, Lodi Gyari and Kelsang Gyaltsen, and including their special assistants, Sonam Dagpo and Bhuchung Tsering. The same delegation visited Jiangsu, Zhejiang, and Yunnan provinces from May 25-June 8, 2003, soon after changes in the CCP and PRC leaderships. In a third trip of the same four-member team, from September 12-29, 2004, they met Minister Liu Yandong, Vice Chairperson of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference and leader of the CCP United Front Work Department [UFWD], Zhu Weiqun, a Vice-Minister, Chang Rongjun, head of the UFWD Nationalities and Religion Department, and other Beijing officials. The three visits have given Tibetans in exile the opportunity to re-establish contacts, explain the Dalai Lama's approach, and engage extensively with new Chinese leaders and officials responsible for Tibet policy.
There have been positive effects from the three visits. The TGIE first ordered exile officials abroad to not organize protests against PRC leaders who visit Western countries. It then asked Tibet support groups and NGOs to not be very aggressive in staging such demonstrations and, according to the TYC, demanded that pro-independence activists in India not hold processions or shout anti-Beijing slogans on the occasion of the March 10 commemoration of the 1959 Lhasa uprising. During a 1984 visit to China by Tibetan exile officials, they encountered cadres who complained of the Cultural Revolution and their suffering, but the recent delegations were impressed by self-confident officials empowered by China’s development and were overwhelmed by the development itself, thus strengthening the idea Tibet is better off staying in China than seeking independence. As the Dalai Lama said, “the best guarantee for Tibet” is to “remain within the People’s Republic of China,” and “more union, more cooperation is in our best interest.” In 2003, an exile special task force discussed how Sino-Tibet relations could be enhanced, with Lodi Gyari consulting with specialists on whether the Dalai Lama should visit China.
On China’s side, TAR leaders regarded the first visit as purely private, but Beijing did acknowledge the second visit and the existence of “official” contact between the two sides. Harsh criticisms of the Dalai Lama as a “splittist” were reduced and his positive efforts to create a constructive environment were explicitly recognized. In 2003, the TAR governor told foreign journalists that China welcomes the Dalai Lama to visit Tibet if he comes as a PRC citizen and recognizes Tibet as an inalienable part of China.
The three visits were aimed at building confidence by dispelling misconceptions and distrust. A lack of sincerity and mutual trust remains. In addition, there are fundamental differences in the two sides’ conceptions of autonomy. Indeed, the Tibetan exile delegation stated that “there are major differences on a number of issues, including some fundamental ones. Both sides acknowledged the need for more substantive discussions in order to narrow the gaps and reach a common ground. We stressed the need for both sides to demonstrate flexibility, far-sightedness and vision to bridge the differences.”
Why the Absence of Dialogue?
There are several reasons for the absence of a formal dialogue between the exiles and Beijing. First, some Chinese hardliners believe the Dalai Lama’s death will be a grave blow to the Tibetan independence cause and that migrants will create a multi-ethnic community in Tibetan areas that will weaken the demographic basis for an independence movement. They even prefer the Dalai Lama die outside of China, as that may create religious divisions, as has been the case with the designation of the reincarnation of the 17th Karmapa. Most exiles do not deny that the Dalai Lama’s passing will sharply set back their cause: one pro-independence member of the Tibetan parliament-in-exile has stated that “As long as he is alive, he will be the foremost motivating factor. After his passing away, for the next 50 years Tibetans will not be able to bring any sort of momentum for their struggle and the Tibetan issue will be lost.” Others contend that the Dalai Lama’s passing will not mean an end to the Tibet Question.
Second, to Beijing, Tibet already enjoys autonomy. In visits to China in 2002 and 2003, Lodi Gyari, the delegation head, confronted Chinese cultural and ideological opposition to the 1988 Autonomy Proposal. Many PRC officials told him that China has already developed a sound system of autonomy, implying it does not need the Dalai Lama’s proposal. Lodi Gyari would like the Chinese to revise their view of autonomy, taking it as an intrinsic value that provides citizens with inalienable rights, rather than using it as an instrument for national unity and social control, demonstrated for example through Tibet being accord the right to elect its governor.
Third, there is fear the CCP will lose control if the Dalai Lama returns to Tibet. A senior PRC official has stated that “The Dalai Lama’s return to China will bring a great risk of instability. We will then not be able to control Tibet.” Reportedly, officials in the TAR fear that with the Dalai Lama in the Potala Palace, “he will inevitably become the source of all authority. Any theoretical separation of church and state will be impossible to maintain and the [CCP] will lose its influence over Tibetans.” One might argue however that if the Dalai Lama returns to Tibet with a PRC passport and TV stations show this passport, this will strengthen China’s stand.
Fourth, a key reason is Beijing thinks the Dalai Lama has not met its preconditions. Then-President Jiang Zemin stated in 1998 that before dialogue could begin, the Dalai Lama must “publicly make a statement and a commitment that Tibet is an inalienable part of China” and “must also recognize Taiwan as a province of China.” Premier Wen Jiabao reaffirmed that in 2003 and noted that “regrettably” the Dalai Lama had not met the preconditions and had not genuinely given up independence and separatist activities. PRC government spokespeople continue to uphold the preconditions, indicating that they believe the Dalai Lama has not actually forsaken independence and separatist actions.
Many exile officials also refuse to commit to the idea that Tibet is an inalienable part of China and in interviews in 1999 in India gave several reasons for not stating that Tibet is an inalienable part of China. First, the Dalai Lama has already announced he would not seek independence. Second, the Dalai Lama’s public declaration should be linked to China’s promise to grant genuine autonomy, but exile officials argued that PRC leaders will not do so even if the Dalai Lama makes this declaration. Third, Tibet’s history as an independent country is bargaining power for greater autonomy; a public announcement will deprive Tibetans of this power. Fourth, Tibetans want independence, not autonomy; a public declaration would mean giving up the goal of independence, which should never be renounced.
Another position was also mentioned: that Tibet was not an inalienable part of China in the past, but is now a part of China, a position the Dalai Lama now seemingly follows. Thus, the TGIE has stated that the Dalai Lama has “acknowledged the de facto status of Tibet” as part of China, but that “the issue of Tibet is yet to be resolved.” Queried about whether he is ready to acknowledge that Tibet is an integral part of China, the Dalai Lama replied, “Not that one sentence. Since 1950-51, as far as the central autonomous region of Tibet is concerned, after the seventeen-point agreement was signed, then Tibet became part of the People's Republic of China … But then in the past, that's up to history.”
The Dalai Lama’s statements on Tibet being a part of China thus far have not been seen by the PRC as sufficient because he has not used the term “inalienable.” Beijing does not think the Dalai Lama has met its precondition because he has not repudiated his 1991 statement that “Tibet was an independent country before its occupation by China. It had its own government, now in exile…There is no justification claiming that Tibet was ‘part of China’ as Peking claims today.” In response to a PRC offer to return the Dalai Lama to Tibet if he becomes a PRC citizen and acknowledges Tibet is an inalienable part of China, TGIE Department of Information and International Relations secretary Sonam Dagpo said the latter pre-condition was not acceptable, since Tibet had always been an independent nation until China occupied it forcibly. The PRC and Tibetan exiles may however set aside the issue of whether Tibet was independent before 1951, as Britain and China eventually did with the question of the validity of “three unequal treaties” that were the basis for British rule in Hong Kong. In any case, the Dalai Lama’s 2005 statement that Tibet is part of China’s 5,000 year history of tradition excludes an insistence that Tibet has always been independent, while the Chinese government does not demand the Dalai Lama affirm that Tibet has always been part of China.
The TGIE has quoted only the Dalai Lama’s statements that the Taiwan issue “is not my business” and “mainly depends on the people of Taiwan.” For Beijing, Tibet and Taiwan must adhere to the one-China policy and recognize each other as a part of China. For the Dalai Lama, it is thought his image would be damaged if he publicly opposed Taiwan independence in response to political pressure. Taiwan independence forces have moreover been allies with a goal similar to his own; an acknowledgement that Taiwan is part of China would weaken an alliance enhanced by Chen Shui-bian’s presidency.
The Dalai Lama reportedly said in 1998, however, that “’Taiwan’s future should . . . be viewed under the one China policy . . . My stand is: I don’t support or encourage Taiwan’s independence movement.” Kelsang Gyaltsen affirmed at the time -- a moment of hope for a breakthrough to negotiations -- that “the Dalai Lama has never doubted the ‘one China’ policy.” The Dalai Lama may revert to that position if it appears that little has been gained from his de facto alliance with Taiwan independence forces. In 2000, he denied a report that “Tibetans and Taiwanese would form a common front to press for independence from China.” He may come to view the Taiwan independence forces as taking advantage of the Tibet issue, adding obstacles to creating conditions favorable to a dialogue, especially as other allies, most notably the Bush administration, have disapproved Taiwan pro-independence moves.
Beijing sees the Dalai Lama’s advocacy of autonomy for Tibet as a smokescreen for independence because he fails to stop separatist activities, yet TGIE spokesman Thubten Samphel has claimed to have “no idea what China means by ‘separatist activities.’” TGIE/TYC relations are an example of such activities, however: the TYC goal is an independent Tibet headed by the Dalai Lama. It has launched campaigns like “Boycott Made in China” and “No Olympics 2008 in Beijing,” efforts blessed by the Dalai Lama's oldest brother, Professor Thupten Norbu and by his prime minister, who addressed a 2004 Tibetan youth leadership training program organized by the TYC, an organization that announced in the same year its plans to train for “guerrilla activities” and in 2005 said “We are opposed to the Dalai Lama’s stand” and “We do not support the Dalai Lama at all.” Another example is TGIE participation in the pan-separatist Allied Committee of the Peoples of East Turkestan, Tibet and Inner Mongolia, founded in 1985 and still being promoted in 2005. The history of negotiating processes to reach agreements aimed at settling major ethno-territorial disputes shows that no progress is possible if the two sides do not decisively break with nationalist extremists in their midst.
Tibetan Exile Perspectives
The Dalai Lama, TGIE and pro-Dalai Lama Western scholars have provided several reasons for Beijing to start a dialogue as soon as possible.
View the Dalai Lama as an asset
The main problem lies in the PRC leader’s negative perception of the Dalai Lama. If they change their view, the Tibet problem can be solved. Lodi Gyari argues that Beijing sees the Dalai Lama as used by the USA to “split” China: to reduce the chance of his being used by outsiders, the best solution is to let him live in China. As long as the Dalai Lama lives outside China, Tibetan loyalty will follow suit. Kelsang Gyaltsen has said that “the Dalai Lama is the only person who would persuade Tibetans to accept an agreement with the Chinese government that would recognize Tibet to be part of the PRC.” Orville Schell, dean of journalism at the University of California, Berkeley, has advised Beijing to view the Dalai Lama as an asset who could serve the interests of Han and Tibetans alike, rather than as a die-hard "splittist," and to return him to Lhasa as a religious and cultural avatar. John Kenneth Knaus, a Harvard researcher, has asserted that “for China, it would be a loss of an opportunity to benefit from the presence of the one person who is best able to guarantee peace….”
Consequences of Denying Dialog
Kelsang Gyaltsen warns that failure to reach agreement with the Dalai Lama could inspire generations of Tibetans to resistance. Lodi Gyari argues that the longer the PRC waits, the greater will be the resentment, the difficulty in convincing Tibetans to accept a solution short of independence, and the danger extreme leaders will emerge.
Preventing Political Violence
Currently, the Dalai Lama and TGIE are pledged to a nonviolent strategy, which most Tibetan exile leaders are dedicated to realizing. If that strategy cannot work, however, radical groups such as the TYC will gain the confidence needed to launch violence, as was the case for the Irish Republican Army and Hamas in recent decades. The ideal of peace-loving among Tibetans is a contemporary development. There have been many instances of mass violence in Tibetan history and Tibetan youths still protested against Jiang Zeming’s visit to the US, despite a good-will gesture ban by the TGIE.
To prevent radicals from gaining influence, the Dalai Lama insists that China begin a dialogue sooner rather than later. He warned in 2003 that violence may occur that he is unable to stop, if peaceful dialogue does not produce results within two or three years. History shows when moderates fail, radicals take over and when they do, even more hardline elements emerge to outbid them for support. It is shortsighted to imagine exile violence will favor China because it goes against the Dalai Lama’s strategy, damages his reputation as a peacemaker, and serves to justify suppression. Israel adopted that approach in facilitating the emergence of Hamas as a counter to the Palestine Liberation Organization and now faces dire consequences.
Benefits for China’s Unity
The Tibet problem directly threatens China’s unity, but also has implications for Taiwan and Xinjiang. The Dalai Lama has stated that if China were to address the Tibet issue properly, it could only have positive implications for Hong Kong, Taiwan and the PRC international image. With many Taiwanese moving away from a Chinese national identity in recent years, peaceful resolution of the Tibet issue will help China to strengthen its national identity and persuade Taiwan leaders to come to negotiate.
Difficulties from Democratization
The Dalai Lama praises democratization among Tibetan exiles, who in 2001 directly elected the Assembly of Tibetan People’s Deputies. Samdhong Rinpoche was elected Kalon Tripa by over 84 per cent of the vote. Exile democracy is characterized however by the overriding power of the Dalai Lama, who gave instructions for direct elections and an increase in the parliament’s power. Samdhong Rinpoche has said of the Dalai Lama that “we can’t do anything without him.” Indeed, even a move by the TGIE to close down its Budapest office in 2005 required approval by the Dalai Lama. The exile political system integrates political institutions and Buddhism and the very top positions are held by monks (the “head of state” and “head of government,” so to speak). There are no party politics and criticism of the Dalai Lama is treated as illegitimate in the exile community. Will top-down democratization ensure that moderates wield power or will it empower radicals?
When the Dalai Lama dies, exile democratization may deepen, but that would make it more difficult for Beijing to strike a deal with the TGIE, as a pact will be subject to the will of diverse exiles. The lesson from East Timor is that an early grant of autonomy is an effective way to prevent future independence. If Indonesian strongman Suharto had offered autonomy, the East Timor issue would likely have been resolved. When his successor Habibie offered autonomy in 1999, rapid democratization was already underway in Indonesia and it was too late. If China had made a deal with Taiwan’s then- President Jiang Jinguo in 1986, before Taiwan’s democratization, the one China principle would have become entrenched there.
Preparing Groundwork for Breakthrough
Cognitive and ideological gaps between Tibetan exile and PRC perspectives have been so great the two sides have been unable to sit together at a negotiating table. While China sees the Dalai Lama as advocating “disguised independence,” the TGIE sees Beijing as playing games. Both sides need to take steps to reduce animosity and increase familiarity with each others’ positions; for example, the Tibet exile delegation has attempted to prove the Dalai Lama’s autonomy is not equivalent to independence. Both sides need to develop a non-zero-sum game, re-examine tendentious claims, drop recriminations, and create a roadmap to negotiations. Instead of being preoccupied with talk of “fake” or genuine” autonomy, for example, the focus should be on improving the existing autonomy system.
The Dalai Lama Side The Dalai Lama needs to reconsider his strategy. The TGIE has had international successes, but has had little impact within China, where it invites suspicion. It views internationalization as overcoming Beijing’s winning position in politics, by making it a loser in the moral battle, as reflected in Samdhong Rinpoche’s statement that “We have a unique source of strength, which puts us in a position to negotiate with China on equal terms. We have the strength of truth and non-violence, which, if anything, makes us more powerful than China.” The sense of international success, measured in terms of politicians, cultural figures, and NGOs favoring the TGIE position, obscures its view of the realities of the politics of creating expanded autonomy for Tibet.
The Dalai Lama should adopt a gradual strategy starting from cultural autonomy, before moving on to other forms of autonomy. There is reason to believe that he is willing to do so. He stated in 2004 that China had to accept three things in order to solve Tibet’s problems: “’Tibet’s unique cultural heritage and compassionate spirituality, and delicate situation of environment.’” Both sides could cooperate in building the Tibetan economy. While it is legitimate and appealing to hold to a Buddhist green vision of economic development, it is unproductive for the TGIE to reflexively oppose China’s economic development projects, especially given that the Dalai Lama has recognized that “all Tibetans want more prosperity, more material development.”
Autonomy is not created full-blown, but involves an on-going process of learning and mutual adjustment. Patience is the key to progress, as it is impossible to remove fifty years of distrust through a few visits. China has reason to be suspicious, due to the historical involvement of the CIA, the internationalization of the Tibet Question, TYC support for Tibetan independence, etc. Moves such as deadlines for negotiations moreover have led nowhere, but have only proved the ineffectiveness of those who set them, when no action was taken after the deadline passed. Finally, there is a need to contain rejectionists on both sides. As long as moderates are in power and work towards a cooperative, interactive future, there is hope for a peaceful settlement in the long run.
Beijing Side In January 2005, the TGIE, guided by Dalai Lama, added a new unit, “the Task Force on Negotiations.” To respond to this initiative, the CCP UFWD should not host Tibetan exile delegations, as that may be misconceived as merely an effort to persuade the world of the Party’s beneficent inclusiveness. Rather, the PRC government should rename the working group now composed of officials from the UFWD, the Department of Public Security, and Ministry of Foreign Affairs as a Tibet Commission or create such a commission to concentrate work on the issue. It should also extend the scope of official Tibetan exile visits beyond the Dalai Lama’s representatives. Moreover, the Tibetan exiles’ visits and meetings with PRC officials should be institutionalized, as a forum to be held once a year, with a working group focusing on education and culture, and an exchange program between Buddhist schools and institutions established.
To facilitate a settlement Beijing needs to create political space for the TGIE to take the actions needed for negotiations to begin, such as granting the inalienability of Tibet. If the PRC addresses issues of importance to Tibetans, the TGIE can work around its previous objections to preconditions for negotiations. For example, both sides frame the issue of Tibet’s status as a question of history. Émigré leaders claim the PRC insists that they recognize that Tibet has always been part of China, while the TGIE holds “Tibet has always been an independent nation.” Recently however, Samdhong Rinpoche has said that Tibet’s administrations from 1640 to 1951 were local governments in relation to China. That goes some way toward circumventing the historical issue.
Before the Cultural Revolution, PRC leaders urged Chinese to fight against Han chauvinism (da hanzu zhuyi). Since then, attention in minority areas has been on fighting “local nationalism.” To restore the balance in Tibetan areas, the government could finance a program to educate non-Tibetans who migrate there about the achievements of Tibetan culture. An anti-racial discrimination law, similar perhaps to the one planned for Hong Kong, would also address a key issue that creates ethnic tension and could be important in combating employment discrimination. While even a vigorously enforced law will not change the ethnic distribution of labor in Tibet, it would empower jobseekers who face ethnic and “home place” (lao jia) nepotism.
Tibet has never had a Tibetan Party Secretary. That may be because of a tradition from imperial times to not employ officials in their home areas. Exceptions to this policy now exist however; in 2003, 18 of the 62 “provincial chiefs” (governors and party secretaries) were serving in their birth provinces. Because there has not been a Tibetan Party Secretary, many believe Beijing does not regard any Tibetan as competent and loyal enough to hold the office; yet there are doubtless Tibetans qualified to do so: a disproportionate number (6 of 198 full members) of the current CCP Central Committee are Tibetans. A Tibetan Party Secretary would be regarded an indication that the CCP trusts Tibetans to lead Tibet.
It is often argued that Han benefit more than Tibetans from development in Tibet, not surprisingly as they heavily concentrate in favored urban areas, while most Tibetans are peasants or herders. Although there is growing Tibetan migration to cities, ethnic disparities are significant there as well and will persist as long as there is an educational and experiential gap between Han and Tibetans. To compensate for this tendency, preferential policies in the state economy should be reinvigorated and extended to the private sector, including mandates, such as job and shareholding quotas, that favor Tibetans. Wide-ranging affirmative action in Malaysia resulted in greater equality and reduced ethnic tension: in 1970 ethnic Malays owned 2.4% of corporate wealth, but by 2003 had about 20%, yet wealth shares of ethnic Chinese and ethnic Indians rose from 30% to 40%, while average per capita income in Malaysia jumped from RM 1,132 in 1970 to RM13,683 in 2003. Results of affirmative action in Malaysia have been mentioned favorably in official PRC media.
The government could restrict migration to Tibet. To curtail or even ban migration to minority areas of a country is not uncommon: India bars the movement of “mainland Indians” to Nagaland, Kashmir and the Andaman and Nicobar islands; Vietnam prohibits “spontaneous migration” to the ethnic minority Central Highlands. For Tibetans to be at the center of Tibet’s economy, they need higher-level skills, but in rural areas especially, there is not much incentive for education, because Tibetan children contribute to family labor resources. The government could pay every Tibetan child who attends school a stipend equal to the child’s contribution to the family’s income. It would be well worth the expense, as most Tibetans can only become prosperous if education levels rise sharply. A decade ago, N. Ireland was a disadvantaged part of the UK, but today is said to have better schools, higher healthcare standards, and more cultural amenities than “mainland Britain.” The gap between Ulster’s communities has been narrowed through subsidies, fair employment legislation, affirmative action, greatly expanded educational opportunities and the adoption by Catholics of education as the main avenue of upward mobility.
Concerns are expressed about the ban on public display of Dalai Lama photos in the TAR that began in 1996. The ban is not enforced in Tibetan areas of Qinghai, Gansu, Sichuan and Yunnan however and no untoward consequences have followed, indicating that displays in a religious context can be accommodated without compromising anti-separatism.
Finally, international law entitles states to punish separatism, but those punished must be well-treated. Abusers of prisoners do sometimes face severe consequences elsewhere in China. That seems rare in Tibet, despite many credible reports of torture, yet harsh punishment for abusers should diminish sympathy for separatism.
Current global and national trends favor peaceful dialogue as a means of resolving the Tibet issue. The international environment is ripe for dialogue. Bush needs China’s support for the war against terrorism, so the US is likely to support China in an effort to solve the Tibet Question in a way that does not threaten China’s security and unity. Dialogue with the Dalai Lama will neutralize critics in Western parliaments and help convince many of the Chinese government’s good will.
With China’s increasing power, the so-called Tibet issue no longer threatens China’s national security; and the Dalai Lama’s new initiative and statement about Tibet’s history and status provide a further reassurance. The visits of Taiwan’s opposition parties to China in April and May 2005 have eased the tension across the Taiwan Strait and opened a door for a peaceful dialogue. New peace efforts elsewhere in the world, for instance, between the Indonesian government and independence forces in Aceh and between Israel and the newly-elected Palestine leadership, strengthens a global trend toward dialogue in resolving seemingly intractable conflicts.
While the Dalai Lama would have to adopt tough but persuasive measures to ensure that the growing opposition among young Tibetans in exile to his concessions would not derail his new autonomy process, it is now up to the Beijing leadership, in particular, President Hu Jintao. If Hu Jintao with his determination, commitment and wisdom can grasp this golden opportunity to take a decisive decision to engage in direct dialogue with the Dalai Lama and to make a number of concessions, there is a possibility that Hu Jintao and the Dalai Lama might share a Nobel Peace Prize one day. The Chinese and world community should be encouraged to think the unthinkable in this matter despite many rocks and steep hills remaining on the road to dialogue and a noble peace.