The Dalai Lama’s Envoy Kelsang Gyaltsen has said that the lack of trust is the biggest problem in the ongoing dialogue process with the Chinese leadership. Briefing the Fourth World Parliamentarians Convention on Tibet in Edinburgh on November 18, 2005, Gyaltsen gave an outline of the development of the Tibetan-Chinese contact since 1978.
He said, “However, an important beginning has been made to reduce the level of mutual distrust. The resumption of direct contact provided the opportunity for both sides to extensively share with each other their views and perspectives on core issues. Now it is important to continue this process and for both parties to demonstrate their sincerity and trustworthiness to the other by taking small tangible steps to build trust and confidence. It is a delicate process, requiring both quiet diplomacy and some very public gestures and initiatives.”
Following is the full text of Gyaltsen’s remarks as released by the Tibet Bureau in Geneva.
The Status of the Sino-Tibetan Dialogue
Speech by Kelsang Gyaltsen at the Fourth World Parliamentarian Convention on Tibet
Edinburgh, November 18 – 19, 2005
Today, I am asked to brief you on the current status of dialogue with China. First, let me convey to you the sincere apology of my senior colleague, Mr. Lodi Gyari, the Special Envoy of His Holiness the Dalai Lama and the leader of the Tibetan delegation to China, for his inability to attend this important conference on Tibet. Many of you may be well aware that His Holiness the Dalai Lama has just concluded a very successful visit to the United States during which he had very constructive and encouraging meetings with President Bush, Secretary of the State, Doctor Rice and with leaders and members of the US Congress. Mr. Gyari has some urgent and important follow-up meetings in Washington, DC and he regrets very much to miss the opportunity to meet many old friends again and to address this important gathering.
Our first direct contact with the Chinese leadership after our escape from Tibet in 1959 was established in late 1978. Before going into exile His Holiness the Dalai Lama has tried his best for more than eight years to work out a peaceful co-existence with the Chinese leaders as well as with the Chinese Generals of the People’s Liberation troops in Tibet. When China emerged from the turmoil of the Cultural Revolution and Deng Xiaoping signaled a willingness to have direct contact, His Holiness responded positively without any hesitation. Right from the beginning of the Sino-Tibetan conflict, His Holiness was determined to pursue the path of non-violence and to seek a resolution of the conflict through dialogue. Already in early 1970ies His Holiness and the Tibetan Cabinet had held many discussions and had concluded that sooner or later they would need to enter into direct contact with the Chinese leadership and engage in a dialogue about the future of Tibet. As a result His Holiness and the Tibetan leadership in exile were fully prepared to enter into direct contact with the Chinese leadership when the opportunity presented.
Over many years His Holiness did his best to engage the Chinese leadership in an honest dialogue. Unfortunately, a lack of political will and vision on the part of the Chinese leadership resulted in their failure to reciprocate the numerous initiatives of His Holiness. Finally, in August 1993 our formal contact with the Chinese government came to an end.
Around that time His Holiness the Dalai Lama instructed Lodi Gyari and me to explore informal channels of communication to the Beijing leadership. Through private persons and semi-officials we were able to establish a few channels. Three rounds of meetings were held at secrete locations in the course of time.
In late autumn of 1998, without any obvious reason, all our channels of communication were shut down. This sudden development was accompanied by a hardening of the Chinese position on dialogue, in their attitude towards His Holiness and above all by an intensified new round of repression in Tibet.
Despite this setback His Holiness has encouraged and inspired us to continue our efforts and to explore all available avenues. Our efforts through private and informal channels led finally in January 2002 to a first face-to-face meeting outside of China with Chinese officials responsible for Tibet policy.
This meeting paved the way for the visit of a four-member Tibetan delegation to China and to the Tibetan capital Lhasa in September 2002. It was the first time since 1980 that representatives of His Holiness the Dalai Lama have been able to visit Lhasa.
Since then the Tibetan delegation has been able to visit China and tour Tibetan areas in 2003 and 2004. This year another round of meetings between the Tibetan and the Chinese delegation was held outside of China. The meeting took place at the Embassy of the People’s Republic of China in Berne, Switzerland, on June 30 and July 1, 2005.
On our first mission in 2002 the task entrusted to the delegation was two fold: First, to re-establish direct contact with the leadership in Beijing and to create a conducive atmosphere enabling direct face-to-face meetings on a regular basis in future. Secondly, to explain His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s Middle Way Approach towards resolving the issue of Tibet.
In Beijing we met with Mr. Wang Zhaoguo, Vice Chair of the CPPCC and the Head of the Central United Front Work Department of the CCP and Mr. Li De Zhu, Minister for Nationalities Affairs and Deputy Head of the United Front Work Department. We had frank exchanges of views with them in a cordial atmosphere. They reiterated the known position of the Chinese government on dialogue with His Holiness the Dalai Lama. We took the opportunity to explain His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s thoughts on resolving the issue of Tibet through negotiations in the spirit of reconciliation and dialogue. The Chinese leaders listened to our explanations with keen interest and engaged in free and spontaneous exchanges.
In 2003 our visit followed the changes in leadership of the Chinese Communist Party as well as of the Chinese government. Consequently, our main objective was to continue the process begun in 2002 and to engage extensively with the new Chinese leaders and officials responsible for Tibet and our relationship. In addition to this main objective we had tree specific aims on this visit: i) to broaden our overall understanding of the situation in China through visits to different areas and meeting with officials; ii) to meet with Chinese Buddhist leaders and to visit Buddhist holy sites; and, iii) above all, to visit Tibetan areas and meet Tibetan officials.
On the second visit our new counterparts were Ms. Liu Yangdong, Vice Chairperson of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference and Head of the Central United Front Work Department of the CCP, Vice-Minister Zhu Weiqun, the deputy head, Mr. Chang Rongjung, Secretary-General and other officials. We were impressed by the attention and candor displayed by the Chinese leaders during our meeting. Both sides agreed that our past relationship had many twists and turns and that many areas of disagreement still exist. Both sides agreed that there was a need for more efforts to overcome the existing problems and bring about mutual understanding and trust.
In 2004, we had so far the most extensive and serious exchange of views on matters relating to Tibet. We had two sessions of discussion in Beijing. The meeting with Minister Liu Yangdong took place in a more formal setting and lasted more than three hours. On the following day, another session was held in a business-like setting lasting more than five hours. Vice Minister Zhu Weiqun led the Chinese delegation in the discussion.
The discussions were held in a frank but cordial atmosphere. The Chinese side presented a long list of criticism of and objections to Tibetan activities, positions and views. It was apparent from the discussions 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 down 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.
In 2005 the fourth round of meetings between the Tibetan and Chinese delegations was held in Berne, Switzerland. The discussions were concrete and substantive, and held in a cordial, frank, and business-like atmosphere. The Tibetan side had the opportunity to respond in detail point by point to the criticism, objections and allegations made by the Chinese side during the last round of discussions in Beijing. We also put forward some proposals that will help build trust and confidence and move the ongoing process to a new level of engagement aimed at bringing about substantive negotiations to achieve a mutually acceptable solution to the Tibetan issue. We reiterated our commitment to continue making every effort to create a better environment. At the same time we urged the Chinese side to join in this effort, and highlighted the absence of such gestures from their side.
Both sides had a positive assessment of the ongoing process. Vice Minister Zhu was pleased that our direct contact had now become stable and an “established practice”. He also conveyed to us that the Central leadership of the Chinese Communist Party attaches great importance to the contact with His Holiness the Dalai Lama. He stated that we need not be pessimistic about the existing differences and that it was possible to narrow down the gaps through more meetings and exchanges of views.
This is a brief summary of interactions between the Tibetan and Chinese delegations over the recent years.
Obviously, major differences on a number of issues, including on some fundamental ones, continue to remain. From our discussions with our Chinese counterparts it has become clear that the biggest problem we face is the lack of trust. There are deep-rooted misconceptions and strong distrust between the two sides.
Obviously, this distrust and misconception cannot be resolved by a few visits and meetings. However, an important beginning has been made to reduce the level of mutual distrust. The resumption of direct contact provided the opportunity for both sides to extensively share with each other their views and perspectives on core issues. Now it is important to continue this process and for both parties to demonstrate their sincerity and trustworthiness to the other by taking small tangible steps to build trust and confidence. It is a delicate process, requiring both quiet diplomacy and some very public gestures and initiatives.
What is presently most disturbing and of great concern to us is that there have been no positive changes inside Tibet since the opening of direct contact with the Chinese leadership. On the contrary repression inside Tibet has increased recently. Nor has Beijing reciprocated the confidence building measures undertaken by the Tibetan leadership in exile after our first visit. We must face the fact that so far there has been no indication of any change in China’s harsh policies in Tibet nor have been there any clear signs that the Chinese leadership is genuinely interested in beginning an honest dialogue.
I wish to state clearly that this is not to express doubts about our policy of reaching out to the Chinese government. Just a few minutes back Kalon Tripa, the Chief Executive of the Tibetan Government in exile, stressed emphatically our determination and commitment to vigorously pursue the present ongoing process.
Presently, China is undergoing profound changes. This process of transformation can and will be influenced to a large degree by the attitude and policies of the international community towards China. This, in turn, will impact China’s policies on Tibet and towards His Holiness the Dalai Lama. In this context, it is not solely in the hands of the Chinese leaders alone whether the Tibetan people will be able to enjoy a life in freedom and dignity in future or not. The outcome will be determined just as much by the policies of the governments of the free world towards the Tibet issue and China.
There is no doubt in our mind that the strong international concern for Tibet has been one of the major factors for the Chinese leaders for agreeing to our visits. It is, therefore, necessary that the international community continues to remain engaged with the Chinese government on the issue of Tibet. It is of great importance to continue to demonstrate strong interest in the progress of the ongoing process and to continue to encourage and urge the Chinese leadership to enter into earnest negotiations to peacefully resolve the issue of Tibet.