By Claude Arpi
Over the last couple of weeks, we have witnessed a large increase in the number of ‘Tibet pundits’ in the media, particularly in India.
This is a good thing: the public as well as the security agencies, our army brass and our diplomats should get acquainted with the question of Tibet and the larger issue of the so-called ‘Peaceful Rise of China.’
The Panchen Lama and the Dalai Lama with Chairman Mao during a meeting in 1955. (Inset) The Dalai Lama with Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru.
The Pakistan-centric attitude of the Indian establishment is one of the most dangerous aspects of Indian foreign policy, (if such a thing exists). Any widening of the horizon, particularly towards the north, can only be welcomed. In the years to come, India will have to deal with China and not Pakistan.
Unfortunately, the new pundits do not always grasp all the intricacies of the Tibetan imbroglio, and several analysts have concluded that the only workable solution for the Tibetan unrest is the resumption of the dialogue between Dharamsala and Beijing.
In fact, it is probably because that so-called dialogue has led nowhere (and could not lead anywhere) that the Tibetans in Lhasa and in other provinces took to the streets in protest.
The Tibetan population, particularly the monks, were frustrated with a process which is a dead end for the Tibetans, while for the Chinese, it is an easy way to appease Western leaders and gain time till the Dalai Lama passes away.‘The entire population of Lhasa was out on the streets’
Jetsun Pema, the Dalai Lama's youngest sister is mobbed by a crowd, when a fact-finding delegation visited Tibet in 1982. 'The Tibetans tried even to tear (pieces of) our chubas (Tibetan dress) to have them as relics,' a delegation member recalls.
A look at the background of the current ‘talks’, which started six years ago, will perhaps help us understand the common man’s bitterness in Tibet. In September 2002, the news flashed that a Tibetan team led by Lodi Gyari, the Dalai Lama's Special Envoy to Washington, had left for Beijing to negotiate with the Chinese government.
It started with a brief communiqué from the Dalai Lama's Private Office in Dharamsala, Himachal Pradesh: “During the visit, Mr Lodi Gyaltsen Gyari and the team will also visit Lhasa. His Holiness the Dalai Lama is very pleased that the team is able to make such a visit.”
Professor Samdhong Rinpoche, Prime Minister of the Tibetan government-in-exile, described the visit of his government's representatives to Beijing as “a culmination of efforts over the years to reach out to the Chinese government.”
But it was a false start. Beijing immediately denied that any negotiations had started, and insisted it was only “a group of countrymen returning for a visit to their homeland”.
This was not the first time that the Dalai Lama, an ardent follower of non-violence and a believer in dialogue, had sent ‘delegations’ to China. The rapprochement first started in 1978, when Deng Xiaoping met Gyalo Dhondup, the Tibetan leader’s elder brother, and told him that he was ready to discuss everything except Tibet’s independence.
This meeting was followed by the setting up of four Tibetan fact-finding delegations to visit Tibet.
The first three delegations visited Tibet between 1979 and 1982; wherever the Dalai Lama’s envoys went they were mobbed in delight by crowds of Tibetans.
One delegation member remembers: “The Tibetans tried even to tear [pieces of] our chubas (Tibetan dress) to have them as relics”. The entire population of Lhasa was out on the streets; everybody wanted a darshan of the Dalai Lama’s envoys.
But by the time the fourth (and last) delegation journeyed to Tibet in 1984, the Communist authorities had learnt their lesson. They were more careful and able to control the crowds better. But the message was clear for Beijing: the so-called liberation of Tibet was a cruel joke. 'The talks were a dialogue of the deaf'
Deng Xiaoping receives the Dalai Lama and the Panchen Lama in 1954
Apart from these fact-finding teams, the Dalai Lama also sent two delegations of senior Tibetan officials in 1982 and 1984 to Beijing. But the ‘talks’ were a dialogue of the deaf: Beijing only wanted to discuss the Dalai Lama's personal status in case of return, while the Tibetans wanted to talk about the fate of the Tibetan people in a future dispensation.
During a visit to the US in 1987, the Dalai Lama presented his 'Five-Point Peace plan' to the Congress in Washington DC. This plan proposed to demilitarise Tibet to make it a 'Zone of Ahimsa' and sought “commencement of earnest negotiations on the future status of Tibet and of relations between the Tibetan and Chinese peoples”.
A year later, he made his Strasbourg Proposal at the EU Parliament, where he gave up his demand for independence for 'genuine autonomy' within the Chinese Republic.
In September 1992, the Dalai Lama wrote a long memorandum to Deng on the same lines, based on the assurance that "everything except independence" was the basis of the dialogue.
In 1993, Sonam Tobgyal, the then chairman of the Tibetan government-in-exile's council of ministers, re-established the contact with Beijing. It was again Gyalop Dhondup, the Dalai Lama's elder brother, who had prepared the ground by making several 'private' visits to China.
Sonam Tobgyal, accompanied by Gyalo Dhondup, left for Beijing in July 1993 with the intention of negotiating a 'genuine autonomy’ for Tibet. They stayed for about a week in China and met only the officials of the United Front Department, the Ministry, which looks after the 'nationalities’ affairs.
According to Tobgyal, "One thing was clear: the officials with whom we talked did not have the authority to decide anything on their own."
Once again, there were no real talks, Tobgyal explained. "If one analyses what they were saying, they were only saying that their position vis-à-vis the Dalai Lama was very clear, they were very happy to keep contact with the Dalai Lama, they were keen that these contacts should go on." ‘Idea of Greater Tibet is totally absurd’
Lodi Gyari, the Dalai Lama's Special Envoy to Washington
The main bone of contention between the Dalai Lama and Beijing was the geographical definition of Tibet. The Dalai Lama had made clear in his Peace Plan that Tibet comprised of the traditional three provinces of U-Tsang (Central Tibet), Kham, and Amdo, while the Chinese were only talking of the Tibetan Autonomous Region corresponding more or less to Central Tibet, which is only a third of pre-1950 Tibet.
In the 1960s, the Chinese had cleverly divided Tibet administratively and had amalgamated the provinces of Kham and Amdo into the neighbouring Chinese provinces of Sichuan, Yunnan, Gansu, and Qinghai.
When the Tibetan delegates "proposed that the three provinces of Tibet be reunited and there should be only one Tibet," the Chinese answered that this position was 'not realistic'.
“'Tibet is already divided; these administrative arrangements have already been made long ago. This has been ratified by the People's Congress. It is in the [Chinese] Constitution,” they told the Dalai Lama's delegates.
"They were always repeating the same thing… I did not feel that a very substantive discussion was taking place," said Tobgyal. When they left, the Chinese officials told them: "Please come again, you are always welcome."
It was again the Dalai Lama’s brother who reopened the doors to a dialogue in 2002 and paved the way for Lodi Gyari's visit.
An article published at that time in China Today reiterated the 1993 position: “There is no historical basis for an administrative division such as 'Greater Tibet' area... such an idea is totally absurd.”
The writer adds: “Then why does the Dalai Lama insist on this groundless and impossible concept of 'Greater Tibet area?” He concluded: “The Chinese government will not be fooled!”
Apart from the definition of Tibet, another unbridgeable difference is the Dalai Lama’s position on a democratic set-up for Tibet.
“Fundamental human rights and democratic freedoms must be respected in Tibet,” says the third point of the Peace Plan presented to the US Congress. “The Tibetan people must once again be free to develop culturally, intellectually, economically and spiritually, and to exercise basic democratic freedoms.” Why can’t Premier Wen Jiabao meet the Dalai Lama?
Premier Zhou Enlai, the Panchen Lama and the Dalai Lama during a meeting with Chairman Mao in 1955
Now if there is no point (for the Tibetans at least) to resume a dialogue, which has never started, what is the solution?
Let us not forget that the Dalai Lama, when he first visited Beijing in 1954, used to have regular formal and informal meetings with Mao Zedong and others senior Communist leaders. When he arrived in the Chinese capital, he was even received with great pomp at the railway station by the Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai, Deng Xiaoping and other senior dignitaries.
Later in 1957, when the Dalai Lama was in India for the 2,500th anniversary of the Buddha Jayanti, he met the Chinese Premier several times and had in-depth discussions about Tibet and the welfare of his people.
Today, why can’t Premier Wen Jiabao meet the Tibetan leader and try to sort out some of the thorniest issues?
This is where the Western Governments and the Government of India can help. Only several meetings at the highest level can unblock a process frozen for the past 50 years.
But a question remains: does China have a Tibet policy on which its leadership agrees?Claude Arpi is an expert on the history of Tibet, China and the subcontinent. He was born in Angoulême, France. After graduating from Bordeaux University in 1974, he moved to India and settled in Auroville, Pondicherry, where he now lives with his Indian wife and young daughter.
The author of numerous English and French books including
The Fate of Tibet; La Politique Française de Nehru: 1947-1954; Born in Sin: the Panchsheel Agreement and India and Her Neighbourhood. He writes regularly on Tibet, China, India and Indo-French relations.
In this exclusive column, he explains why Tibetans are weary of the unending dialogue with China.