By Claude Arpi
July 23, 2008
Lobsang Tenzin, better known as Professor Samdhong Rinpoche, the Kalon Tripa, or Prime Minister of the Tibetan government in exile, lights a candle after inaugurating a Tibetan Library in South India. A close associate of the Dalai Lama, he was elected Prime Minister of the Central Tibetan Administration, based in Dharamsala, India, in 2001. (Picture courtesy Claude Arpi. Any unauthorised reproduction is prohibited.)
On March 10, unrest erupted in Tibet. While the Chinese said Tibetans had attacked Han Chinese, looting their businesses and homes in Lhasa, the Tibetan government in exile said the spontaneous peaceful demonstrations only expressed the resentment of a population suppressed under China's colonial rule for the past 58 years.
Since then, the protests have been ruthlessly quelled by the Chinese authorities all over the Tibetan populated areas.
It is in this context that a new round of talks was held in Beijing on July 1 and 2 between the Dalai Lama's Representatives and the Chinese authorities. Before the meeting, many thought that Beijing would have to make some concessions to the Tibetans in the true spirit of the Olympics. It was not to be so.
`I don`t think the Dalai Lama is qualified to represent Tibet. If he ever did, it was before 1959, ` declared Dong Yunhu, the new director-general of the information office of the State Council.
Claude Arpi travelled to Dharamsala and met Prof Samdhong Rinpoche, the Gandhian scholar and Prime Minister of the Tibetan government-in-exile, for his views on the situation inside Tibet and the current dialogue with Beijing. Could you tell us your feelings after the 7th round of talks between your Envoys and the Chinese officials in Beijing on July 1 and 2?
The 6th Round of dialogue was held at the beginning of July last year. We requested the People's Republic of China (PRC) to have a 7th round within the year 2007. In case that was not possible, we wanted it to be held latest by February 2008. Otherwise it should be postponed till the end of 2008 or beginning of 2009. Why?
We felt that it was not proper to engage the Chinese during the Olympic Year. We knew that they would be busy and the world would have different expectations [towards China]. We thought of keeping a low profile till the Games were completed. But things did not go the way that we had expected. Since March 10 this year, Tibet witnessed widespread protests. They were not localized in one place, it occurred in all regions where Tibetan 'nationalities' are living, including in Beijing where some Tibetan youth are studying. These peaceful protests which erupted everywhere were very very heavily put down. So much violence and force has been used against the protesters! The reaction of the world was quite forceful, so His Holiness [the Dalai Lama] thought that it was not the appropriate time to keep quiet, and that he should reach out to the People's Republic of China. He decided to write a letter to President Hu Jintao to ask him not to use force inside Tibet. He also said that if there was any way he could help to bring back normalcy in Tibet, he was willing to do it. This letter has not been made public?
No, it is not public. Thereafter, our two Envoys had informal discussions with the PRC's counterparts on May 4 in Shenzhen near Hong Kong. It was during this discussion that it was decided to have the 7th round of talks sometimes in June. It did not materialize in June, but was finally held on July 1 and 2 in Beijing. The talks did not bring any results. We are quite disappointed. It was not proper to have the 7th Round in haste. The PRC's authorities were busy with the earthquake relief and the organization of the Olympics. So despite the fact that the 7th round was held, no tangible results could be achieved. This gives a very negative impression to the people inside Tibet as well as the people who are supporting us worldwide. The Chinese authorities have put new conditions?
During the informal talks in May, the Chinese called for Three Stops: Stop separatist activities, Stop violence inside Tibet, Stop sabotaging the Olympic Games. During the 7th round, the Three Stops were changed into Four Not Supporting: (not supporting separatist activities, not supporting violence, not supporting the sabotage of the Olympic Games and not supporting the Youth Congress). This was in Shenzhen or in Beijing?
The Three Stops were in Shenzhen and the Four Not-Supporting in Beijing. The Chinese officials said they are very liberal, and since His Holiness has himself declared that he is not engaged in any of these activities, they accept his stand. But now he should actively not-support, meaning he should oppose those who carry on such activities. It means a change in their stand. At this moment we are very much worried about what will happen inside Tibet after the Olympics. What will happen there at the ground level? Have the Chinese authorities in Tibet freed all the prisoners? I read a communiqué stating that they freed 1,000 people."
Maybe. It is possible. The world is powerless. Nothing can stop them doing whatever they want. At this moment, nobody has been sentenced to death, though many people were killed in March. In different parts of Tibet?
Yes, everywhere. Though no death sentence has been handed over till now, the point is that thousands are still of undergoing trial. And After the Olympic Games are over, the Chinese authorities will probably come down very heavily on them. They will also bring more [armed] forces inside Tibet and increase the transfer of [Han] population. The post Olympics is therefore more dangerous than the present moment. The Chinese are always talking of violence and terrorism from our side, which is clearly impossible. Though they keep mentioning this, no Tibetan will indulge in violence or terrorism. Recently, some news circulated on the Internet saying that there is a Tibetan Liberation Army and that they recruited suicide bombers. It appears that this [rumour] was instigated by the PRC itself. We can't believe that Tibetans will do such things. We have also received other information that there will be disturbances in Dharamsala and other important places where Tibetans are settled during the Olympics. Under different pretexts (such as the Shugden cult), sabotage, destruction or conflict with the local people could be created. We are scared at the moment. What has been the reaction of the Government of India to these threats?
The Government of India is very alert. They are doing whatever they can do to prevent such things to happen. Do you feel that within the Chinese government some officials are more open and realize that a deal with the Dalai Lama is ultimately the best thing for the PRC? That is very clear, the (Chinese) leadership is vertically divided. But for the time being the hardliners have prevailed and the liberals have been sidelined. The situation inside Tibet as well as the Olympics has compelled the liberals to lay low and the hardliners have kept the upper hand. There is a great nationalist movement within China today?
That is why nothing can happen now. The Dalai Lama recently mentioned (in Ajmer) a Five Point proposal that he has received from Beijing? Are you aware of it?
I have no idea. This probably refers to an old proposal [a Memorandum from the Chinese Government to the Dalai Lama in 1981. These Five Points only refer to the future status of the Dalai Lama if he returns to China]. There is nothing new. Are you optimistic?
Of course we are optimistic for the future, but not for the near future. Is it not a race against time as the Chinese are resettling more and more migrants into Tibet?
Yes, it is a race. The PRC has full control over Tibet and can do whatever they wish. Today in the world, nobody has the power to stop them.