The Dalai Lama has almost given up hope on securing a breakthrough with China on Tibet’s future status. This may delight the Chinese but their celebrations are bound to be short-lived. By failing to reach an accord, China has prepared the ground for strife
Addressing a large audience at the annual Foundation Day of the Tibetan Children’s Village in Dharamsala, the Dalai Lama surprised many when he declared that his faith in the Chinese Government was “thinning” and that he could not anymore accept the responsibility of the negotiations with Beijing.
He told the gathering: “It’s difficult to talk to those who don’t believe in truth (the Chinese). I have clearly mentioned that I still have faith in the Chinese people, but my faith in the Chinese Government is thinning. I have been saying that it’s getting difficult.”
He reminded the large gathering and especially the children about the March/April riots in Tibet: “In the recent past, a crisis has occurred in Tibet. From all over the three regions, individual Tibetans have shown their deep resentment and despair with great courage — not only monks and nuns, but Government workers, students and especially those from the Central Nationalities University in Beijing.” He then added: “(At that time), I had hoped that the Chinese Government would investigate the reality and come up with a realistic solution, but unfortunately it didn’t happen. Reality cannot be erased.”
His office later clarified that the main issue was that there was no positive response from Beijing. Despite “sincerely pursuing the mutually beneficial middle-way policy… (the Dalai Lama) lost hope in trying to reach a solution with the present Chinese leadership which is simply not willing to address the issues.”
This was the background of his decision to call for an emergency meeting which would decide the future course of action for the Tibetan political struggle.
Considering the ‘serious situation inside Tibet’, the Dalai Lama used Article 59 of the Tibetan Charter that empowers him to call a ‘special meeting’ which will now be held from November 17 to 22 in Dharamsala. Kalons (Cabinet Ministers), current and former members of the Tibetan Parliament in exile, Government officials, Tibetan NGOs, and intellectuals will participate in the deliberations. A proposal will then be presented to the Dalai Lama for his approval.
But let’s go back in history. In 1973, in his annual March 10 statement, the Tibetan leader had outlined his prime aspiration — the happiness of six million Tibetans. “If the Tibetans in Tibet are truly happy under Chinese rule, then there is no reason for us here in exile to argue otherwise.” During the following 35 years, this has remained his motivation while dealing with the Chinese.
On March 10, 1978 he declared that the Tibetans living in exile should be allowed to visit Tibet and vice-versa. At the end of the year, his brother, Gyalo Thondup, had several meetings with a Chinese official in Hong Kong. Mr Deng Xiaoping, the new Chinese leader, was informed of their conversations. Mr Thondup was invited to Beijing to discuss the situation in Tibet.
The meeting between Mr Deng Xiaoping and the Dalai Lama’s brother took place in Beijing in February 1979. Mr Deng Xiaoping told Mr Thondup that he would like to invite the refugees in India and abroad to return to Tibet: “It is better (for them) to see once than to hear a hundred times”.
He then stated: “The door is opened for negotiations as long as we don’t speak about independence. Everything else is negotiable”. This statement later became the basis for the Dalai Lama’s ‘Middle-Path’ approach.
Soon after the Deng-Thondup meeting, three ‘fact-finding’ delegations were sent by the Dalai Lama to Tibet. In March 1981, the Dalai Lama wrote to Mr Deng Xiaoping: “With truth and equality as our foundations, we must try to develop friendship between Tibetans and Chinese through better understanding in the future. The time has come to apply, with a sense of urgency, our common wisdom in a spirit of tolerance and broad-mindedness in order to achieve genuine happiness for the Tibetans.”
The answer of the Chinese Government came indirectly in July 1981 through China’s Embassy in New Delhi. Unfortunately, it only mentioned the status of the Dalai Lama and his future role, in case he came back to the ‘motherland’: “The Dalai Lama could enjoy the same political status and living conditions as he had before 1959.”
This was not acceptable to the Dalai Lama and his exiled countrymen. The Tibetan leader wanted to ‘negotiate’ the happiness and fate of his six million countrymen, not his own future.
Till today, the Chinese leaders have maintained the same approach: They are ready to talk about the Dalai Lama’s status and role, not about Tibet’s status, which according to them was fixed once and for all in 1951 when Tibet was ‘liberated’. This has always been objected to by the Dalai Lama.
The Dalai Lama nevertheless continued his search for a negotiated settlement. In April 1982, a delegation left for Beijing for preliminary talks with the Chinese authorities. The Chinese stuck to their guns. Nothing came out of the talks.
Having reached a dead-end, the Dalai Lama decided in 1987-88 to change his policy and internationalise the Tibet issue. What triggered this change was what he himself called the ‘vast seas’ of Chinese migrants who “threaten the very existence of the Tibetans as a distinct people”.
On June 18, 1988, he crossed the Rubicon. On that day, the Tibetan leader formalised the ‘Middle Path’ approach which for him is ‘meaningful autonomy’ for the Tibetans within the People’s Republic of China.
While addressing the members of European Parliament in Strasbourg, he explained: “I thought for a long time on how to achieve a realistic solution to my nation’s plight.” He elucidated: “Tibet should become a self-governing democratic political entity founded on law by agreement of the people for common good and the protection of themselves and their environment, in association with the People’s Republic of China.”
By this declaration, he renounced ‘independence’, a dream cherished by millions of Tibetans, especially the younger generation which was torn between their aspiration for freedom and their love for their leader.
From September 2002 till July 2008, the Dalai Lama’s special envoys met Chinese officials on seven occasions, but no progress was made.
Retrospectively, what has been achieved during the past 30 years? Practically nothing! Shouldn’t New Delhi have been more proactive and helped facilitate a decent solution? Now positions will probably harden further. This will certainly not enhance China’s international image and will ultimately create more tension within that country.