(To be read in continuation of my article of November 3, 2008, titled Status Quo Plus)
How trustworthy is China on Tibet? Do the words, promises and commitments of its leaders have any value? What are the options available to the Tibetan people in dealing with an economic power, which the international community is not prepared to displease because of the perceived dependence on Chinese co-operation for re-stabilising the global economy? Are the Tibetan people condemned to extinction, with neither India nor the West prepared to support their cause for autonomy? What after the Dalai Lama? Will his death also mean the death of the Tibetan cause?
These were the questions and concerns that were uppermost in the minds 560 prominent Tibetan personalities from the Tibetan diaspora in India and the rest of the world, who participated in a Special General Meeting convened by His Holiness the Dalai Lama at Dharamsala in Himachal Pradesh " to hold an extensive discussion and debate with regard to the Tibetan cause in the light of recent emergency events in Tibet and the international scenario."
His Holiness himself did not attend the meeting, which was held from November 17 to 22,2008. The meeting was held against the background of the ruthless crushing of the uprising in the Tibetan majority areas of China in March and April last by the Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA) and the failure of the resumed dialogue between the Chinese authorities and the representatives of His Holiness to find a way forward for meeting the aspirations of the Tibetan people. The Chinese had agreed to the resumption of the dialogue earlier stalled by them under international pressure after the uprising. The two meetings held in China by visiting representatives of His Holiness made it apparent that the Chinese were merely buying time in order to prevent a boycott of the Olympics by world leaders.
Hopes that after the Olympics, the Chinese leaders would adopt a softer line on the future of Tibet have been belied. There was one meeting before the Olympics and one after the Olympics. The meeting held after the Olympics ( 8th round from October 30 to November 5, 2008) made it painfully clear that the Chinese stance has further hardened. During the seventh round of talks in Beijing on July 1 and 2, 2008, the Vice Chairman of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference and the Minister of the Central United Front Work Department, Mr. Du Qinglin, invited suggestions from His Holiness for the stability and development of Tibet. The Executive Vice Minister of the Central United Front Work Department, Mr. Zhu Weiqun, further said they would like to hear the views of the Dalai Lama's representatives on the degree or form of autonomy they were seeking as well as on all aspects of regional autonomy within the scope of the Constitution of the People's Republic of China (PRC). In response to the Chinese request, the Dalai Lama's team, which, as before, consisted of Lodi Gyaltsen Gyari and Kelsang Gyaltsen submitted to their Chinese interlocutors during the 8th round a Memorandum outlining the position of His Holiness on the autonomy issue. To their surprise, the Chinese contemptuously rejected the Memo and refused to discuss the issue of autonomy. A summary of the Memo as released by the Tibetan delegation is annexed.
The hardening of the Chinese stance after the Olympics can be attributed to the following reasons:
- First, the manner in which France and other Western countries eased their
pressure on the human rights issue after the Chinese people threatened to
boycott Western goods made Beijing realise the power of the economic card
which it now wields against the West.
- Second, the economic melt-down in the West and its anxiety to secure
Chinese co-operation and assistance for re-stabilising the global economy
made it even more unlikely than in the past that the West would extend
any concrete support to the Tibetan cause apart from pro forma lip sympathy.
- Third, speculation about health problems faced by the Dalai Lama made them feel that it was only a question of time before he disappeared from the scene and that once he is dead they can have a Dalai Lama of their choice nominated and sound the death-knell of the Tibetan cause.
Taken aback by this denial which came on the eve of the Special General meeting, Gyalo Thondup addressed the international media, which had assembled at Dharamsala, on November 19, 2008, to give his version. To quote him:
"I am shocked to hear such a statement from the Chinese officials because it was myself to whom the late paramount leader, Deng Xiaoping, said, "except independence all other issues can be settled through discussions,".Deng Xiaoping is no longer with us today. But to put the record straight I would like to clarify in front of international media that during my first visit to China in 1979 I met the paramount leader Deng Xiaoping on 12 March 1979. He told me "except independence all other issues can be settled through discussions."
Juchen Thubten Namgyal, who also addressed the press conference, said: "I am totally surprised to learn that Mr Zhu Weiqun recently denied Deng Xiaoping’s statement. As a member of the first Tibetan exploratory mission, we met with Vice-premier Yang Jireng, who was also the head of the Central United Front Work Department and Nationality Affairs Commission and others on 29 April 1982. I sought confirmation from Yang Jireng whether Deng Xiaoping had made such a statement. He did not deny this fact."
According to the advisers of His Holiness, on March 1,1979, Ulanfu, Minister for Nationality Affairs Commission, told Gyalo Thondup: " The Dalai Lama and the Tibetans in exile are welcome to return to their home and contribute towards the development and progress of the nation. Suitable arrangements could be made for everyone upon their return. The Dalai Lama had not made contacts with the Soviet Union. Therefore, apart from independence, we can solve any problem."
The advisers of His Holiness pointed out that a record of statements made by former Chinese leaders and official documents authenticated the statement made by Deng and Ulanfu. In an interview with the Xinhua News agency on May 19,1991, China’s then Premier Li Peng said: "All matters except Tibetan independence could be discussed". His statement was later emphasised in a newsletter released by the Embassy of the People’s Republic of China in Washington DC, regarding the "Questions concerning negotiations between the Central Government of China and the Dalai Lama."
According to the advisers, during a state visit to China from May 18 to 23, 1992, the then Indian President R Venkataraman was told by Premier Li Peng that " … we are willing to talk to him about anything except the issue of the so-called independence of Tibet." A White Paper released by the Information office of the State Council of the PRC in September 1992 reiterated that "all matters except Tibetan independence can be discussed".
Gyalo Thondup told the media:
"Some hardliner communist officials, who hold high up position in the Chinese Government, treat Tibet as a personal belonging in their pocket and deliberately intend to scuttle the dialogue process to resolve the issue of Tibet.
The Tibetan people will continue to demand their legitimate and reasonable rights as given to other minority nationalities entitled in the constitution of the People’s Republic of China. The legitimate rights of Tibetans are rights to freedom, thinking, speech, religion, travel, to promote and preserve Tibet’s culture. We must not lose faith and plead to the Chinese Government for our legitimate rights. As a Tibetan, I'm convinced that we must all live together. Therefore it is very important for the Tibetan people not to lose hope and to keep a good relationship with people in China. We are sandwiched between China and India, both very important countries. I was always critical with the Chinese face to face in Beijing, and now I'm desperate, that's why I told people in the Chinese Embassy in Delhi that there's no choice [but to talk]. We must face the reality that we have to deal with China. The people of China will eventually realize that what we are asking is legitimate.
A commentary on Tibet disseminated by the official Xinhua news agency on November 21,2008, coinciding with the meeting, said: " Its purpose is to set up a 'half independent' or 'covertly independent' political entity controlled by the Dalai clique on one quarter of the Chinese territory.And when conditions are ripe, they will seek to realise 'complete Tibet independence'." Qin Gang, a spokesman of the Chinese Foreign Ministry, was quoted as saying as follows: "Our position on Tibet is clear and resolute. Any attempt to separate Tibet from China is doomed to fail.The so-called Tibetan government-in-exile is not recognised by any government in the world."
In the light of the Chinese repudiation of their past commitments and statements, the Special General Meeting discussed whether any useful purpose would be served by continuing with the dialogue with the Chinese and whether the time had not come to call off the dialogue with the Chinese officials, abandon the Middle Path of autonomy so far followed and start a full-fledged struggle for independence. This view is particularly shared by the younger Tibetans belonging to the Tibetan Youth Congress. A question posed by many during the discussions was: When the Chinese are not even prepared to discuss autonomy, what is the point in continuing the dialogue with them?
There was unanimity against accepting the status quo. The meeting reiterated its faith in the continuing leadership of His Holiness and decided to continue with the present objective of a Middle Path. It also stressed that the Tibetans would continue to adhere to non-violence. The relevant portions from the final summary of conclusions of the meeting are given below:
(a). "The Central Tibetan Administration is the sole and legitimate representative of the Tibetans in and outside Tibet, which the CTA has inherited from many centuries. This historical experience of the Tibetan people proves the baselessness of the recent rhetoric and propaganda of the Chinese Government, which says that His Holiness the Dalai Lama and the Central Tibetan Administration have no right to represent Tibet and the Tibetan people. The Tibetans in and outside Tibet strongly oppose such remarks."
(b)."Based on the suggestions received to this Special General Meeting from in and outside Tibet and after frank and candid discussions held by the delegates in regard to the future policy of Tibet, it came to an unanimous decision to straightly follow the guidance of His Holiness the Dalai Lama based on the prevailing situation from time to time. Majority decision was to continue the policy of Middle-Way-Approach. Besides that, looking at the Chinese Government's behavior in the past, views to stop sending envoys and to pursue complete independence or self-determination if no result comes out in the near future, were also strongly expressed."
(c)."The Middle-Way-Approach, independence or self-determination, whatever is pursued in the Tibetan struggle, we shall not deviate from the path of non-violence to achieve our aims."
(d)."His Holiness the Dalai Lama and the Central Tibetan Administration in an effort to resolve the Sino-Tibetan problem, by adopting the Middle-Way-Approach, a memorandum on genuine autonomy for the Tibetan people, within the framework of the constitution of the PRC, was recently presented to the Chinese Government. Leave alone giving positive response, the PRC Government rejected every single clause of the memorandum and accused the CTA of seeking independence, semi-independence or independence in disguised form. Therefore, the dialogue process did not produce any substantive result to the Sino-Tibetan problem and the whole responsibility of this failure is solely with the PRC government."
(e). "Because the PRC had alleged that they have evidence to prove that the recent unrest in Tibet had been 'triggered, instigated, planned and orchestrated' by the 'Dalai clique', His Holiness the Dalai Lama and the Central Tibetan Administration insisted that an international investigating body be allowed to travel to Tibet to verify the PRC's claims. And that delegates from China can also visit Dharamsala to investigate and validate their allegation. However, the PRC did not have the gumption to accept both these suggestions. Moreover, the PRC could not even bring forth one single evidence in support of their claims before the world audience. This has clearly pointed to the fact that demonstrations and protests in Tibet since March this year are because of the repressive policies adopted by the PRC towards Tibet and Tibetans since its occupation. Therefore, the PRC government should accept responsibilities for their mistakes."
(f)."This is to reiterate, through this Special General Meeting, that the cause of the Tibetan struggle is a struggle for the rights of Tibetans. It is a struggle against the wrong policies of the PRC towards Tibet and Tibetans. The Tibetan struggle is in no way against the Chinese people, as it is being portrayed by the PRC."
(g)."In order to destroy Tibetan Buddhism, the PRC instituted new regulations on measures for the recognition of incarnate lamas or 'Living Buddhas'. We totally oppose any interference by a Government which is avowedly atheist in spiritual affairs for political advantage. We strongly oppose the 'Patriotic Education' campaign that is being increasingly forced down in various monasteries in Tibet."
It is not clear whether His Holiness would take the initiative for another round of talks with the Chinese. The position seems to be that while the doors are open for more talks, the initiative has to come from the Chinese. It needs to be noted that the post-Olympics hardening of the Chinese stand on Tibet has been accompanied by what seems to be a post-Olympics hardening of the Chinese position on the Sino-Indian border talks during which the Chinese continue to insist on the transfer of at least Tawang in Arunachal Pradesh to China. It is understood that the Dalai Lama proposes to hold a meeting of the international well-wishers of the Tibetan cause to brief them on the deliberations of the Special General Meeting, which was restricted to Tibetans and seek their views.
B. Raman is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt of
India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies,
Chennai. He is also associated with the Chennai Centre For China Studies.