June 2, 2008
   Posted in News Flash
Published By Tashi

For Talks To Succeed, China Must Admit to a Tibet Problem

Monday, 2 June 2008, 9:34 a.m.

Hong Kong: China’s
hard-line policy towards Tibet creates more problems than it solves.
Beijing’s recent crackdown on Tibetan protesters has attracted
condemnation from around the world, but did nothing to address the
underlying problems in Tibet itself. If Beijing is serious about
securing Tibet’s long-term future as part of China, it needs to put
aside its past enmity towards the Dalai Lama – and Michael Davis, law
professor at Chinese University of Hong Kong, offers a strategy for
China to pursue. Only by acknowledging that the human-rights issue
cannot be separated from the country’s unity and negotiating with the
Dalai Lama will Beijing achieve the goal that both Beijing and the
Dalai Lama claim to share: an autonomous Tibet that remains part of
China while retaining its own Tibetan identity. – YaleGlobal

China should view the Dalai Lama as a partner, not an opponent

–Michael C. Davis

Under the glare of the Beijing Olympics, China’s failed policies in
Tibet have moved to the front pages of newspapers worldwide. Under
international pressure Chinese officials resumed their dialogue with
the representatives of the Dalai Lama on May 4. The parties agreed to
continue the ongoing dialogue that began in 2002 and included six
rounds of meetings. Chinese officials emphasized that they’ll approach
these renewed meetings with “great patience and sincerity.” Chinese
officials have long promised that anything can be discussed if the
Dalai Lama stops seeking independence, which the Dalai Lama has
repeatedly said is not his goal. The talks can succeed if China proves
its promised sincerity by first acknowledging that there is a Tibet
issue and the Dalai Lama’s representatives are the best interlocutors
to resolve it.

The depth of Tibetan anger about Chinese policies, expressed
during March demonstrations, shocked the world. Tibetans who took to
the streets faced certain Chinese crackdown. The world was disappointed
by the toxic Chinese official reaction and by the rather nationalistic
popular demonstrations that followed the Olympic torch around the
world. High Officials labeled the Nobel Peace Laureate Dalai Lama a
“wolf in monk’s robes,” a “serial liar” and a “slave owner.” Is
sincerity likely in the face of this continuing vilification?

For the Chinese, hosting the Olympics symbolizes China’s
emergence on the world stage as a responsible great power, and indeed,
people expect a high standard of behaviour from an Olympic host. While
the Tibet issue is generally seen as posing a serious challenge to
Beijing, it can also offer an opportunity for China to prove its
sincerity and responsible behavior. China has historically set up
obstacles to successful dialogue on Tibet, yet can now take steps to
demonstrate its sincerity.

First, China should accept at face value the Dalai Lama’s
repeated statements that he does not seek independence. A protracted
discussion about the “true intentions” of this highly respected Tibetan
leader serves no purpose. Both sides have long conceded that Tibet
should remain part of China and that it should be autonomous. The Dalai
Lama has proposed “genuine autonomy” under what he calls the “middle
way” approach. The Chinese side has not offered a response through six
years of protracted discussions.

Second, China should drop its attacks on traditional Tibetan
governance. The Chinese side has long accused the Dalai Lama of
formerly running a feudal theocracy, as if this is what awaits an
autonomous Tibet. Surely China was equally feudal before the founding
of the People’s Republic of China. But these accusations are irrelevant
since the Dalai Lama proposes to step down from any temporal role and
to establish democracy, human rights and the rule of law under his
“middle way” approach.

Third, in these discussions China should avoid its oft-stated
historical title claim. Chinese officials are fond of arguing that
Tibet has for centuries been “an inseparable part of China” as a
strategy to deny that there is a Tibet issue. If independence is off
the table and the goal is autonomy, this claim is irrelevant. Even if
such history were taken seriously, it is not clear it would work in
China’s favor. China’s claim of 700 years of imperial patronage offers
little that would justify a modern state’s claims to territory. Of more
relevance to autonomy, China never directly governed Tibet until the
PRC took over in the 1950s. It is uncontested that through these long
centuries Tibet remained largely Tibetan. Chinese census data reports
that the Tibet Autonomous Region, the largest Tibetan area, is still 92
percent inhabited by ethnic Tibetans today.

Fourth, China should accept that the Tibet issue is one of
human rights rather than insist that the only issue is national unity.
A superficial examination of reality refutes this claim. In the heady
days after the Chinese revolution, the Chinese failed to live up to
their obligations, imposing repressive radical leftist policies.
China’s former party leader, Hu Yaobang acknowledged this in the 1980s
and apologized. Human-rights violations continue, and the Dalai Lama
recently asked China to end repressive policies, release prisoners,
open Tibet up to the media and stop the “patriotic reeducation”
campaign which denigrates traditional Tibetan culture.

Fifth, China should avoid using its own constitution as an
obstacle to settlement. On its face, the Chinese constitution allows
greater flexibility than Chinese officials concede. The Chinese
Constitution allows for two forms of autonomy, including the type of
national minority autonomy now applied to Tibetan areas and the more
substantial autonomy reflected in the creation of special
administrative regions, as now applies in Hong Kong. The former,
applied nationwide to implement Communist Party control in designated
minority areas, offers little genuine autonomy and does not seem to
allow the level of autonomy proposed under the “middle way” approach.
Chinese officials have argued that the Hong Kong model cannot be
applied in Tibet because Tibet has not involved the regaining of
sovereignty and has already undergone democratic and socialist reform.
Tibetan efforts to push forward their genuine autonomy model under
either approach have proven futile. Even a superficial look at Tibetan
history refutes the claim that sovereignty has never been an issue and
that Tibet has always been an inseparable part of China. The failure of
democratic and socialist reform in Tibet and nationwide is equally

Sixth, China should stop viewing genuine autonomy as
“splittist.” Officially the country has 55 national minorities. Would
other minorities demand the same treatment or would Tibetans use
autonomy as a platform for independence? That Tibetans have long been
considered distinctive among these groups is evident in the 1951
“17-point Agreement for the Peaceful Liberation of Tibet,” the only
agreement of its kind entered with a so-called national minority.
Practically, only one other minority in China poses such risk – the
Uighur Muslims in Xinjiang. Because of assimilation or location, other
minorities are not likely to seek independence. A peaceful and fair
Tibetan settlement, in fact, would offer a positive example for the

Seventh, China should abandon the constant suspicion of foreign
interference. China is too big and powerful a nation to wallow in this
victim mentality. In an age of ethnic wars and terror, the treatment of
a domestic indigenous minority is increasingly a matter of
international concern. With the September 2007 passage of the UN
Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, standards for the
autonomy of indigenous ethnic groups have become more concrete. While
China claims not to have any indigenous peoples, these standards may
still provide a useful guideline. Tibetans are clearly distinctive as
to their land, history, language, culture, religion, customs and

Eighth, China should simply enter into negotiations with the
Tibetan side over the boundary of an autonomous Tibet. Historically
dividing Tibet into 13 areas, China has objected to the Tibetan request
that all contiguous Tibetan-populated areas be united into one
autonomous Tibet. Tibetans argue that since they are not seeking
independence this should not be a problem. Compromise that considers
current ethnic distribution and the protection of Tibetan culture
should be possible.

The suggested actions offer a yardstick by which China can
prove its sincerity and win the confidence of the Tibetan people and
the world. The Dalai Lama is the rare negotiating partner with the
capability to win over even the more skeptical segment of the Tibetan
community. China should take advantage of this opportunity.

–The writer is a professor of law at Chinese University of Hong
Kong. For further analysis of this issue see Michael C. Davis,
“Establishing a Workable Autonomy in Tibet, Human Rights Quarterly, Vol
30, 227-58, May 2008”. The views expressed here are those of the
writer, and not necessarily of the Central Tibetan Administration


Share with your friends