Tibetan Bulletin – Nov-Dec. 2004
Snow Lion And Dragon: Can They Coexist In Harmony?
In the years 2002 and 2003, we saw a glimmer of hope for dialogue between Tibetans and the Chinese government, when the latter hosted two visits by His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s delegation. The first visit took place in September 2002. In the words of Lodi Gyari, leader of the delegation, his team had two missions:a) To re-establish direct contact with the leadership in Beijing and to create a conducive atmosphere enabling direct face-to-face meetings on a regular basis in the future; and b) To explain His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s Middle Way Approach towards resolving the issue of Tibet.
On returning from the visit, Lodi Gyari said he had a positive impression of the attitude of leaders in Beijing. Then, in May-June 2003, Lodi Gyari and his team paid a second visit to Tibet and China. The visit came soon after a change in the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party and government. Lodi Gyari said he and his team had an opportunity to engage extensively with the new Chinese leaders and officials responsible for Tibetan affairs.
Later, the Chinese Premier Wen Jiaobao was quoted in the media as having said, “So long as he (Dalai Lama) genuinely abandons his position on seeking Tibetan independence and publicly recognizes Tibet and Taiwan as inalienable parts of Chinese territory, then contacts and discussions between him and the central government can resume”.
This statement came as a disappointment to all the well-wishers of Tibet and China.
His Holiness the Dalai Lama has said for the umpteenth time that he is not seeking Tibet’s independence. Moreover, China knows for certain that His Holiness’ recognition of Taiwan as part of China is neither relevant to Sino-Tibetan dialogue, nor will it change the ground reality. China also knows that there is no moral justification for His Holiness to make such a recognition.
The question is why does China blow hot and cold on a dialogue from which it has everything to gain and nothing to lose? What point is it trying to make?
Those with any experience of negotiating with Beijing have found that it is a painful exercise, one that is fraught with frustrations and disappointments. Often, you will be led to believe that you are warming towards a solution, only to find the next moment that the carpet has been pulled from under your feet. But when you imagine that dialogue is no longer what they want, you will find yourself presented with a seemingly positive overture.
Where actually will this see-saw lead the Tibetan issue is anyone’s guess. According to a Tibetan scholar at an Ivy League university in the United States, Beijing has long had a thoroughly prepared grand scheme for negotiating with Dharamsala. This scheme has three formats, namely the Hard-line, the Moderate, and the Liberal. As the contact proceeds, the Chinese leaders will swap back and forth between the three formats, depending on their perception of China’s own strength, international situation, the strength of their “opponent”, the internal power struggle within the Communist Party, and any number of other equations. This observation seems to hold true when one looks at the history of Tibet-China conflict, starting from the first peace initiative of His Holiness the Dalai Lama.
Mao’s hubris and poison
When His Holiness assumed Tibet’s political power at the age of 16 in November 1950, the advancing People’s Liberation Army of China was already in control of large parts of eastern Tibet. His Holiness appealed to Mao Zedong to withdraw the troops and begin peaceful negotiations to improve relations between Tibet and China.
This appeal was to fall on the deaf ear of the diehard advocate of “power flowing from the barrel of a gun”. Awash in the glory of his victory against the Nationalist, the hubristic Mao felt that China’s awakened masses now had the military muscle to carry far and wide the torch of his revolutionary empire.
In 1951, when the Tibetan negotiators resisted what the Chinese called “The 17-point Agreement for the Peaceful Liberation of Tibet”, Mao gave them two choices: “Welcome the peaceful liberation or face armed liberation.”Incidentally, the “Agreement” was the prototype of the “one-country, two-systems” formula. It promised not to interfere in Tibet’s internal affairs and way of life.
Not long after the signing of the “Agreement”, a detachment of 3,000 Chinese soldiers arrived in Lhasa, followed by another contingent and still another. Lhasa was beginning to look increasingly like one huge military camp. Worse, the soldiers did not bring their food supplies. They requisitioned food from the government and monasteries of Tibet. Food prices soared; shadows of starvation loomed over the Tibetan capital. There was widespread anger and anguish. Children started singing songs disparaging of the occupation. Wall posters screamed: “Chinese go home. Tibet is independent.” The Chinese generals threatened repression unless the Tibetan government banned the songs, posters and public meetings against the occupation. The government resisted the generals’ demand. Dark clouds of full-blown confrontation between the armed soldiers and defenseless populace brooded low over the plateau.
In 1954 His Holiness the Dalai Lama visited China at the invitation of Mao. His Holiness thought he could use the opportunity of the visit to avert the worst. He had five meetings with Mao. In the first meeting, Mao told His Holiness that the People’s Liberation Army would help in the development of Tibet, and then return home after about ten years, when Tibetans would be in a position to help China. The parting words of China’s helmsman were: “Religion is poison…Tibet and Mongolia have both been poisoned by it.”
Two years later, Mao’s People’s Liberation Army launched a campaign to weed out this “poison” from eastern Tibet. Monasteries were bombed and spiritual figures forced to defrock. Many were executed. Armed resistance ensued. By 1959 the political situation in Tibet had escalated to such a point that it was no longer possible for His Holiness the Dalai Lama to remain in Tibet and continue the peace process.
Soon China launched the campaign of “democratic reforms”,under which tens of thousands died. Many more were sent to jails and labor camps. The new master of Tibet was determined to wipe out every vestige of Tibet’s distinct identity. Under such circumstances, anger was the dominant emotion and the prospect of peace receded like a distant dream of a mad idealist.
Compassion and forgiveness
Yet, there was one such “idealist”. His Holiness the Dalai Lama persisted in his belief in the inherent goodness of all human beings, including the Chinese people. Addressing a press conference on 20 June 1959 at his temporary headquarters in the north-Indian hill-station of Mussoorie, His Holiness said Tibetans did not “cherish any feeling of enmity and hatred against the Great Chinese people… We must insist on the creation of a favorable climate by the immediate adoption of the essential measures as a condition precedent to negotiations for a peaceful settlement.”
Later, as refugees continued to pour across the Himalaya mountain, bringing more tales of “hell-on-earth” experiences, tales of the whole country being transformed into a vast network of prisons and labor camps, of thousands perishing under execution, starvation and exhaustion, His Holiness felt deeply anguished. But he also knew that it was wrong to harbor anger and hatred against the Chinese. In a prayer composed for an early end to the suffering of his people, His Holiness also invoked the compassion of the Triple Gem on the Communist Chinese:
Drunk with demonic delusions,They engage in harmful deeds, bringing ruin both upon themselves and others.Show compassion to these objects of mercy and grant them the glory of a loving nature.Grant this brutal multitude the wisdom eye To discriminate between righteous and harmful actions.
The Maoist China, on the other hand, maintained that its “glorious liberation” had transformed Tibet into a socialist paradise. Its propaganda machinery painted a picture of happy Tibetan masses, welcoming their “liberators”. The only opposition came from the “Dalai clique” in exile and the “remnants of upper-class reactionaries”, who were to be brought down to their knees through a carefully orchestrated campaign of class struggle, the brutality of which claimed the lives of many.
Internationally, those were the heydays of Western intelligentsia’s infatuation with Mao; his new China was seen as an example of social justice. Tibet and His Holiness received little support from the western democracies. As far as the international community was concerned, the issue of Tibet was as good as dead. But to His Holiness the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan leadership, the suffering of the people in Tibet was as real as the need for endeavors on their behalf, no matter how great the odds.
Winds of change
History moved on. In 1976 Mao Zedong died, as did Zhu De and Zhou Enlai. The mad decade of the Cultural Revolution came to an end. The pantheon of the Gang of Four fell. China’s teeming masses heaved a collective sigh of relief. In the prisons and labor camps of Tibet, prisoners murmured silent prayers to the country’s guardian-deities, who they thought had finally woken from their slumber and delivered a decisive blow to the “gods of atheism”.
China now embarked on a period of political reform. In 1978 the Panchen Lama, one of Tibet’s most influential spiritual leaders, was freed after 14 years of captivity. Deng Xiaoping was determined to undo the brutal legacy of the Maoist era. In 1979 he announced a policy of liberalization and open-door. Thousands of Tibetans, who had spent about two decades in captivity and had counted on seeing out their days in shackles, suddenly found themselves free men and women. There was also a measure of religious freedom. Spearheaded by the Panchen Lama, Tibetans took advantage of the new development to undertake cultural revival.
Encouraged by these developments, His Holiness the Dalai Lama made a public statement in 1978, asking Beijing to allow Tibetans in Tibet and those in exile to visit each other so that the exile Tibetans could see the true situation inside Tibet.
The first encounter
This did not go unnoticed in Beijing, for in December 1978 Gyalo Thundup, an elder brother of His Holiness, was invited for a meeting with Deng Xiaoping to discuss the problem of Tibet. Within months, Thondup was in Beijing. The Chinese leaders he met admitted that it had been a mistake to hold the Dalai Lama responsible for the March 1959 uprising in Lhasa. Blaming the Gang of Four for the past excesses in Tibet, the new leaders expressed a wish to improve conditions. Deng Xiaoping, in particular, said China was willing to hold discussions and resolve every issue as long as the Tibetans did not demand independence. He invited the exile Tibetans to visit their homeland, saying, “It is better to see once than to hear a hundred times”.
Soon, the Tibetans in Tibet and exile were visiting each other. But no one in exile, least of all those in Tibet, believed that the new liberal policy would last very long. The horrors of the past decades had been an unforgettable reminder of im-permanence. Hardly was there a family that had not had at least one member killed or imprisoned. “They will soon reverse this policy. You have to be mad to trust the Uncles (Chinese)” was what we heard from visitors from Tibet. For the moment, it seemed that Tibet had lost its proverbial sense of hope.
Be that as it may, His Holiness the Dalai Lama sent three fact-finding delegations to Tibet in 1979 and 1980. Welcoming crowds besieged them wherever they went, pouring out heart-rending stories of “hell-on-earth” tragedies that had befallen them and their families over the past decades. The communist authorities were incredulous! Drunk with the surfeit of their own propaganda, they had lulled themselves into a certainty that Tibetans were indeed happy with the “great progress” of the “liberation”. In all fairness, it must be stated that Beijing had sincerely expected the Tibetan public to display indifference at best”or contempt at worst”to the Dalai Lama’s delegates. In many areas, local Chinese administrators had advised the populace against “extreme acts of throwing rocks or spitting” at the delegates.
Heart and spirit of Tibet
As the last delegates left Tibet, Beijing was re-thinking the wisdom of accepting the delegates. It took the Chinese authorities five more years before accepting the fourth delegation in July 1985. However, the six-member delegation was asked to confine its visit to the northeastern Amdo region. The logic was that the people of Amdo, having been liberated several years before other parts of Tibet, were more progressive in their outlook and thus less likely to feel any affinity to “the feudal lords of the past”. Here also, the authorities had badly misjudged the popular mood.
Beijing was now left in no doubt that His Holiness the Dalai Lama was not really irrelevant to Tibet; rather, he was the spirit of Tibet”a rude shock to the power structure that derives sustenance from military might and a pervasive game of deception, played both within the Party rank-and-file and against the people under their rule, thanks to the lingering legacy of Mao, the Great Helmsman. However, it also meant that China has not since then accepted any Tibetan fact-finding mission into Tibet.
Further initiatives for dialogue
In his turn, His Holiness continued to adhere to the belief that the problem of Tibet could be resolved through face-to-face meetings with the Chinese leadership. He was keenly aware that the past decades had created deep distrust and suspicion between Tibetans and Chinese, a chasm so deep that it would take huge efforts from both sides to inch towards the goal of reconciliation.
In September 1980 he offered to open a liaison office in Beijing to foster closer ties with the Chinese government and people. Then, on March 1981, he wrote to Deng Xiaoping and said:
“The time has come to apply our common wisdom in a spirit of tolerance and broadmindedness to achieve genuine happiness for the Tibetan people” with renewed urgency. On my part, I remain committed to contribute to the welfare of all human beings and, in particular, the poor and weak, to the best of my ability, without making any discrimination on the basis of nationality.”
Hu Yaobang, China’s Party Secretary (not to be mistaken for Hu Jintao), responded in July, proposing a “Five-point Policy Toward the Dalai Lama”. It asked His Holiness and members of the exile administration to return home, promising the Dalai Lama “the same political status and living conditions as before 1959”. Members of the exile Administration were also promised jobs and living conditions that were “better than before”. Conspicuous in this proposal was the absence of any reference to the core issue: the problems of Tibetans in Tibet. As far as His Holiness and the exile administration are concerned, their own status and “living conditions” are immaterial… a non-issue.
It was all too apparent that there should be greater efforts toward the exchange of views with Beijing. In April 1982 the Chinese government received a three-member delegation of the exile government for exploratory talks. The delegates asked for the reunification of all Tibetan areas “Kham, Amdo and U-Tsang”as a single political entity. Referring to Beijing’s offer for Taiwan’s unification with the PRC, the delegates suggested that Tibet deserved a greater degree of special status since its history, language, and culture were completely different from the Chinese.
Beijing responded by saying that the only basis for negotiations was the “Five-point Policy Toward the Dalai Lama”. It rejected the Tibetan demand by saying that unlike Taiwan and Hong Kong, Tibet had already been liberated and unified with China. The underlying message was clear: Since Tibet had no bargaining chips, there was no reason for Beijing to make it any concessions.
The overall situation in Tibet, though, was improving. Hu Yaobang’s recognition of the special status of Tibet and the steps being undertaken to improve the situation on the plateau were seen as reassuring signs in Dharamsala. Earlier, in 1980, Hu had visited Tibet and announced sweeping policy changes to improve the living condition of the Tibetan people and to protect their culture. Hu had also proposed repatriation of 85 percent of Chinese officials and replacing them with Tibetans. If implemented, this would have been a significant step towards substantive autonomy for Tibetans.
Tibetans to this day remember Hu as a leader with courage and sincere desire to improve their lot. During His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s meeting with the Chinese students at Harvard University in September 2003, he said he would perhaps have been in Tibet if Hu Yaobang had stayed longer in power.
Coming back to the 1980s, in February 1983 His Holiness told the Tibetan pilgrims in Bodh Gaya, in the Indian state of Bihar, that he wished to visit Tibet around 1985 if the situation continued to improve.
By then, the Chinese government had decided that it might not be a good idea to woo His Holiness back. In March-April 1984, China’s Second Work Forum on Tibet recommended the transplantation of Chinese settlers into Tibet. It decided not to budge an inch from the “Five-point Policy Toward the Dalai Lama”. A month later, Tibet Autonomous Region’s Party boss Yin Fatang accused the Dalai Lama of treason and said Beijing would welcome him only if he admitted his “mistakes”, a far cry from the early years of the post-Mao leadership when Gyalo Thondup was told that the Dalai Lama was not responsible for the March 1959 uprising in Lhasa.
Nevertheless, Beijing’s multi-faceted diplomacy did accept another three-member delegation for exploratory talks in 1984. The delegates reiterated the demands made earlier in 1982 and voiced serious disquiet over the influx of Chinese settlers. They asked the Chinese leadership to accept His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s proposal to visit Tibet in 1985.
China expressed reservations about the reunification of Tibet. It said no to the Tibetan demands, but asked the delegates to keep the proceedings confidential for a time being, reasoning that confidentiality was necessary to ensure the success of a negotiation as sensitive and complex as this.
When the delegates reached New Delhi, they were confronted by foreign correspondents, who asked for their reaction to Beijing’s announcement that it had rejected their demand for Greater Tibet and a status akin to the one promised to Taiwan. As we have seen, the delegates had actually asked for a degree of autonomy that was greater than the one promised to Taiwan. They now realized that their interlocutors had acted in bad faith.
Tibet seeks international support
Signals emerging from the Chinese capital in the subsequent months were to reinforce the Tibetan suspicion that Beijing was only playing a game with them. Developments within the Chinese power structure also seemed to bode ill for Tibet. In 1987, Hu Yaobang was disgraced for his sympathy to Tibet and for being too soft on the Chinese student demonstrations of December 1986. (Not to be mixed-up with the 1989 demonstrations in Tiananmen Square.)
The only option now was to turn to the support of the international community, which incidentally had become more receptive to the cause of Tibet. Deng Xiaoping’s open-door policy had lifted the bamboo curtain to reveal that the egalitarian China of western intelligentsia’s fantasy was nothing more than a totalitarianism of the new emperor, one whose pursuit of naked power and a place in the sunshine of history had sent millions to their death. Tourists and journalists who visited Tibet saw that China had enslaved, rather than liberated, the Tibetan people. Writers like Israel Epstein and Han Suyin had lied to the world. The intellectuals, who in their younger days had termed the Tibetan cause dead, were growing wiser. They now believed that Tibet was a cause that ought to live and triumph.
On 21 September 1987 His Holiness unveiled his Five-point Peace Plan for Tibet in his address to the US Congressional Human Rights Caucus. In this, he asked for:
* Transformation of the whole of Tibet into a zone of peace;
* Abandonment of China’s population transfer policy;
* Respect for the Tibetan people’s fundamental human rights and democratic freedoms;
* Restoration and protection of Tibet’s natural environment and the abandonment of China’s use of Tibet for the production of nuclear weapons and dumping of nuclear waste; and
* Commencement of earnest negotiations on the future status of Tibet and on relations between the Tibetan and Chinese peoples.
Beijing was outraged. Its propaganda mill worked overtime to demonize His Holiness the Dalai Lama. The demonology surrounding His Holiness grew by the hour, fanning the smoldering amber of Tibetan resentment. On 27 September 1987 the international media reported the first street demonstrations in Lhasa since the uprising of 1959.
Nine months later, His Holiness the Dalai Lama made public the formula for negotiations, which had been germinating since the 1970s when he discussed the concept of the Middle Way approach in a series of closed-door meetings with his cabinet in Dharamsala. Addressing members of the European Parliament in Strasbourg on 15 June 1988, His Holiness said he was willing to forego the idea of Tibet’s independence in return for meaningful and substantive autonomy for a unified Tibet.
Reactions to Strasbourg proposal
The proposal came as a bombshell to the Tibetan public and the Chinese government alike. For the first time, there was no immediate reaction from Beijing. It was at a loss to decide as to how to respond to an initiative as revolutionary as that. On the other hand, the Tibetan Youth Congress, the largest non-governmental political organization of exile Tibetans, lost no time in expressing dismay. The youth president announced that no one had the right to give up Tibetan independence. This was the first time His Holiness’ decision had triggered dissenting voices in the Tibetan community. Many Tibetans”despite their tremendous reverence for His Holiness”could not reconcile themselves to the notion of living with the country that had reneged on its own “Agreement” (17-point Agreement), and visited so much misery on their homeland.
About one week later, on 23 June, China’s foreign ministry issued a vague press statement, saying its government would not accept “independence, semi-independence or disguised form of independence” for Tibet. Although the Strasbourg proposal was not named, the allusion was un-mistakable. China’s suspicion was at play.
The exile Administration decided that there was a need to take immediate steps to ally Beijing’s fears. On 27 July it issued a press statement, naming six members as its negotiating team. A Dutch international lawyer and two of His Holiness’ overseas representatives were named as the team’s assistants. Beijing’s response came on 21 September, when its New Delhi Embassy contacted His Holiness’ representative to express interest in direct talks with the Tibetan leader. On the following day, the Embassy issued a press statement, saying that the Dalai Lama could choose the date and venue for talks. “The talks may be held in Beijing, Hong Kong, or any of our embassies or consulates abroad. If the Dalai Lama finds it inconvenient to conduct talks at these places, he may choose any place he wishes.” The Embassy, however, put three preconditions:
* Beijing will not talk to the members of the exile Tibetan administration;
* No foreigner should be involved in the talks;
* The Strasbourg Proposal cannot be the basis for talks, as it has not relinquished the idea of Tibet’s independence.
While the exile Administration welcomed the offer of talks, it insisted that the Strasbourg Proposal was the only reasonable basis for talks. A statement issued from its headquarters in Dharamsala said, “Though we have different views and stands on many issues, we are prepared to discuss and resolve these through direct dialogue.”
On 25 October Dharamsala informed the Chinese Embassy that it would like the talks to take place in January the following year in Geneva, citing the city’s reputation as a neutral venue. Hours later, His Holiness’ New Delhi Representative issued a press statement to this effect.
Meanwhile, China’s United Front head Yang Minfu met Gyalo Thondup in Beijing and expressed strong displeasure with the exile Administration’s action to publicize the venue and names of the delegates. He suggested that the talks should be held either in Beijing or Hong Kong. Then, sounding a positive note, Yang added that although the “Central Government” did not agree with some aspects of the Strasbourg Proposal, these could be discussed and resolved.
No sooner had Thondup passed on this conciliatory message to His Holiness the Dalai Lama then the Chinese Embassy in New Delhi presented a re-packaged version to His Holiness’ Delhi Representative. The new version rejected the Strasbourg Proposal in toto. Members of the Tibetan negotiating team, including the Dutch lawyer, were not acceptable. The Dalai Lama’s act of publicizing the names of his negotiating team and venue of talks reflected his insincerity, the Embassy said.
Two months later, the Panchen Lama passed away suddenly at his monastery, Tashilhunpo, in Tibet. On 7 February 1989 the head of the Chinese Buddhist Association invited His Holiness to attend a memorial ceremony for the Panchen Lama, due to take place in Beijing on 15 February. Years later,Beijing was to repeatedly fault His Holiness for turning down this most significant gesture of theirs. In this Beijing was not alone, for some international Tibet experts also maintain that His Holiness had lost an important opportunity there.
As far as Dharamsala was concerned, there was no way it could prepare for such a potentially momentous visit at such a short notice. Most of all, the Tibetan public opinion had to be prepared to prevent panic reaction. It does not take much imagination to realize that the Tibetan public would not readily agree to entrust the security of their “Wish-fulfilling Gem” to the communist government. As it was, there was widespread suspicion over the mysterious nature of the Panchen Lama’s death, particularly when it came so soon after he announced publicly that Chinese rule in Tibet had brought more damage than benefit. Clearly, a longer time was needed to prepare for such a visit. One must not forget that the immediate cause of the 1959 uprising in Lhasa was the Chinese invitation to His Holiness to attend a theatrical performance at their military camp in Lhasa. Suspecting this to be a bait to abduct their leader, the populace of Lhasa formed a sea of human barricade around his palace. The Chinese crushed the uprising by pounding Lhasa with a rain of artillery shells.
In his turn, His Holiness offered to send a ten-member religious delegation to Tibet to offer prayers for the departed lama. China said there was no precedence for prayers on this scale and that it would not accept the delegation’s two leaders as they were members of the Kashag (Tibetan cabinet).The exile Administration agreed to withdraw the two members and again contacted the Chinese government.
Back to Square A
On 17 March the Chinese Embassy said its government would receive only two or three lamas as representatives of the Dalai Lama, but that they would be allowed to travel only to Tashilhunpo Monastery. In the same message, the Chinese government accused the exile Administration of having engineered the “troubles” in Lhasa and of having smuggled arms into Tibet. China was holding the exile Administration responsible for a series of protest demonstrations that followed the first one in September 1987. As a matter of fact, the demonstrations were spontaneous, and triggered as much by Beijing’s anti-Dalai Lama campaign as by disappointment at not seeing enough improvement in the situation in Tibet. It was equally hard to understand what “arms” Beijing was referring to. His Holiness had never called for violent action. Although a Chinese police station was burned down, not a single shot was fired by the demonstrators. Neither was any weapon, apart from rocks and sticks, seen with them. The only gun they got hold of was the one they had snatched from a Chinese policeman, and this they smashed immediately on a rock.
Denying the allegations, the exile Administration challenged the Chinese government to produce evidence to back their claims. Against this background, the delegation did not get to visit Tibet.
Meanwhile, a quiet, but significant revolution was seeping through the lives of Chinese people. Religious faith was re-emerging to fill the spiritual vacuum left by the demise of faith in communist ideology. Many Chinese were turning to Buddhism, their traditional religion. The flow of information was freer now than ever before. Chinese scholars and intellectuals were beginning to appreciate His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s Middle Way approach. At the same time, rampant corruption in the Communist Party establishment was creating a deep sense of disillusion among the people, who had expected Deng’s “Get Rich” policy to benefit the common masses rather than the leadership and their cronies.
In June 1989 China was rocked by the Tiananmen Square demonstrations. The heavy-handedness with which the authorities crushed the demonstrations caused His Holiness deep dismay. Hundreds, perhaps thousands, of students and their supporters were killed. The tragedy ensured the ascendancy of Premier Li Peng’s hardline faction. For the time being, there was a complete lull in Dharamsala-Beijing diplomacy.
Then, 1991, His Holiness made an overture to assist in the search for the Panchen Lama’s reincarnation. China rebuffed the offer by saying there was no need for “outside interference”. A number of subsequent initiatives were cold-shouldered with outright disdain.
Among the exile populace there was now a growing feeling that the Chinese leadership was incapable of appreciating His Holiness’ gestures, no matter how reasonable or conciliatory. Reflecting the popular mood, the Tibetan exile parliament passed a resolution on 23 January 1992, stipulating that the Administration should not initiate any move toward negotiation unless there was a positive change in the attitude of Beijing. However, in deference to His Holiness’ on-going initiatives, the resolution stated that the parliament had no objection if overtures came from the Chinese side”either directly or through a third party.
This materialized three months later, when the Chinese Ambassador in New Delhi invited Gyalo Thondup to visit Beijing and explore possibilities for talks. The Ambassador said his government’s position in the past had been conservative”, but that it was willing to be “flexible” if the Tibetans were prepared to be “realistic”.In Beijing, Thondup was treated to a list of accusations against the exile leadership. There was no sign of the promised flexibility. Beijing’s attitude had once again hardened between the time of Thondup’s meeting with the Chinese Ambassador and his visit to Beijing.
In September 1992 China’s State Council published the first ever White Paper on Tibet. Tibet-Its Ownership and Human Rights Situation distorted historical facts to claim that China had owned Tibet for centuries. Lauding its own development in Tibet, the document portrayed traditional Tibet as the “darkest feudal serfdom” on earth. Such a confrontationist step did not bode well for the reconciliation process.
In that same month, His Holiness sent a personal memorandum to Deng Xiaoping and Jiang Zemin which asked Beijing to come up with its own proposal, since his proposal was not acceptable to them. He said, “If we Tibetans obtain our basic rights to our satisfaction, then we are not incapable of seeing the possible advantage of living with the Chinese.” He also offered to dispatch a three-member delegation to explain his views. Beijing accepted only two members. In June 1993 the delegates discovered in Beijing that the leadership’s hardline attitude had remained unchanged.
Anti-Dalai Lama campaign
There was little doubt at that time that Beijing was not interested in dialogue with His Holiness; it only wanted to keep up the pretence to evade international criticism. The adherents of Communist orthodoxy were of the view that His Holiness’ return was not necessary to tame the restive Himalayan region. What was needed was a policy of “merciless repression” that harked back to the era of Mao. Chen Kuiyun’s appointment as Party Secretary of the Tibet Autonomous Region earlier in 1992 was an indication of that policy. Chen had earned a formidable reputation as a ruthless administrator in Inner Mongolia. He was to remain in Tibet for eight years, during which he successfully tightened China’s stranglehold on the neck of Tibetan nationalism.
As the atmosphere of fear engulfed Tibet, Tibetans were becoming increasingly vocal in their opposition to His Holiness’ Middle Way approach. Even in His Holiness’ own statement, there was a note of despair. In his public statement on 10 March 1994, His Holiness said: “I must now recognize that my approach has failed to produce any progress either for substantive negotiations or in contributing to the overall improvement of the situation in Tibet. Moreover, I am conscious of the fact that a growing number of Tibetans, both inside as well as outside Tibet, have been disheartened by my conciliatory stand not to demand complete independence for Tibet.”
In July that year, Beijing convened the Third Tibet Work Forum, which recommended “relentless blows” to deal with Tibetan nationalist movements, and “life-and-death struggle against the Dalai Clique”. “The struggle between ourselves and the Dalai Clique is neither a matter of religious belief, nor a matter of the question of autonomy,it is a matter of securing the unity of our country and opposing splittism…No one should be careless about it.”
To fight the influence of His Holiness, the Forum prescribed a measure that would have been considered adventurous even by Mao himself: reforming the Buddhist religion. “We must teach and guide Tibetan Buddhism to reform itself. All those religious laws and rituals must be reformed in order to fit in with the needs of development and stability in Tibet… We must reveal the true face of the Dalai hidden behind the religious mask, and prevent by all means and ways the monks and nuns in the monasteries of our region from being affected by the influence of the Dalai clique.”
The forum’s directive was followed immediately by a dramatic escalation in control and surveillance measures. In 1996 the “Anti-Dalai” campaign was intensified. The photos of His Holiness the Dalai Lama were banned, and people were coerced into criticizing and disavowing loyalty to him. Monks and nuns went to jail for resisting the campaign.
Deeply distressed, His Holiness advised a group of visitors from Tibet,”when you return home, tell the people to criticize me if the Chinese order them to do so. It won’t change the reality. There is no point in you suffering on my account.”
Then, in June 1998, President Clinton took an initiative to revive the dialogue between His Holiness the Dalai Lama and China. In a joint press conference with President Jiang Zemin, Clinton asked the Chinese president to open dialogue with the Tibetan leader. Jiang replied, “As long as the Dalai Lama makes a public commitment that Tibet is an inalienable part of China and Taiwan a province of China, the door to dialogue and negotiation is open.” The Taiwan precondition surfaced for the first time.
The exile Administration reacted immediately by saying that the issue of Taiwan’s status was for the people of Taiwan and PRC to discuss and resolve.
Later, on 10 November 1998, His Holiness issued a press statement to say that he was seeking only meaningful and substantive autonomy for his people to preserve their distinct identity and way of life, and not independence or position for himself in the new dispensation. “With goodwill on both the sides, with a commitment to non-violence and reconciliation, we can work together to bring peace and stability to Tibet and lasting harmony between the Tibetan and Chinese peoples.”
On the same day, the People’s Daily of China carried a scathing front-page commentary, citing the Dalai Lama’s act of publicizing the issue of Tibet as an indication of his insincerity. “The zigzagging on the issue of declaration indicates that the Dalai Lama has merely made tactical readjustments and played tricks, while his stance on Tibetan independence has remained unchanged in principle.”
Before long, the exile Administration received reports of a secret meeting in China at which Beijing had made a decision neither to engage in serious talks with His Holiness the Dalai Lama, nor to secure his return to Tibet. This decision had been arrived at months before Clinton’s visit. Addressing the third session of the Fifteenth Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party on 14 January 1998, President Jiang Zemin reportedly said, “We have no need to engage in dialogues with the Dalai Lama. The issue of Tibet is about the ownership of Tibet, something that can’t be discussed. The Dalai Lama’s return to China will bring a great risk of instability. If he returns, we will not be able to control Tibet. The Dalai Lama is now fairly old. At the most, it will be ten years before he dies. When he dies, the issue of Tibet is resolved forever. Then, there will be no one to create problems for us. We, therefore, have to use skilful means to prevent his return.”
The “skilful means” translates as feigning interest in dialogue for the benefit of the international public opinion, while making preconditions that would cut the ground under the feet of the Tibetans.
Today, as the exile Administration commits itself to making greater efforts than ever before to build a healthy atmosphere for dialogue, and as it hopes that the current generation of Chinese leaders will see the folly of Jiang Zemin’s waiting game, analysts have floated a number of speculations.
The first school of thought maintains that as long as China does not become a democracy, His Holiness’ Strasbourg Proposal will not find acceptance there. They reason that while the Strasbourg Proposal is based on the liberal democratic principle, the Chinese communist system is based on the dictatorship of the Communist Party. Therefore, accepting the Strasbourg Proposal as a basis for dialogue would be seen as political suicide in Beijing.
Related to this is the argument advanced by a growing number of people who opine that the Communist leaders are actually nervous at the prospect of His Holiness’ return. Having seen the tremendous reverence shown to His Holiness by the Chinese people in Taiwan, the Communist leaders fear that he will become a rallying point not only for the Tibetan people, but also for the Chinese Mainlanders.
Another school of thought believes that China’s vacillating position on dialogue is only a mirror on the internal power struggle within the leadership. But it is only a matter of time before the liberal-minded leaders gain greater political clout. And when that happens, Beijing will, on its own initiative, reach out to His Holiness to find an answer to the problem of Tibet, they say.
The worry is that this may happen too late for both Tibet and China. His Holiness’ Middle Way approach is as indispensable to China’s long-term stability and unity, as it is to the socio-economic and cultural development of the Tibetan people. It is ill-advised for the Chinese leadership to assume that the Tibetan issue will die when His Holiness is no more. It is also wrong to assume that the issue of Tibet is about the personal status of the Dalai Lama. The Tibetan issue is about the rights, dignity and better quality of life for the Tibetan people. This aspiration will remain as long as there are Tibetan people. But rarely will history produce a leader, who puts the interests of peace and humanity above everything else. To wait for the passing away of such a leader is to squander the opportunity for lasting peace and harmony.