Tibetans Take Stock After Talks

Tibetan-Chinese talks have failed, Chinese officials say. And Tibetans are debating what to do next.
2008-11-12
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Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama's special envoys for talks Lodi Gyari (R) and Kelsang Gyaltsen, July 5, 2008.
Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama's special envoys for talks Lodi Gyari (R) and Kelsang Gyaltsen, July 5, 2008.
AFP Photo

DHARAMSALA—Tibetans in exile and in China are debating next steps following a strong statement from Beijing that talks with envoys of the Dalai Lama have failed, the first such indication since discussions began in 2002.
 
Tibetan envoys in those first talks had hoped to negotiate a visit to Tibet for the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader, who heads a Tibetan government-in-exile in the northern Indian town of Dharamsala.

But Beijing on Monday blamed the Dalai Lama and his envoys for the lack of progress in negotiations, saying that Tibetan calls for a “greater autonomy” for Tibet as a part of China only mask the Dalai Lama’s desire for the Himalayan region’s complete independence.

Now the Dalai Lama has become desperate."

Dalai Lama's brother, Gyalo Dhondup

“We will never make a concession,” Zhu Weiqun, a high-ranking official from the central government’s department in charge of the discussions, told reporters. He said the question of China’s sovereignty over Tibet was “the most fundamental issue.”

Debate among Tibetans

The stalemate, which came after peaceful protests turned into widespread clashes with security forces in Lhasa in March, has provoked debate among Tibetans, who have been called to a consultative conference of political groups and exile communities in India Nov. 17-22 to discuss what to do next.

“It is not easy or pleasant for us to be under alien rule and subjugation,” a caller to RFA’s Tibetan service listener hotline said.

“Nevertheless, our struggle should persist from generation to generation. If we resort to any kind of violence or more radical approach, we are at great disadvantage in terms of number of people and arms.”
 
“Of course we can carry out terrorist acts, but that is not the right solution,” the caller said.

Gyalo Dhondup, elder brother of the Dalai Lama, said Sino-Tibetan talks over the years had never addressed the original request of the Tibetan delegation for Beijing to allow his brother to visit.

“In 2002, I talked with the officials of the United Front Work Department, and with that department’s head, who agreed to this proposal. So the envoys of His Holiness Dalai Lama were invited,” he said.

“They went eight times in eight years. But in the process the main issue, a visit by the Dalai Lama, faded away. Instead, a series of accusations and counter-accusations and a blame game was started. I am really worried,” he said.

Zhu, a vice minister of the United Front Work Department, accused the Tibetan envoys of using “this trick” to talk in a roundabout way with the central authorities, saying the Tibetans lacked sincerity.

“Our contacts and talks failed to make progress, and they should assume full responsibility for it,” Zhu said.

He also dismissed a memo presented by the Dalai Lama’s envoys that called for autonomy, saying it was an attempt to undermine Beijing’s authority in the region.

Bad move?

Many Tibetans believe the call for autonomy under Beijing’s rule was a bad move for other reasons.
 
“When the Tibetan exile government declared that they would be satisfied with genuine autonomy within the Chinese constitution, a victory was handed to the Chinese government and the Tibetans surrendered their leverage for negotiation,” Dharamsala-based Sino-Tibetan political expert Lugar Jam said.

“Through this proposal, the Chinese constitution was recognized as a legal document,” Jam added.

“The best solution would be for all Tibetans inside Tibet to launch a civil non-cooperation movement against the Chinese government. And those Tibetans who are outside in exile should stick strictly to independence as their ultimate goal,” he said.

Many Tibetans insist Tibet was an independent nation before Chinese Communist troops invaded in 1950, while Beijing says the Himalayan region has been part of its territory for centuries.

The Dalai Lama, who fled to India amid a failed uprising against Chinese rule in 1959, says he does not seek Tibetan independence but wants only a “meaningful autonomy” that would ensure the survival of the region’s unique Buddhist culture.

But his brother said the Tibetan leader no longer knows how to proceed.

“Now the Dalai Lama has become desperate, and therefore he has called upon all the Tibetans to give their views and concerns to formulate a better or alternate approach,” he said, calling for a visit by the Dalai Lama to China as still the best option.

But Beijing has said the Dalai Lama, who accuses China of perpetrating cultural genocide in Tibet, will have no part in the region’s future.

Zhu’s remarks—among the strongest and most open since direct talks between the Dalai Lama’s emissaries and China began in 2002—do not bode well for the possibility of a new round.

Nine meetings

The Dalai Lama’s envoys have met Chinese officials nine times since 2002, including the latest round, held from Oct. 31-Nov. 5.

Beijing says the March protests were part of a violent campaign by the Dalai Lama and his supporters to overthrow Chinese rule in Tibet and sabotage the Beijing Olympics. The Dalai Lama has denied involvement.

In Tibet, the caller said, people are discussing the various approaches they might now take.

“Many feel that a radical approach would be counterproductive. Moreover, our struggle is and always should be based on nonviolence,” he said.

“Many Tibetans in Tibet have no knowledge about [the Dalai Lama’s] ‘middle way’ approach, and some of us are trying to explain it to them. Some are concerned that Tibetans might now resort to more violent acts. But we are trying to convince them that Tibetans would not go for violence,” he said.

Original reporting by RFA's Tibetan service. Director: Jigme Ngapo. Translated by Karma Dorjee. Written for the Web in English by Luisetta Mudie. Edited by Richard Finney and Sarah Jackson-Han.

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