Saturday, March 29, 2008
Chinese foxes want to talk? Who are they trying to fool?
Growing Gulf Divides China and Old Foe
Ashwini Bhatia/Associated Press
Exiled Tibetans held a vigil on Friday in Dharamsala, India. Many Tibetans have fled China to find sanctuary in India.
By HOWARD W. FRENCH
Published: March 29, 2008
SHANGHAI — Across much of the Western world, the Dalai Lama is known as the beatific spiritual leader of a humble community of Buddhists, beloved in Hollywood, Congress and the White House, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize.
Chinese leaders cast him in a different light. They call him a separatist and a terrorist, bent on killing innocent Han Chinese and “splitting the motherland.” That gap in perception, which has grown immeasurably wider in the two weeks since violent unrest rocked Tibet, is breeding pessimism that Chinese leaders are willing — or perhaps even able — to embark on a new approach to Tibet even as it threatens to cast a long shadow over their role as hosts of the Olympic Games this summer.
President Hu Jintao, whose rise to leadership of China’s Communist Party was built partly on his record as party boss in Tibet during a period of unrest in 1989, has shown no signs of making a historic gambit for peace there.
Rather, he seems to be wagering that China can hunker down, keep a tight lid on Tibet through the Olympics and wait for the Dalai Lama, who is 72, to die, analysts say.
“I would obviously like for there to be a policy debate, but I see no suggestion of one,” said Wang Lixiong, a Chinese expert on Tibet and a signer of a recent petition by Chinese lawyers and scholars urging the government to resume discussions with the Dalai Lama. “There has been a big failure, but to see the government change its path or policy right before the Olympics isn’t likely.”
The inflexibility in Beijing’s position leaves Western countries with a problem. President Bush and a roster of European and Asian leaders have called for Mr. Hu to open a dialogue with the Dalai Lama as a first step toward reducing tensions in Tibet. If Mr. Hu declines to do so, those leaders seem likely to face pressure from their own constituencies to take stronger diplomatic or political steps against Beijing at the moment it had expected to bask in the international limelight.
Already, President Nicolas Sarkozy of France has suggested that he might consider using his presidency of the European Union this summer to organize a boycott of the opening ceremonies of the Olympics. An embarrassing protest at the lighting ceremony of the Olympic torch in Greece, and the cries of monks in Lhasa who disrupted a scripted tour of the Tibetan capital for foreign reporters on Thursday, portend a steady drum roll of criticism of China.
The call for some kind of Chinese-Tibetan talks continues to mount. On Friday, the Dalai Lama, speaking in India, made his most extended comments on the violence, accusing China’s state-run media of trying to “sow the seeds of racial tension” there but calling for “meaningful dialogue” with Beijing about how to defuse tensions.
President Bush, speaking of the possibility that Mr. Hu might pursue diplomatic talks with Tibetan exiles, said “it’s in his country’s interest.” Standing by Mr. Bush’s side, Kevin Rudd, Australia’s new, Chinese-speaking prime minister, who was visiting Washington, said, “It’s absolutely clear that there are human rights abuses in Tibet.”
Mr. Hu told Mr. Bush during a phone call on Wednesday that he was willing to talk to the Dalai Lama, according to China’s official Xinhua news agency. But what was most striking about the exchange was the consistency of Beijing’s language on Tibet, which analysts say provides little reason to expect new initiatives.
Mr. Hu’s formulation, which has been used almost word for word since the time of Deng Xiaoping, in the 1980s and ’90s, was that China would resume contact with the Dalai Lama as long as he abandoned advocating Tibetan independence, stopped activities aimed at “splitting the motherland” and accepted that Tibet and Taiwan were inalienable parts of China.
The problem with Beijing’s line is that even when the Dalai Lama insists that he does not seek independence, as he and his representatives have repeatedly done, the Chinese government has merely repeated this trope, leaving little room for progress.
As it is, the Tibetan protests of the last two weeks seem to have taken Beijing by surprise, spreading quickly outside of the province officially known as the Tibetan Autonomous Region and into areas of neighboring provinces where Tibetans live in large numbers. The unrest has been the broadest in scale since sustained riots and a bloody crackdown in 1989.
Yet inside China, the protests have been portrayed as little more than thuggish violence against Han Chinese orchestrated by the “Dalai clique” from its base of exile in Dharamsala, India. The ruling party’s relentless anti-Dalai propaganda, reminiscent in some ways of the Cultural Revolution-style vilification of its enemies, has left the leadership in a self-imposed straitjacket.
Even as he seemed to concede that China had made mistakes in handling the protests, Hu Yan, a professor of social sciences at the party’s Central Committee School, expressed confidence in its ability to prevent further trouble before the Olympics.
“I think we can control the situation before it spreads any further,” Mr. Hu said. “We were too soft at the beginning, allowing them to destroy fire engines and rob banks without doing anything. We should have fired more tear gas, at least.”
Robert Barnett, director of modern Tibetan studies at Columbia University, dismissed the Chinese contention that the protests amounted to little more than criminal riots, calling their spread through several provinces significant. “Nothing like this has happened for the last 40 years, and no Chinese leader is going to miss that,” Mr. Barnett said. “They have lost the countryside, and they are going to have to work very hard to win it back.”
But Mr. Hu, the professor at the Central Committee School, hinted at what many believe is China’s bottom-line thinking on Tibet.
“This issue can only be resolved in the long term,” he said. “It’s a long-term campaign, and we probably have to wait for the Dalai Lama to reincarnate.”
China’s long-term strategy, which the violence may have only reinforced, has been to wait for the Dalai Lama to die on the theory that it can control his successor as Tibet’s spiritual leader. A new Dalai Lama would likely have little of the same prestige, inside China or abroad.
In 1995, China arrested the Panchen Lama, the No. 2 in Tibetan Buddhism, a 6-year-old at the time. He has not been seen since. China then anointed another Tibetan youth as a replacement, and it has tightly controlled his education and public duties since. Under Tibetan Buddhism, traditionally the Panchen Lama names a new Dalai Lama, theoretically giving the Chinese government control over the present Dalai Lama’s succession.
To counter this approach, Tibetans have floated ideas about changing the rules of succession, allowing the Dalai Lama to anoint a Tibetan child who lives in exile, or an even more radical change, allowing Tibetans to select a new Dalai Lama by voting. Either measure would be certain to infuriate the Chinese government, which reserves the right to control all organized religion.
The current Dalai Lama has repeatedly promised that he has no desire to see Tibet break free of Chinese sovereignty. He has, though, pressed for what he calls “genuine autonomy” under Chinese rule. He refers to China’s Constitution, which invokes the right of autonomy and self-government “in areas where people of minority nationalities live in compact communities.”
“The task at hand is to develop a system that would grant the kind of autonomy required for the Tibetans to be able to survive as a distinct and prosperous people within the People’s Republic of China,” said Lodi Gyaltsen Gyari, a special envoy of the Dalai Lama, in a speech given in Washington in 2006.
Party leaders have resisted even that modest vision of enhanced self-government. Officials seem to fear that enhanced political autonomy could overload the circuits of the Chinese state, inciting demands from other ethnic or religious groups and unleashing centrifugal forces that could break up the country as surely as Tibetan demand for independence.
“If you look carefully at what the Dalai Lama says, the giving up independence part is really empty, while the demands for a greater Tibet and a high degree of autonomy are real,” said Zhang Yun, a scholar at the China Tibetology Research Center. “What kind of government could allow that? That’s impossible.
“A high degree of autonomy means giving up everything: our administrative system, our cadre system, and even party-led socialism.”
David Barboza contributed reporting.
'Chinese dressed as monks behind Tibet violence'
Agencies Sat, Mar 29 05:03 PM
As Beijing continues to batter him with charges of 'masterminding' the Lhasa unrest, the Dalai Lama suggested that China itself could be behind the violence and expressed readiness to work with the Chinese authorities to restore peace in Tibet.
The Dalai Lama, who has been seeking dialogue to resolve Tibet issue, voiced frustration at lack of response from China and declared that the future of his 'middle-path' approach would depend on Beijing's attitude in the next few weeks.
At a press conference, he sought the help of the international community to bring China to the dialogue table, saying the Tibetans had 'no power' to do so.
"Tibetans are non-violent people," the spiritual leader maintained rubbishing allegations by China that he and his supporters were behind the recent violence in Tibet.
He suggested that China itself could be behind the violence as he said, "we have heard about a few hundred Chinese soldiers received monks' dress."
"They (soldiers) dressed like monks. So, for a lay person, they will look like monks. But the swords they had, were not Tibetan, they were Chinese swords," he said, apparently responding to China's campaign that monks had indulged in violence.
Maintaining that he has 'no desire to seek Tibet's separation' nor 'any wish to drive a wedge between the Tibetan and Chinese peoples', the Dalai Lama expressed willingness to work with the Chinese authorities to 'bring about peace and stability in Tibet'.
The Dalai Lama, who earlier led an inter-faith prayer at Rajghat in the memory of those killed in Lhasa, said his primary concern was to ensure the survival of the Tibetan people's distinctive culture, language and identity.
"My side is open for dialogue. We are waiting to hear from the Chinese side," he said before heading back to Dharamshala, the seat of his 'government-in-exile'.
"We have no power to bring China to the dialogue table. We have only truth and sincerity. That is why we are appealing to the world community, please help," the Tibetan leader said.
He said the attitude of the Chinese government over the next few weeks would be crucial to decide the future of his 'middle-path' approach to resolve the Tibet issue.
Expressing his keenness to return to Tibet, the Dalai Lama said it would be of 'no use' if he had to return without a 'certain degree of freedom'.