Home Bringing Beijing, Dharamsala Closer

Bringing Beijing, Dharamsala Closer

When Chinese President Xi Jinping was in India the other day, there was optimism in a section of the public opinion that Prime Minister Narendra Modi would use his historic meeting with the visiting dignitary to bring him closer to the Tibetan spiritual leader Dalai Lama. It was being hoped that Modi would tell Xi publicly what the world’s other democratic leaders would whenever they met their Chinese counterparts: that the Dalai is a good man; talk to him to solve the long-pending Tibetan issue. But Prime Minister Modi stuck to the conventional Indian diplomatic tradition in the matter and refrained from raising it with Xi.

One wonders why New Delhi should still not initiate to bring the authorities in Beijing closer to the Dalai. Such an initiative would be in the interest of China. After Chinese supremo Deng Xiaoping declared in his conversation with the Dalai’s elder brother Gyalo Thondup (March 12, 1979) that Beijing would discuss any proposition but Tibetan independence ‘any time, any place,’ the Dalai came forward with various concrete ideas, including his Five-Point Peace Plan for Tibet (American Congress, September 21, 1987) and Strasbourg Proposals (European Parliament, Strasbourg, June 15, 1988). His plan envisaged the subjects of diplomacy, defence, communication and finance could be under the jurisdiction of the Central government in Beijing and those of culture, education, environment and religion under the provincial Tibetan government in Lhasa.

Knowledgeable sources say that in tune with this framework, the Dalai’s envoys have presented a memorandum on genuine autonomy (2008) to Beijing. This memorandum proposes all Tibetan areas to be brought under a single autonomous administration. It complies with the conditions for national regional autonomy set forth in the Chinese constitution and the 17-Point Agreement of 1951 between Beijing and the then Tibetan government.

Signing the 17-Point Agreement, then Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai had acknowledged the idea of a unified Tibet as a reasonable demand. In 1956, establishing the Preparatory Committee for the "Tibet Autonomous Region," Vice-Premier Chen Yi said if Lhasa could be made the capital of the Tibet Autonomous Region, including the Tibetan areas within other provinces, it would contribute to the development of Tibet and friendship between the Tibetan and Chinese nationalities. Party Secretary Hu Yaobang also supported the idea of bringing all Tibetan areas under a single administration.

The Dalai’s envoys have made it clear in their subsequent dialogues with Beijing’s officials that he respects the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the PRC; the Chinese  constitution; the central government’s three principles - leadership of the communist party, socialist system and autonomy for all minority nationalities; and the hierarchy and authority of Chinese central government . 

Dharamsala has clarified that in its vision of autonomy there is no discrimination against Han Chinese language and population in Tibet. It has also said that it does not seek the withdrawal of the Chinese Army from Tibet and has no intention to return to the past social, economic and political order (the system that prevailed in Tibet before the communist take-over of the mainland).

It is ironical indeed that Beijing has yet remained critical of the Dalai. In the process there has been no movement towards a settlement of the Tibetan question. The administrative control of the plateau remains almost completely in the hands of the Central government in Beijing. The authorities in China have been saying that the nine rounds of talks, held since the re-establishment of contacts between Beijing and Dharamsala in 2002, ended in a stalemate in 2010, principally because the Dalai has had a separatist agenda to spread his authority over entire Tibet, including Sichuan, Qinghai, Gansu and Yunnan.  

In an interaction with a media delegation from India, Nepal and Bhutan, of which this author was part, in August 2014, Executive Deputy Secretary of the CPC Committee of the Tibet Autonomous Region Wu Yingjie said that Dharamsala’s demands were simply unacceptable. He said the Dalai’s demands were not for “genuine autonomy” but greater autonomy. The Dalai package did not give even the subject of defence to the central government, for it demanded the demilitarization of Tibet and the creation of a buffer zone. 

This delegation found that the Director of the Information Office of TAR Jigme Wangto in Lhasa and Professor of Tibetology Research Center Lian Xiangmin in Beijing held similar views. Professor Lian even alleged that the Dalia had instigated most of the self-immolations that had recently taken place in Tibet. 

Some analysts based in New Delhi and Beijing say one of the reasons behind Beijing’s suspicion about the Dalai is that the certain elements, apparently on the side of the Tibetan cause, have throughout indulged in programmes and activities aimed at achieving complete independence for Tibet. It could be seen in the demand for complete independence that is made by a section of Tibetan activists whenever any Chinese dignitary visits India.

One finds this thesis is not devoid of substance. It should, however, be no reason for Beijing not to trust the Dalai and have a direct dialogue with him. There is no wisdom in suspecting the Dalai for what some pro-independence elements have been doing. The Dalai is for the advancement of the entire humanity. In a media interaction once, the Dalai said, “We must build good relations with the Chinese…we should not develop anti-Chinese feelings. We must live together side by side. In Tibet, Han Chinese and Tibetans can live happily… Don’t commit violence… Violence is against human nature. ” 

It should be clear to Beijing by now that the Dalai has no intention to perpetuate his own rule in Tibet. In 2011 the Dalai even devolved all his political authority to elected Tibetan Prime Minister-in-exile Lobsang Sangay who happens to be a follower of the Dalai Lama’s path of peace and non-violence to achieve his democratic goals.

Needless to say, the pro-Tibetan independence elements, too, must understand the implications of their actions. Their utterances and activities are absolutely antithetical to the political philosophy and methodology of the Dalai. One of the finest practitioners of the Gandhian methodology of political struggle in our times, he has long abandoned any demand for independence for Tibet. In 1974 he came forward with his middle-way approach. All his proposals that have been made since have been in tune with that.

The Dalai’s conception of the contemporary world is highly enlightened. He advocates genuine autonomy, not independence, for Tibet today. The Dalai is of the assessment that in the modern context independence out of China is irrelevant. In his interview on the 54th Tibetan Democracy Day, he said it was no longer “Chairman Mao's era, an era of ideology.” Today economy is “more important than just ideology.” China has become, in some ways, “a capitalist country.” There's not much choice but to “accept some liberalization in political field.”

In such a situation, the Dalai seems to think, co-existence between Tibetans and the Chinese would be better today. He is of the opinion that there has of late been a lot of development in Tibet and the Tibetans may now see it in their interest to live together with the rest of population in China if genuine autonomy were granted to Tibet.

The pro-independence elements must adhere to the Dalai’s ideology derived from the present-day realties and abstain from sending any confusing signals to Beijing. This would be in the interest not only of the Tibetans-in-exile but also of those living within Tibet. During his recent sojourn and visit to several temples and monasteries Tibet, this writer could feel very clearly that many Tibetans at home had almost everything material but not the Dalai. They were missing whom they loved most - their beloved Dalai! 

(The author is a senior Indian journalist based in New Delhi. He was part of a media delegation from India, Nepal and Bhutan that visited Lhasa and Beijing on the invitation of the Government of China in August 2014)

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Jagdish N Singh
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