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"We Tibetans are looking for a legitimate and meaningful autonomy, an arrangement that would enable Tibetans to live within the framework of the People’s Republic of China."

China has got it all wrong

September 2, 2010

Claude Arpi
The Pioneer (India)
September 1, 2010

Blinded by China’s new-found quasi-superpower
status, Beijing has chosen to take offence at a
routine meeting between Prime Minister Manmohan
Singh and the Dalai Lama. Little do the Chinese
leaders realise that their best bet lies in
initiating a dialogue with the Dalai Lama for a
permanent solution to the Tibet issue

The Chinese are upset again. Since they have
become a quasi-superpower, they are constantly
unhappy over one thing or another. This time they
are objecting because the Dalai Lama made a
courtesy call on Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on
August 11. The Tibetan leader wanted to thank
India for the hospitality offered to his people for the past five decades.

Mr Tempa Tsering, the Dalai Lama’s representative
in Delhi, explained: "(The Dalai Lama) has been
living in India for the past 50 years. There was
nothing special about the meeting. He thanked the
Prime Minister for (the) good care India has
taken of him during this period.” Though it was
the first encounter with Mr Singh since the
ruling United Progressive Alliance returned to
power, the meeting was part of the Dalai Lama’s
regular interaction with Indian leaders, Mr Tsering said.

China is often infuriated. In November last year,
Beijing was incensed by the Dalai Lama’s visit to
Arunachal Pradesh (they claim that the Indian
State belongs to them); a month earlier when the
Prime Minister campaigned in the north-eastern
State, he was advised by Beijing not to step into
‘Southern Tibet’, the name China uses for Arunachal Pradesh.

Successive Indian Prime Ministers have always
made it clear that the Dalai Lama is free to
visit any part of the country and meet whoever he
wants. For the past 56 years, the Tibetan leader
has regularly met Indian Prime Ministers, but it
is only recently that the Chinese have begun protesting so noisily.

The Dalai Lama met India’s first Prime Minister
Jawaharlal Nehru for the first time in Beijing in
October 1954. He was introduced by Zhou Enlai,
the Chinese Premier. As soon as the Dalai Lama
settled down in India in 1959, Nehru visited him
in Mussoorie; they had a four-hour meeting.

Lal Bahadur Shastri met the Tibetan leader before
leaving for Tashkent. He even informed the Dalai
Lama that the Government of India had decided to
recognise the ‘Tibetan Government-in-Exile’. He
told him that it would be done after he returned
from the Soviet Union. Sadly (for India and Tibet), he never came back alive.

Mrs Indira Gandhi also met the Dalai Lama, as did
Rajiv Gandhi. In the 1980s, the Dalai Lama wrote
several letters to Rajiv Gandhi, particularly to
inform him of his decision to propose to China a
Five-Point Peace Plan in September 1987.

Usually these meetings are just courtesy calls
and remain low key. The media gets to know of
them only after they are held. However, Mr B
Raman, a counter-terrorism expert and a former
senior official of R&AW, recalls that in 1993 PV
Narasimha Rao took the initiative to inform Mr Li
Peng, the Chinese Premier, beforehand that he was
to meet the Dalai Lama. The Chinese immediately
objected to the meeting. Rao nevertheless went
ahead and met the Tibetan leader.

Thereafter, Indian Prime Ministers have never
informed Beijing. It is logical as Beijing does
not ask India’s permission to receive guests in
the Great Hall of People. All over the world, it
is the prerogative of the head of Government of
an independent state to receive whoever he or she wants.

The Dalai Lama’s meeting with Mr Atal Bihari
Vajpayee was interesting. The Prime Minister was
at his best, he remained silent for most of the
time. I believe the Dalai Lama did not know about
this old habit of the Prime Minister and was
rather surprised. Mr Vajpayee was possibly musing
over the beautiful speeches he made on Tibet when
he was a younger parliamentarian. Who knows?

This time, Beijing was rightly told by the
Ministry of External Affairs that the Dalai Lama
is an "honoured guest of India" and the Prime
Minister has every right to meet him.

In the meantime, the leaders in Beijing live in
fear and take more and more repressive measures
to ‘control’ the Tibetans. The purpose of the
recent protest is probably to divert the
attention from the happenings in Tibet. For
example, two influential Tibetans, though they
had close relations with the Communist regime, have recently been arrested.

One is the well-known environmentalist and
philanthropist, Mr Karma Samdup, while the other
is Mr Dorjee Tashi, a Tibetan tycoon who ran a
chain of hotels and a real estate business. Both
have received awards from the Chinese Government in the past.

Mr Tashi, known as ‘Yak Tashi’, was an incredibly
successful Tibetan businessman until June 26,
2010, when the Lhasa Municipality Intermediate
People’s Court convicted him for "illegal
business operations" in a three-day secret trial.

After the recent mudslides in Tibet, the Chinese
Minister of Land and Resources, Mr Xu Shaoshi,
stated that "China recorded (mostly in Tibet)
more than 26,000 geological disasters in the
first seven months of this year, nearly 10 times
the number in the same period last year."

In Drugchu county alone, 1,434 were killed and
331 are still missing. Though Beijing attributes
the disasters to extreme weather conditions, it
is clear that human (read Chinese) activities
such as the construction of hundreds of
hydropower plants, large scale deforestation and
mining have been the major factors triggering these ‘geological’ disasters.

This has caused tremendous resentment amongst the
Tibetan population. Take what could appear as a
detail: The mudslide occurred in Drugchu county
of Kanlho prefecture of Amdo province of Tibet.
After the Chinese invasion, the Tibetan names
have been changed to Zhouqu County of Gannan
Autonomous Tibetan Prefecture of Gansu Province.

Recently, the Chinese leadership seems to have
again entered a spiral of repression. On August
18-19, the dreaded Public Security Ministry
organised a meeting of the representatives of all
ethnic Tibetan areas to assess "the results and
experiences of upholding public security,
struggle against the current separatist movement,
and identified current challenges facing
stability in Tibetan areas." They reviewed the tightening of security measures.

Two days earlier, the United Front Work
Department, the party department dealing with
minorities, had a meeting at Shigatse also to
"tighten religious institutions in Tibetan areas." A dreadful programme.

The main problem is that the Chinese leadership
does not understand that the Dalai Lama could be
its best ally if it were serious about wanting to
sort out the Tibetan issue in a peaceful manner.
Mao Tse-tung had understood this and when the
Dalai Lama was in Beijing in 1954-55, the Great
Helmsman used to visit him in his guest house to
‘convince’ him to work with China. It worked to a
certain extent. Former party general secretary Mr
Hu Yaobang, had also understood this in the
early-1980s, but he was unfortunately pushed to
the margins by party hardliners.

For Beijing, the best way to ‘control’ the
Tibetans would be to make friends with the Dalai Lama and take him onboard.

But the present leadership does not have the
foresight to meet the Dalai Lama or even to send
its Ambassador to Dharamsala for ‘talks’. I am
sure that the Dalai Lama would not even mind to
drop in at the Chinese Embassy in Delhi and have
tea with the Ambassador, if invited.

It is high time the Chinese leaders stop being
‘upset’ over what they perceive as slights to
them but are not. If they are really interested
in China’s stability, they should just start a
genuine dialogue with the Dalai Lama.
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