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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."

Tibet thrown under the bus

November 22, 2009

Was this the cost of China holding our debt?
By William C. Triplett II
The Washington Times
November 21, 2009

Buried in a very long joint statement by
President Obama and President Hu Jintao of the
People's Republic of China is the following
declaration by the American president:

"We did note that while we recognize that Tibet
is part of the People's Republic of China, the
United States supports the early resumption of
dialogue between the Chinese government and
representatives of the Dalai Lama to resolve any
concerns and differences that the two sides may have."

The magic words are "we recognize that Tibet is
part of the People's Republic of China." Although
the State Department has stated these words or
similar ones for decades, so far as anyone can
discover, this is the first time an American
president has ever made such a statement in
public, before the television cameras of the
world's press. Beijing is trumpeting the Obama
declaration with lead articles in People's Daily,
the Chinese Communist Party newspaper.

Mr. Obama was probably not a volunteer on this
subject. On Nov. 6, the South China Morning Post
reported that having the American president say
these words in public was the No. 1 priority of
the Chinese side for the Obama-Hu meetings. They
got what they wanted. The comforting words about
resuming dialogue with his holiness the Dalai
Lama was a small price to pay since Beijing controls the dialogue.

What's going on here? Why does this matter so
vitally to the Chinese Communist Party? Do they
just want to humiliate the American president?
That may be part of it, but the matter really
tracks back 59 years to unfinished business.

In the fall of 1950 the party's military arm, the
People's Liberation Army, invaded and occupied
Tibet. It was the largest military conquest since
World War II. Even before China became a nuclear
power in the 1960s, no outsider or group of
outsiders was going to throw them out. But the
legitimacy of the Chinese Communist Party's claim
to Tibet has always been an underlying issue.

Beginning in 1987 the Chinese had a setback.
After a brutal crackdown in Lhasa in which the
photograph of a dead Tibetan child in his
grief-stricken father's arms appeared on the
front pages of American newspapers, the American
Congress passed a resolution taking note of the
1950 invasion and occupation of Tibet.

Since you can't invade and conquer your own
country, the Congress had recognized the
independence of Tibet. Resolutions passed in the
early 1990s made that even more explicit and can
be found on the International Campaign for Tibet Web site.

Foreign observers in Tibet reported the joy by
which these resolutions were read aloud and
passed from hand to hand. In essence, the
legislative branch of the U.S. government had a
different policy on Tibet than the executive branch.

The issue has percolated in U.S.-Chinese
relations for more than 20 years but just
recently it has risen to the top on Beijing's agenda list. Why now?

First, because of the American debt to Beijing,
they have the power to force the issue. Up to
this point, American presidents had artfully
dodged the issue. In 1986, President Reagan
signed a piece of minor trade legislation he
might not have read that included the
acknowledgement of Beijing's rights to Tibet. But
no American president, until now, had been forced to walk the plank in public.

Second, on the timing issue, it may be an issue
of water. All the major rivers of Asia arise in
Tibet and countries in the neighborhood have long
been concerned that Beijing would divert the flow
to China or use water as a political weapon. Just
this year the Chinese began building dams on the
Tibet Plateau, and lying about it to the Indian
government. Perhaps a coincidence, perhaps not.

The ball is now in the Congress' court. Rep. Tom
Lantos and Sen. Jesse Helms, two leading
congressional supporters of the Tibetan people,
have passed from the scene. A Democratic Congress
is unlikely to embarrass the White House by
passing a new resolution denying Beijing's claim to Tibet.

Unless it is done in the dark of night, it is
unlikely that the Congress will pass a resolution
reversing their own record on the issue. So, it
is likely to remain in limbo for a while, but so
long as the Congress has not knowingly given its
acquiescence to Beijing's subjugation of the Tibetan people, there is hope.

* William C. Triplett II is the former chief
Republican counsel to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
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