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"As long as human rights are violated, there can be no foundation for peace. How can peace grow where speaking the truth is itself a crime?"

Course Correction

January 30, 2010

China has failed, despite billions of dollars in
aid, to win over Tibetan loyalty. And now Beijing
is finally realizing just how badly it mishandled things.
By Sudip Mazumdar
Newsweek Web Exclusive
January 27, 2010

After the mass riots there in March 2008, Tibet
faded once again into relative obscurity -- the
province of foreign-affairs wonks, adventure
tourists, and a few well-organized protest groups
who object to China's rule there. But during that
time, Beijing has come slowly to two painful
realizations. First, the restive plateau it had
treated for decades as a colony is central to its
national plan: development and stability are
"vital to ethnic unity, social stability, and
national security," President Hu Jintao recently
told his Politburo. And second, a corollary
realization: China's government has been
mishandling the issue of Tibet all along.

It's true that the government in Beijing bridles
at anything that reeks of secessionism. Just last
week, Hu kept up his public attack on the
"separatist forces led by the Dalai clique." The
Chinese leadership is against the "meaningful
autonomy" demanded by the Dalai Lama, who is
described over and over as a "separatist" bent on
fomenting trouble and splitting Tibet from China.

But though local riots looked bad in the press,
they never really threatened control of Tibet.
And the Dalai Lama has consistently maintained
that he does not want to separate Tibet from
China. World leaders who have met him seem
convinced of his sincerity and nonviolent approach to solving the Tibet issue.

So as concerns about actual separatism receded,
China's leaders recognized they really need a
plan to govern the province. The money they had
spent to buy the loyalty of Tibetans ($45.6
billion since 2001 for roads, trains, and housing
complexes) had more or less come to nothing.
"Even the most massive infusions of funds have
never been able to buy the affection of the
people," says Tibetologist Parvez Dewan, who has
just coauthored a book called Tibet: Fifty Years
After  with Siddharth Srivastava. "You can't get
rid of the alienation of a people through
development." Even in the less-authoritarian
neighboring Chinese provinces of Sichuan, Gansu,
Yunnan, and Qinghai—where a majority of the 6.5
million Tibetans live—discontent among ethnic
Tibetans is widespread. (Nearly 1,500 monks from
the famous Labrang Monastery in Gansu province
took to streets in the 2008 uprising that also
sparked Tibetan protests in Qinghai and Sichuan.)

That's why last week, after nearly 15 months of
trading barbs -- Beijing had shut down relations
after the Olympic spotlight went dark -- China's
leadership invited the Dalai Lama's government in
exile (based in the north Indian town of
Dharamsala) back to talks about the province's
future. Soon, two of the Dalai Lama's
representatives, Lodi Gyari and Kelsang Gyaltsen,
left for China along with three of their aides.

These talks are not going to solve the
50-year-old problem, which began with the Dalai
Lama's escape from Tibet after a failed uprising
against the invading Chinese Army in 1959. But
the administration of President Hu (who was
himself in charge of Tibet in the late 1980s)
seems serious about helping to develop the province.

Fifty Years After brims with surprise at the
affluent, breathtakingly planned city that Lhasa
has become -- with sparkling six-lane roads and
glass-front shops that sell all the top
international designer labels. "But we could not
find any Tibetan who showed his loyalty to the
Chinese," says Dewan. The authors also found that
Tibetans remained excluded from most senior-level
jobs. For example, of the nine top officials in
the Tibet Mineral Development Co. Ltd., seven are
ethnic Han Chinese, the largest group in China.
(Officially the province is run by an ethnic
Tibetan governor named Pema Thinley, a hawkish
military commander, but real power lies with
Communist Party Secretary Zhang Qingli, an ethnic
Han.) Similarly, they point out that of the
nearly 13,000 shops and restaurants in Lhasa,
barely 300 are owned by Tibetans. "And despite
the threat of punishment, we found deep respect
and admiration for the Dalai Lama," says Dewan.
Tibetan exiles say that nearly 60 percent of
Lhasa's more than half a million people are now
Han Chinese immigrants, although the
Chinese-government census disputes that claim.
But Dewan and Srivastava point out that the vast
number of Chinese troops and officials, as well
as the floating population of Chinese traders and
businessmen, are not counted in Tibet's census.
"You can see nattily dressed handsome Chinese men
and women everywhere in Lhasa," says Dewan.

Suddenly, then, the Dalai Lama is not the problem
but rather a pivotal part of the solution. As
Tibet expert and author Robert Thurman says, the
Dalai Lama is the key to giving China legitimate
sovereignty over Tibet as an autonomous region
within China because he would inspire his people
to stay inside China in case of a referendum on
independence. His growing following within
mainland China (the number of Chinese Buddhists
attending the Dalai Lama's teaching sessions in
Dharamsala is growing quickly) can also help calm
the simmering discontent among the Chinese who
have been left untouched by the benefits of
China's impressive economic growth, which has
created a hunger for spiritual growth.

The Dalai Lama will be 75 in July. He is revered
by the Tibetans and admired around the world. Any
deal with him will have the unquestioned
legitimacy and support that is so vital to
China's aspirations. And his absence will spell
uncertainty and a lack of moral authority over
Tibetans—which can only hinder China's aim of becoming a global superpower.

It would be naive to expect President Hu to
recant overnight the Tibet policies that he
himself devised and executed over the years. But
it's not quite so farfetched to see him inching
in that direction during his last few years in
office as China's supreme leader, or even
organizing a face-to-face meeting with the Dalai
Lama before he leaves. It would not only make him
a frontrunner for a Nobel Prize but also bring
China the respect and admiration that it so acutely lacks.
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