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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?"

Neighbour Watch (Part II)

March 2, 2010

The non-negotiations between Dharamsala and Beijing-II
Tibetans lack political backing and China is unbending
By Madhuri Santanam Sondhi
Organizer (India); Vol. LXI, No. 35
March 7, 2010 Edition

The Tibetans, unlike the Arab-backed
Palestinians, could not mobilise international
support or conduct protracted guerrilla or
terrorist warfare, even had they wanted to.

IT is pertinent to ask therefore, what purpose is
served by these ‘negotiations that never were’
and still are not? Initially and understandably
the exile Tibetans hoped that with signs of
change inside China or with the recent Tibetan
protests, some accommodation might be possible.
The lure of visiting their homeland would have
been irresistible, as any displaced refugee
knows. But to the outside world, and to some of
their youth, continuation in the face of
recurrent snubs is senseless - even spineless.

There are at least two reasons for why they
continue. One, the Tibetans have virtually no
backers for their legitimate political
aspirations although some international voices
are raised for human rights violations. Neighbour
India despite her magnificent refugee
rehabilitation job has failed to lift even a
little diplomatic finger on their behalf on
either of these issues in the international arena
(in contrast to what she has done for South
Africa or even China!) and the Tibetans
themselves have paid the price for their past
isolation. The CIA’s early interest in the
refugees was primarily driven by a quest for
information on China, and once Nixon made up with
Beijing, it abruptly withdrew. The Soviets,
despite their deep history of interactions and
knowledge of Tibet played a cautious game and
finally acknowledged China’s sovereignty over
Tibet. Britain, signatory to the Shimla Pact,
followed suit in 2008. Mongolia which had signed
a Treaty with independent Tibet in 1935 (and
recently celebrated its 75th anniversary) was for
decades silenced within the USSR. Hence with no
political backing, no sanctuary, the Tibetans,
unlike the Arab-backed Palestinians, could not
mobilise international support or conduct
protracted guerrilla or terrorist warfare, even
had they wanted to. And today, despite their
remarkable international visibility, their
sympathisers are constrained by the compulsions
of their economic engagement with China.

Two, as Buddhists a non-violent and dialogic
approach is a natural option. Sceptics might
argue there is no other, but such as it is, it
has been fine-tuned into a kind of attenuated
diplomacy of transparently approaching the
negotiating table again and again in the face of
constant rebuffs. Should the Chinese respond one
day, it will be a landmark ‘velvet’ triumph.

The Tibetan envoys also say that talking is a
diplomatic end in itself. Arpi puts this down to
Buddhist ‘compassion’ without further
explanation. Special Envoy Lodi Gyari has
described his visits as a ‘spiritual practice’,
thereby conceding the absence of any diplomatic
leverage. Had Dharamsala managed to direct
non-violent protest in Tibet that would have more
resembled Gandhian satyagraha but this is a
remote possibility given China’s brutal responses to any challenge.

The Chinese find themselves in a bind of their
own making: with 56 minorities constituting less
than 10 per cent of the Han majority and
occupying more than two-thirds of the territory
of the Republic, they cannot, as a non-political
bureaucratic dictatorship allow ‘genuine
autonomy’ to one minority without destabilising
two-thirds of their imperial state. Indians are
not so paranoid: more enlightened linguistic
policies allow for protection of
regional/minority identity, the building of
national identity and for global interactions.
Similarly, devolution of power through smaller
states, panchayati raj etc, helps India to deal with many of its problems.

The Chinese, however, reap huge advantages from
the charade. The apparent ‘dialogue’ salves the
conscience of the western world and enables
continuing economic engagement with China. For
example the Canadian and British governments have
welcomed the 9th round as a possibility of
solving problems through ‘peaceful dialogue’.
Thus China is encouraged to play a waiting game -
stretch out the ‘talks’ to manage civil unrest
and international criticism till the inevitable
passing of the14th Dalai Lama - after which she
looks forward to unchallenged supremacy.

However the last words should be those quoted by
Arpi from Bapa Phuntsok Wangyal, a pro-Chinese
early member of the CCP later imprisoned,
tortured and eventually freed by the government.
In 2004 he wrote to Hu Jintao pointing out that
other Tibetan leaders like the 17th Karmapa and
Agya Rimpoche (abbot of the Kumbum monastery)
were also driven to flee the country. It has been
noted that there is active interaction between
the high lamas of the different monasteries
residing in India and their followers in Tibet.
"Any notion of delaying the problem until after
the 14th Dalai Lama dies a natural death is not
only naïve, it is also unwise and especially
tactically wrong". He warned that "playing for
time, and intending to produce ‘two Dalais’ will
create greater trouble in the future at home and
abroad." The current Dalai Lama’s death will only
radicalise young Tibetans. As a theoretical
Marxist he added that if the majority oppresses a
minority in a socialist state, the minority has a
right to fight for true autonomy.
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