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Opinion: Beijing Misses Its Chance for Peace in Tibet

March 11, 2010

The latest anniversary of the 1959 Llasa uprising
is an opportunity for China's leaders to get
serious about negotiations with the Dalai Lama.
By Thumpten Jinpa
The Wall Street Journal (WSJ)
March 9, 2010

Last year, I wrote in these pages of my hope that
the 50th anniversary of the Tibetan people's
uprising on March 10 might inspire the Chinese
government to reappraise its policies and adopt a
more realistic approach to Tibet. As we mark the
51st anniversary today, it's becoming
increasingly clear that Beijing isn't serious
about resolving the crisis peacefully.

In response to the 2008 uprising in Tibet,
Beijing resorted to a violent crackdown and a
more severe imposition of the same policies that
had led to the protests in the first place. These
include an intensified indoctrination
campaign—so-called political education—for monks
as well as vitriolic personal denigration of His
Holiness the Dalai Lama. China says its crackdown
is aimed at avoiding another crisis, but the
government's actions will only stoke more local resentment.

Meanwhile, efforts to resolve the differences
through negotiation seem to be faltering. Tibetan
representatives returned to Beijing in January
for the ninth round of talks that have occurred
sporadically since 1981. Based on the outcome of
the eighth round in 2008-09, there is little reason for optimism.

In those meetings, the Tibetan side submitted at
Beijing's request a draft "Memorandum for All
Tibetans to Enjoy Genuine Autonomy." This
document outlined in some detail how Tibetans
could live peacefully within the People's
Republic of China—Tibetan requests included
ensuring implementation of the rights guaranteed
to the Tibetan people within the People's
Republic of China's constitution, such as
religious freedom and more autonomy in local governance.

Beijing dismissed this good-faith proposal out of
hand. The Chinese government refused to make any
concessions and instead launched a propaganda
offensive against the Dalai Lama, the exiled
leader of Tibetan people. Indeed, China's leaders
have consistently refused to acknowledge the
legitimate grievances of Tibetan people. Instead,
the country's leaders insist that "the Dalai
clique" is responsible for stirring up the trouble in Tibet.

Beijing continues to assert that the Communist
Party's policies on Tibet are "totally correct."
China's government insists that the only problem
is the inability of the Dalai Lama to return from
exile. The government will allow the Dalai Lama,
who is now nearly 75 years old, to return home to
spend his last years in Tibet if, and only if, he
expresses deep remorse for his "mistakes," such
as his "violation" of the Chinese constitution by
fleeing into exile to India in 1959. This
intransigence is most unfortunate both for the
Tibetan people and for the people of China who
aspire to see their great nation respected in the outside world.

There are models for how a mature, civilized
country can deal with the aspirations and
concerns of a people with distinct linguistic,
cultural and historical heritages without
undermining the integrity of its international
borders. From Quebec in Canada to Scotland in
Britain, from Catalonia in Spain to Tyrol in
Italy, from Greenland in Denmark to the
Laplanders in the Nordic countries, there is no
shortage of examples from various parts of the world.

The key in all these cases is a genuine
recognition of the legitimacy of the rights of
the concerned peoples to safeguard their dignity
as a people with distinct identity, language and
cultural heritage. That recognition makes it
possible to devise constitutional and political
mechanisms that allow these distinct national and
cultural characteristics to thrive with dignity
within the larger national family. The example of
Hong Kong demonstrates that, given political
will, Beijing too can embrace a similar approach.

So far, even with its emergence as a global
economic power, China is failing both in
magnanimity and justice when it comes to the
Tibetan people. Given that, the Tibetans have no
choice but to carry on with their struggle,
despite how painful it may be for ordinary
Chinese to see the Tibetans complain about their
nation. For the Tibetans this is a question of their survival as a people.

By failing to seize the rare opportunity offered
by the Dalai Lama to peacefully resolve the
question of Tibet within the constitutional
framework of the People's Republic of China, the
Beijing leadership is demonstrating a real
deficit in imagination and political courage. If
the precious window of opportunity to bring about
a lasting solution to the problem of Tibet is
allowed to slip by, history will judge the
current Beijing leadership to have done a real
disservice to the nation of China and its proud people.

The educated Chinese who have access to free
information are aware that, thanks to the Dalai
Lama's conciliatory and pragmatic leadership, the
independence of Tibet is today not on the
negotiating table. Nothing guarantees, however,
that this question will not come back, with all
the attendant emotional power and charge, once
the Dalai Lama retires from an active leadership
role. It's time that Beijing's leadership seized the moment.

Mr. Jinpa has been the principal translator for
the Dalai Lama for more than 25 years.
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