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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."

Obama-Dalai Lama meeting will not change anything for Tibet

February 21, 2010

By Claude Arpi (India)
February 20, 2010

When a friend asked me what I thought of the
long-awaited meeting between the Dalai Lama and
United States President Barack Obama, I
immediately replied, "It is good for Obama's karma."

And when the friend asked, "What about the Tibetans," I just sighed.

Most of the media covering the 'historic' event
emphasised the courage of the US president, who
dared to 'defy' Chinese anger (and diktats) to meet the Tibetan leader.

'Ignoring strong objections by China, United
States President Barack Obama met exiled Tibetan
spiritual leader Dalai Lama,' the media reported.

Well, the fact is that meeting the 1989 Nobel
Peace Prize Laureate is the least the new Nobel
Peace Prize winner could do. He could not once
again ignore the Tibetan leader after his recent
attempts to 'engage' many rogue States and individuals.

Obama did finally meet the Dalai Lama, away from
the cameras and the press, discreetly in the Map
Room of the White House, where presidents usually
stage private meetings. The Obama administration
termed the encounter as a 'private call'. There
was, of course, no question of a meeting taking
place in the more official Oval Office, where
presidents receive 'world leaders' only.

Before the event, Lodi Gyari, the Dalai Lama's
special envoy, had stated, "His Holiness will be
asking the president to help find a solution in
resolving the Tibet issue that would be mutually
beneficial to the Tibetan and Chinese people."

And as usual, the Chinese government had
requested Washington to cancel the meeting that
'would damage Sino-US relations'. The Chinese
foreign ministry spokesman Ma Zhaoxu had said,
"China resolutely opposes the visit by the Dalai
Lama to the United States, and resolutely opposes
US leaders having contact with the Dalai Lama."

What flabbergasts me is that today, Beijing
believes that if one does not do what it wants
(or dictates), it is considered as 'defiance',
even when it comes from the lone superpower on the planet.

The meeting was certainly good for President
Obama's image, at a time when his popularity is
tumbling fast (mainly due to domestic policies
and his position in Afghanistan). A recent survey
pointed that about 52 per cent Americans believe
that US President Barack Obama does not deserve a
second term in office, while only 44 per cent of
registered voters would like to see Obama re-elected.

Half of the public disapproves of his job in the
White House. CNN polling director Keating Holland
explains, "One problem Obama faces may be the
perception that he is not a middle-class kind of guy."

In another CNN opinion poll, released on the eve
of the meeting in the Map Room, nearly
three-quarters of Americans said that Tibet should be an independent country.

The Dalai Lama is popular with 56 per cent
Americans, "That puts him in the same
neighbourhood as other major religious figures.
Favourable ratings for the Pope, at 59 per cent,
and Billy Graham, at 57 per cent, are virtually
identical to the numbers for the Dalai Lama," says Holland.

The poll also indicates that 53 per cent believe
that it is more important for the United States
to take a strong stand on human rights in China
than to maintain good relations with Beijing.

The current feeling of the US electorate was an
important factor in the decision by the Barak
Obama's administration to 'brave' Beijing's ire.

As for the query on the impact of the meeting on
Tibetans, I sighed because I am not sure of the
answer. In fact, I am pretty certain that it will
not change anything. The Chinese leaders are
today too arrogant to listen to anything coming
from Washington. In fact, they resent any advice from the West.

And let us not forget that the United States is a
broke country. What can a nation with such a huge
debt (some 2 trillion dollars) towards China,
impose on the rising dragon? What pressure can a
debtor put on his creditor, except to negotiate a
better exchange rate to reduce his debt?

The Tibetan issue is more complex (even for
China) than some Western analysts make it out to
be, and the present leadership in Beijing does
not have the courage or the charisma to take the
plunge and offer a 'genuine' solution to the
Tibetan leader. It is pity because the Dalai Lama
is perhaps the only person who could help sort
out the contradictions of today's China. But we
should also acknowledge that a 'genuine' solution
would bring about tremendous changes inside China
and perhaps the collapse of the present system under a party clique.

There is one lesson for Obama and other Western
leaders: the loud noises coming from the mouth of
the spokesperson of the Chinese ministry of
foreign affairs is more for show (though it often
works); bilateral relations will continue as usual.

The Chinese leaders will keep fighting for what
they perceive as their 'national interests',
irrespective of foreign leaders meeting with the
Dalai Lama, which does not change the fundamental
position of Beijing vis-a-vis Tibet that has
remained the same for the past 30 years.

For his good conscience (and the good conscience
of the people of the United States), Obama will
probably grant a few millions dollars to the
'most successful refugees of the world', but they will remain refugees.

Another aspect of the problem appeared in an
event which took place in North-Eastern Tibet
(outside the Tibetan Autonomous Region, which is
the only 'Tibet' acknowledged by Beijing).

Thousands of Tibetans demonstrated in Ngaba
County of Amdo Province. This was not a protest
demonstration like those held in March-April
2008, to express their anger against the Chinese,
but to show their joy: their leader was going to
meet the most powerful man of the world.

The web site reported: 'The mournful
atmosphere of the Tibetan New Year was replaced
by jubilation with people cracking firecrackers
in the streets and celebrating.'

A large crowd from nearby villages gathered near
Ngaba Kirti monastery for a purification ritual;
they burned incense and erected 'wind-horse'
prayer flags. Thousands marched in the streets
and shouted 'ki ki so so lha gyalo' (victory to
gods) while throwing tsampa (barley flour) in the air.

Apparently the Chinese security forces did not
know how to react to the incense burning. The
Chinese police eventually confiscated
firecrackers from the Tibetans and extinguished the fires.

One can only admire these people who are ready to
risk their life to show their devotion to their leader.

The Chinese leadership may not take Obama's
hypothetical support very seriously; for them,
the devotion of the Tibetan masses for their
leader is perhaps more subversive than the US stand.

Claude Arpi is a French author and journalist.
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