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"Canada can, within a positive friendly atmosphere, ask the Chinese government to resolve the Tibetan situation."

Obama and the Dalai Lama

February 23, 2010

The New York Times
February 20, 2010

China-U.S. relations are on a downhill slide this
year, and so it’s inevitable that critics will
ask whether it was really necessary for President
Obama to meet the Dalai Lama at the White House.
It’s a fair question, and the answer is: Yes, it was necessary.

But I think it’s also important for the Obama
administration to explain clearly to the Chinese
people why it did so. The Dalai Lama is reviled
by many ordinary Chinese, perhaps more so by the
public than by the Chinese government, although
this in part reflects propaganda critical of the
Dalai Lama. The most important thing that needs
to be conveyed is that it’s in China’s own
interests that the world, China included, engage
the Dalai Lama. China is making a
catastrophically bad bet that after His Holiness
dies, the Tibetan problem will be easier to
solve. In fact, the reverse is true. The one
thing most Tibetans agree on is their reverence
for the Dalai Lama. If it weren’t for him, there
would have been a much more violent resistance to
Beijing, and Tibetans would have turned long ago to terrorism.

A deal between China and the Dalai Lama is
possible -- it would involve greater acceptance
of Chinese sovereignty with greater real autonomy
for Tibetan areas, including those outside the
TAR — but it’s feasible only as long as the Dalai
Lama is alive. Only he can make the tough
compromises necessary, and deliver the Tibetan people behind him.

Chinese often complain that he has been
wishy-washy and indecisive (true) and that he has
exaggerated the scale of Chinese abuses (also
true) but they miss both his spiritual greatness
(he truly is an extraordinary spiritual leader)
and the reverence Tibetans feel for him. Yes, he
has made mistakes (not returning for the funeral
of the Panchen Lama was a huge mistake), but the
Chinese view of him as somebody conniving to
dismember China on behalf of Western powers and
feudal land-owners is absurd. The nationality
problems in China, both in Tibet and in Xinjiang,
will get worse rather than better unless they are
resolved politically. Repression is not going to
work. And the key to a political deal is the
Dalai Lama. He has been a restraining force among
Tibetans, not an inflammatory one. If only
Beijing spent less time thundering against His
Holiness and more time negotiating seriously with him.
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