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"On my part, I remain committed to the process of dialogue. It is my firm belief that dialogue and a willingness to look with honesty and clarity at the reality of Tibet can lead us to a viable solution."

Book Review: Beijing's obstinate stand on Tibet

February 28, 2010

The non-negotiations between Dharamsala and Beijing
By Madhuri Santanam Sondhi
February 28, 2010
Page: 15/42

Neighbour Watch

Surprisingly, when it might appear that all was
over, in January 2010 Hu Jintao convened a
politburo meeting to discuss Tibet where he said
that ‘Tibet was faced with a ‘special
contradiction’ between their ethnic groups and
separatist forces led by the ‘Dalai clique’. The
Fifth Tibet Work Forum convened shortly after
stressed ‘leapfrog development’ for ‘various
ethnic groups’ in Tibet, and the need to raise rural incomes

THE intimate and complex relationship between
India, China and Tibet has become international
with globalisation. In the wake of the
pre-Olympic and 60th anniversary of the takeover
of Tibet unrest, talks between the Dalai Lama’s
envoys and Beijing’s United Front Work Department
euphemistically referred to as ‘negotiations’,
have assumed a heightened importance for many.

Claude Arpi’s book (Dharamsala and Beijing - The
Negotiations that never were, Lancer’s New Delhi
2009) is meant to disabuse wishful thinkers of
their unrealistic beliefs that ‘something useful
is going on’ and raises questions as to why the
world and the dramatis personae themselves
continue with this somewhat farcical and unsubstantial exercise.

Arpi’s invaluable history of the talks is set in
the changing tapestry of conditions from the
forties in the Chinese Communist Republic and the
CCP, in Tibet, in India and latterly in the rest
of the world including Europe and America. His
narrative goes up to the last but one round of
talks, which does detract from the book’s
argument because to all accounts the recent ‘9th
round of negotiations’ have broken no new ground
and bear a dreary resemblance to the previous
eight- nay, even to the talks dating from the end
of 1979 - i.e., a continuing exercise in frustration.

The First Series of Talks
There have been two sets of attempts at
‘dialogue’- the first dating from 1979 and
lasting into the eighties, and the second resumed
at the turn of the century continuing till today.
The first initiatives from Deng Xiaoping who
started loosening the Maoist system, and the
liberal Hu Yaobang, Secretary General of the CCP,
were no doubt genuine. Deng informed Gyalo
Thondup, the Dalai Lama’s brother and
intermediary that Tibetans and Chinese could meet
and negotiate everything except independence. The
Tibetans were invited home to ‘discover truth
from facts’ - and three fact-finding delegations
from Dharamsala visited the Tibet Autonomous
Region (TAR) between 1979 and 1980 and a fourth
went to Kham and Amdo in 1985. They were
uniformly met by delirious crowds who related
tales of untold misery and suffering since the
Chinese takeover - which shook the powers that be.

As the hardliners began to make a comeback in the
CCP, policies gradually changed. Gyalo Thondup
was informed in 1981, two years after his first
meeting with Deng, that all further talks would
be in the framework of a Five-Point Policy which
essentially narrowed down to the Dalai Lama’s
future role in the ‘motherland’: - the condition
of Tibetans, Tibet and her status (autonomy etc)
were off the table. Arpi mentions that the first
two Tibet Work Forums presided over by Hu Yaobang
led to improved social economic and political
conditions in Tibet. But by 1984 Hu, under
pressure from party conservatives, parroted the
Five Point Policy as the framework for
discussions and announced that Beijing would
henceforth settle Hans in Tibet. There has been
no going back on this posture since. The Tibetans
however chose to pin their faith on Deng’s
original promise, and continued doggedly on that assumption.

Apart from touring the ‘brave new world’ on the
plateau, from 1982 onwards the Dharamsala
delegations met Chinese officials of the United
Front Work Department for negotiations. (This
Department, represented in the Chinese People’s
Political Consultative Conference, manages the
affairs of a conglomerate of several mass
organisations like trade unions, women’s and
youth organisations, minorities etc.) The envoys
produced a series of proposals for solving the
Tibet issue including the Taiwan formula, the
Hongkong formula, not to mention the right of
self-determination for the Tibetan people
guaranteed by the CCP’s 1931 resolution (which
even spoke of secession and independence for
minorities). These were brushed off the table and
the later unravelling of the USSR made the
Chinese even more fearful of a repeat in China.

Diplomacy by other means
For some time visits ceased because of the new
insistence that exile Tibetans travel on
‘overseas’ Chinese passports. China began a
marked drive to settle Hans in Tibet which
prompted the Dalai Lama to search for an
emergency plan that might avert total ethnic submergence.

In 1987 he chose to internationalise the issue
and unveiled a Five Point Peace Plan to the US
Congressional Human Rights Caucus in Washington
which asked that Tibet be declared a Zone of
Peace, that human and environmental rights be
protected and talks recommence between the
Chinese and Tibetans. Six days after the
announcement, demonstrations and riots broke out
in Lhasa, and continued over two years. The scale
of rioting was the second warning to the Chinese
that all was not well on the roof of the world.
The Dalai Lama’s strategy seemed to be working
when in Washington in 1988 Clinton tackled Jiang
Zemin on reopening talks with the Dalai Lama, but
to no avail: the Chinese were enraged by the
‘internationalisation’ of the Tibet issue,
condemned it as splittism, reiterated their
Five-Point Policy and renewed the invitation to
the Dalai Lama to return to the motherland.

With the conservatives back in power in the
party, Hu Jintao imposed a savage Martial Law in
Tibet in March 1989 to quell the riots: three
months later his government massacred thousands
of its own students at Tiananmen Square. With
this hardening of positions, the Dalai Lama
decided, apparently with the backing of European
advisers, to give up the demand for independence
and negotiate for rights and autonomy within the Chinese state system.

Thus in June 1989 he made his famous address to
the European Parliament in Strasbourg calling for
a Tibetan ‘self-governing democratic political
entity’ in association with the People’s Republic
of China, which would retain control of Tibet’s
foreign policy and defence. It was hoped that
this new ‘Middle Path Policy’ which was a more
than handsome concession that would please the
Chinese. But the Dalai Lama reiterated his call
for making Tibet a nuclear-free and peaceful zone
and reaffirmed that historically Tibet had been a
free country prior to the Chinese invasion, which
led to renewed condemnation from Beijing and
charges of splittism. That the Tibetans should
have found this Chinese response surprising
underlines the deep chasm in their mutual
understanding and perspectives. Four years later
China published a paper on her ‘ownership’ of
Tibet. Moreover the Third Tibet Work Forum in
1994 presided over by Jiang Zemin decided to
"give relentless blows to Tibetans and
particularly to the Dalai Lama". The Party tried
to restructure Buddhism without him, find their
own Panchen Lama, dictate the curriculum of the
monasteries etc. Came 1999 Jiang Zemin not only
reiterated that the Dalai Lama must give up the
demand for independence, but, for the first time,
insisted he also recognise Taiwan as part of
China along with Tibet. With such a bizarre
stipulation and increasingly insulting
undiplomatic language towards the person of the
Dalai Lama it looked as though China had turned
its back on talks, but the endlessly patient Dalai Lama insisted they resume.

The Second Series of Talks
In June 2001 the Fourth Tibet Work Forum declared
itself guided both by Deng’s thought and Jiang
Zemin’s Three Represents after which a new round
of Sino-Tibetan negotiations started in September
2002. This continued on an annual basis till 2007
with nothing new emerging - the two sides kept to
their old positions and talked past each other.

On March 10, 2008 (anniversary of the Lhasa
Uprising of 1959) when in the run up to the
Beijing Olympics international media attention
was fixed on China, rioting started in Lhasa and
spread for the first time to the
Tibetan-dominated Chinese areas of ‘Greater
Tibet’, provoking sympathetic protests throughout
the world on the route of the Olympic Torch. But
when the expectant Tibetan delegates arrived for
the 7th round of talks a month before the
Olympics, hoping for some positive change, the
non-talks reverted to the usual pattern. However
the level of their meetings was upgraded: they
met with Du Qinglin, Vice Chairman of Chinese
People’s Political Consultative Conference and
Minister of Central UFWD. They also met Executive
Vice-Minister Zhu Weiqun and Vice-Minister Sithar
- but no joint statement was issued. The
disappointed Tibetan envoy was moved to say there
was no point in continuing the talks. However
with some world leaders threatening not to attend
the opening ceremony of the Olympics, to assuage
international opinion more talks were promised
soon after the Games. Thus an 8th round took
place in early November 2008 at which the
Tibetans presented their counterparts with a
memorandum on genuine autonomy with an appeal,
once again, to the Chinese constitution. But Du
Qinglin dismissed it saying the Dalai Lama must
respect history and ‘change his political propositions.’

In the meantime even the patient Dalai Lama began
to speak of the ‘thinning’ of his faith in the
Chinese. He convened a special meeting in
Dharamsala to review his Middle Path Policy where
it was provisionally (i.e., subject to producing
results) reconfirmed. But the Chinese had the
last word was when Zhu Weiqun declared that Deng
had never told Gyalo Thondup that "except for
independence all issues can be settled through
negotiations’. That blew away the slim vestige of
hope to which the Tibetans had clung all these years!

Surprisingly, when it might appear that all was
over, in January 2010 Hu Jintao convened a
politburo meeting to discuss Tibet where he said
that ‘Tibet was faced with a ‘special
contradiction’ between their ethnic groups and
separatist forces led by the ‘Dalai clique’. The
Fifth Tibet Work Forum convened shortly after
stressed ‘leapfrog development’ for ‘various
ethnic groups’ in Tibet, and the need to raise
rural incomes (Economist, February 6th 2010), the
latter especially to appease the peasants and
nomads who constituted the bulk of the protestors
in 2008. This might easily be interpreted as a
conciliatory move, but the February Tibet Review
editorial opines: ‘China Stakes its Future on
Greater Repression’. Urban peace is still only
ensured by heavy military patrolling, and
hardliners have recently replaced local officials
in Tibet. Soon the exiles received an invitation
for talks from Beijing to which they responded
for the 9th time, but again on return their
Special Envoy expressed disappointment in the
lack of progress. However both sides averred they must keep meeting.
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