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Government In Exile » Dialogue


History of Negotiations between Tibet and China 1949-2004

1949: China invaded Tibet.

1959: An uprising against the Chinese occupation in Tibet was brutally crushed, resulting in the deaths of more than 10,000 Tibetans. The Dalai Lama was forced to escape into exile in India, followed by thousands of Tibetans. After establishing his Government-in-Exile, he began a long and tireless effort to initiate dialogue with Beijing in order to end the conflict in his homeland.

1959, 1961, 1965: The United Nations passed three resolutions on Tibet in which it called for the cessation of practices depriving the Tibetan people of their fundamental human rights and freedoms.

1979: Vice Premier Deng Xiaoping invited Gyalo Thondup (the Dalai Lama's eldest brother and his then Envoy to China) to Beijing and told him that except for the issue of total independence, all other issues related to the situation in Tibet could be discussed and all problems could be resolved.

1981: The Dalai Lama sent a letter to Mr. Deng Xiaoping describing the results of three fact-finding delegations to Tibet and suggesting ways to improve the relationship between China and Tibet.

September 1987: The Dalai Lama announced his Five Point Peace Plan for Tibet.

October 1987: Chinese authorities delivered a message to the Dalai Lama criticizing him for the Five Point Peace Plan and accusing him of instigating the Lhasa riots on September 27,1987.

1988: China stated that it was willing to begin negotiations. The Tibetan Government-in-Exile proposed January 1989 in Geneva as their choice and named the members of its negotiating team.

November 1988: China responded, rejecting Geneva and suggesting Beijing or Hong Kong as the venue. The Dalai Lama agreed on Hong Kong but then China refused to communicate any further.

1993: Formal contact between the Dalai Lama and Beijing was cut. Informal links were maintained.

1998: In November, the informal contact between the Government-in-Exile and the People’s Republic of China was severed completely by Beijing.

2002: Contact between the Dalai Lama and China was reestablished, with representatives of the Dalai Lama travelling to China for direct contact with Chinese leadership for the first time since 1993.

2003: The Dalai Lama’s envoys returned to Beijing for follow-up meetings with Chinese officials and a visit to the eastern Tibetan province of Kham (ch. Sichuan). Permission to travel to a Tibetan area outside the TAR is considered significant because it implies that all of historical Tibet, not just the TAR, could potentially be under discussion in an eventual negotiation process.


Negotiations with China

NEGOTIATIONS BACKGROUNDER

A brief outline of efforts made by the Tibetan Government-in-exile towards the commencement of negotiations with the Government of China.

In 1951, one year after Chinese troops first entered eastern Tibet, a delegation of Tibetan officials was sent to Beijing in an effort to negotiate a solution to the conflict. There, they were forced, under threat of full-scale invasion, to sign the "Seventeen-Point Agreement". The agreement outlined the terms through which Tibet was to cede control over its external affairs to China. Under international law, agreements between states are considered to be null and void if they are the result of coercion or threat. Within days, the Tibetan government in Lhasa withdrew from the terms and conditions of the Seventeen-Point Agreement.

Although Beijing authorities have never recognized the Tibetan government's withdrawal from the Agreement and continue to insist that it remains in effect, they have at the same time systematically violated all its provisions. Between 1951 and 1959, the number of Chinese troops in Tibet increased steadily and Chinese officials took over control by force. In March 1959, the situation erupted into full-scale revolt. In Lhasa, Tibet's capital city, the revolt was suppressed by a bloody and violent assault by Chinese troops, resulting in the deaths of more than 10,000 Tibetans. The Dalai Lama escaped the city and travelled over the Himalayas into exile in India. After establishing his Government-in-exile, he began a long and tireless effort to initiate dialogue with Beijing in order to end the conflict and suffering in his homeland.

  • The United Nations passed three resolutions on Tibet in 1959, 1961 an 1965, in which it called for the cessation of practices which deprive the Tibetan people of their fundamental human rights and freedoms, including their right to self-determination.
  • In 1979, Deng Xiaoping invited Gyalo Thondup (the Dalai Lama's eldest brother and his then Envoy to China) to Beijing and told him that except for the issue of total independence, all other issues related to the situation in Tibet could be discussed and all problems could be resolved.
  • In 1980, the Dalai Lama offered to meet with General Secretary Hu Yaobang through communications with the Chinese Embassy in New Delhi. There was no response to the offer.
  • On March 13, 1981, the Dalai Lama sent a letter to Mr. Deng Xiaoping describing the results of three fact-finding delegations to Tibet and suggesting ways to improve the relationship between China and Tibet.
  • On July 28, 1981, General Secretary Hu Yaobang gave Gyalo Thondup a document entitled, "Five Point Policy towards the Dalai Lama", a document criticizing the Dalai Lama and dictating the conditions for his return to Tibet.
  • On September 21, 1987, the Dalai Lama announced his Five Point Peace Plan for Tibet. The basic elements of the Plan were:
    • Transformation of the of Tibet into a zone of ahimsa (peace and non-violence);
    • Abandonment of China's population transfer policy;
    • Respect for the fundamental human rights and democratic freedoms of the Tibetan people;
    • Restoration and protection of Tibet's natural environment and the abandonment of China's use of Tibet for the production of nuclear weapons and dumping of nuclear waste;
    • Commencement of earnest negotiations on the future status of Tibet.
  • On October 17,1987, the Chinese authorities delivered a message to the Dalai Lama criticizing him for the Five Point Peace Plan and accusing him of having instigated the Lhasa riots on September 27,1987.
  • On June 15, 1988, at the European Parliament in Strasbourg, the Dalai Lama elaborated on the Five-point Peace Plan and presented the Strasbourg Proposal in which he suggested that China could maintain responsibility for Tibet's foreign policy and a restricted number of military installations in Tibet for defence purposes.
  • On September 23,1988, the Chinese government stated that it was willing to begin negotiations and that the date and venue would be left to the Dalai Lama. The Tibetan Government in exile proposed January 1989 in Geneva as their choice and named the members of their negotiating team.
  • The Chinese government responded on November 18,1988, rejecting Geneva and expressing preference for Beijing or Hong Kong, as the venue. The Dalai Lama agreed on Hong Kong but then the Chinese government refused to communicate any further. .
  • On September 2, 1991, following almost 3 years of silence from the Chinese government, Gyalo Thondup, then Cabinet Minister of the Tibetan Government in exile, declared that the Strasbourg Proposal was no longer considered to be an appropriate basis for negotiation.
  • In December 1991, when Premier Li Peng visited New Delhi, the Dalai Lama proposed to meet him there. There was no response from Chinese authorities.
  • Formal contact between the Dalai Lama and Beijing through the Chinese Embassy in New Delhi was cut in 1993. Informal links were maintained, but severed completely by Beijing in November 1998.
  • In October 2000, Gyalo Thondup, traveled to Beijing at the invitation of the Chinese authorities. He returned with a message from the Chinese authorities (of which the details are not known) and the Dalai Lama replied with a request to send a delegation to meet with representatives of the Government of China.
  • On January 30, 2001, 87 members of the Canadian Parliament wrote to Prime Minister Chrétien asking that he play an active role in bringing representatives of the Government of China to the negotiation table with representatives of the Dalai Lama. The Prime Minister was not requested to adopt a policy position regarding Tibet's status, but rather to broker the commencement of dialogue.
  • On September 9 2002, special envoys appointed by the Dalai Lama, arrived in Beijing, for the first direct and formalized contact with Chinese officials since 1993. The envoys also traveled to the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) where they held talks with Tibetan officials including Mr. Ngapo Ngawang Jigme, Vice Chair of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference and Mr. Ragdi, Chairman of the TAR People's Congress.
  • On September 30, 2002, US congress passed the Tibet Policy Act designed to safeguard the Tibetan identity and promote a negotiated solution for Tibet.
  • On May 8, 2003, President Bush becomes first U.S. president to submit a report on Tibet negotiations, as mandated by the Tibetan Policy Act, to the US Congress. The report describes repeated calls by the U.S. administration for a Sino-Tibet dialogue. Soon after Xinhua News Agency published article whereby China's cabinet slammed the U.S. government report on Tibet as interference in China's internal affairs, while maintaining that only Beijing could protect Tibet's language, religion and cultural heritage.
  • On May 25, 2003, the Dalai Lama's Special Envoys returned to Beijing for follow-up meetings with Chinese officials and a visit to the eastern Tibetan province of Kham. Permission to travel to a Tibetan area outside the TAR is considered significant because it implies that all of historical Tibet, not just the TAR, could potentially be under discussion in a negotiation process. Tibet's eastern provinces of Kham and Amdo, are now incorporated into the Chinese provinces of Qinghai, Gansu, Yunnan and Sichuan.


>> The Seventeen Point Agreement backgrounder


The Canadian Role in Negotiations

The following paper was presented by the Montreal based Rights & Democracy, and the Canada Tibet Committee at a policy seminar attended by His Holiness the Dalai Lama.

TIBET-CHINA NEGOTIATIONS :
TIME FOR CANADIAN LEADERSHIP

Background paper for policy seminar
His Holiness, The Dalai Lama

Friday, April 23, 2004
Conference Centre
Ottawa
1:00 - 4:30 p.m.

In 2002, representatives of the Dalai Lama traveled to China and Tibet and re-established contact with the Chinese leadership for the first time since 1993. Although actual negotiations between the two sides have yet to begin, indications suggest that one of the world's most neglected conflicts will soon receive international attention. The Dalai Lama will visit Canada in April 2004 and supporters are asking the Government of Canada to play the role of honest broker in the negotiation process.

Shifting Political Winds

This is a time of renewed hope for the Tibetan people. On November 23, 2003, Premier Wen Jiabao told The Washington Post that the "door to communication between the central government and the Dalai Lama is wide open." While Wen's overture is laden with conditions designed to extract political advantage to Beijing, observers are hopeful that the fledgling dialogue re-opened in 2002 could eventually lead to substantive negotiations on the future of Tibet .

The dialogue is significant because it represents the re-establishment of contact after formal communication between the parties was cut in 1993. Not limited to discussion via written correspondence, the renewed contact took the form of two delegation visits to Beijing. The first delegation, headed by the Dalai Lama's "special envoys," arrived in China on September 9, 2002 and was officially received by government representatives there. The delegation was also permitted to travel to the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) where talks were held with Chinese and Tibetan officials.

4 On May 25, 2003, the Dalai Lama's envoys returned to Beijing for follow-up meetings with Chinese officials and a visit to the eastern Tibetan province of Kham (ch. Sichuan). Permission to travel to a Tibetan area outside the TAR is considered significant because it implies that all of historical Tibet , not just the TAR, could potentially be under discussion in an eventual negotiation process.

Historical Background

Chinese troops first entered eastern Tibet in 1950 as part of Mao's long march. Annexation of the previously independent state was formalized in 1951 by the "Seventeen-Point Agreement" which was later rejected by the Tibetan government on the grounds that its representatives had been threatened and coerced into signing 1. Provisions of the agreement ceded control of Tibet 's external affairs to China while guaranteeing that internal governance, cultural and religious systems and institutions would remain under Tibetan administration.

The guarantees of autonomy proved illusory. The Dalai Lama and the Tibetan government were quickly subordinated to the Military Control Committee of the People's Liberation Army who systematically violated all provisions of the Seventeen Point Agreement. Between 1951 and 1959, the number of Chinese troops in Tibet increased steadily and eventually took full administrative control. In March 1959, the situation resulted in full-scale revolt which was brutally suppressed by Chinese forces 2. The Dalai Lama, followed by some 80,000 of his countrymen, fled across the Himalayas and was given sanctuary by the Government of India.

In India , the Dalai Lama established his government in exile, guided the settlement of more than 100,000 refugees and initiated cultural preservation programs. He also began a campaign for a peaceful resolution of the conflict in Tibet . That campaign continues to the present day 3. For his efforts the Dalai Lama has received several international peace awards, including the Nobel Peace Prize in 1989.

Notably, the Dalai Lama has also lead the diaspora and its government-in-exile through a continuous process of democratization, including re-drafting the Tibetan constitution, reforming the parliamentary election process, and transferring his personal powers to the elected body 4.

Human Rights & International Law

The International Covenant on Civil & Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the primary treaties that define the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, both begin with the following statement:

"All peoples have the right of self-determination. By virtue of that right they freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development."5

In view of this commitment, the United Nations General Assembly passed three resolutions on China's occupation of Tibet in 1959, 1961 and 1965 6. The resolutions, which remain active, call for the cessation of practices that deprive the Tibetan people of their fundamental human rights and freedoms, including their right to self-determination.

According to a 1960 report by the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ), "Tibet demonstrated from 1913 to 1950 the conditions of statehood as generally accepted under international law."7 The ICJ re-enforced its findings in 1997, stating:

"Tibetans are a 'people under alien subjugation,' entitled under international law to the right of self-determination, by which they freely determine their political status. The Tibetan people have not yet exercised this right, which requires a free and genuine expression of their will."8

In 1970 when China joined the United Nations and was given a seat on its security council, multilateral action in support of Tibet was effectively ended despite systemic human rights abuses documented in a long list of studies and reports by organizations such as the International Commission of Jurists, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. Today, violations of fundamental rights and freedoms continue unabated.

The Dalai Lama's Peace Proposals

The Dalai Lama's non-violent approach to resolving the conflict in Tibet relies on continued dialogue with China with the objective of initiating a substantive negotiation process. He has repeatedly stated that such a negotiation would not include the issue of his personal status but would serve the interests of the six million Tibetans living inside Tibet. The Dalai Lama has put forward two proposals on which Tibet-China negotiations could be based.

On September 21, 1987, speaking to the US Congress, the Dalai Lama described his Five Point Peace Plan for Tibet. The basic elements of the plan were the transformation of Tibet into a zone of peace; abandonment of China's population transfer policy; respect for the fundamental human rights and democratic freedoms of the Tibetan people; restoration and protection of Tibet's natural environment; the commencement of earnest negotiations on the future status of Tibet.

On June 15, 1988, at the European Parliament in Strasbourg, the Dalai Lama elaborated on the Five Point Peace Plan and presented the Strasbourg Proposal in which he suggested that China could maintain responsibility for Tibet's foreign policy and a restricted number of military installations in Tibet for defense purposes. This "Middle Path" approach calls for genuine autonomy for the six million Tibetans living in Tibetan regions of China 9, but not for the restoration of Tibet's status as a fully independent state.

The Middle Path position is the basis of the Dalai Lama's efforts to establish Tibet-China negotiations.

International Response

In the European Union, response to the Dalai Lama's proposals has included resolutions in the European Parliament and a 2002 budget allotment for the creation of a Special Representative for Tibet. Additionally, the European Commission as well as Germany, the United Kingdom and France individually, have issued calls for full negotiations to begin at the earliest. A stronger position on the issue is expected to emerge during Ireland's presidency of the EU, which began on January 1, 2004.

Meanwhile, in the United States, years of bipartisan Congressional support for the Tibetan cause culminated in the passage of the Tibetan Policy Act of 2002 10. Its provisions include the creation of a statutory mandate for the Special Coordinator for Tibetan Issues in the Department of State, the adoption of principles of responsible development for economic activity in Tibet, and a policy statement reaffirming U.S. commitment to promoting dialogue between Beijing and the Dalai Lama or his representatives.

The Congressional initiative mirrored an interest by Secretary of State Powell and the White House early in the Bush Administration's term. Both had consistently urged China to respect the distinct cultural heritage and human rights of the Tibetan people and President Bush met with the Dalai Lama during his visit to Washington last year. A subsequent report issued by the White House emphasized the lack of resolution of the Tibetan issue, calling it "a stumbling block to fuller political and economic engagement with the United States and other nations." 11

Momentum for Canadian Involvement

In the autumn of 2000, the Canada Tibet Committee launched a national campaign to promote the opening of negotiations between representatives of the Dalai Lama and representatives of the Government of China. The initiative, now titled "Tibet-China Negotiation Campaign," calls upon the Prime Minister of Canada to serve as a mediator between the two parties. Essentially it asks Canada to use its diplomatic channels to persuade China to respond to the Dalai Lama's proposals and to come to the negotiation table without preconditions.

The campaign does not require that Canada adopt any political position on Tibet's legal status. Rather it advocates that Canada seize the current opportunity of renewed dialogue between the Dalai Lama and Chinese authorities, to press for full negotiations between representatives of the Dalai Lama and Chinese authorities. Further, the campaign offers the occasion of the Dalai Lama's visit to Ottawa in April 2004 as the appropriate time to initiate Canadian involvement in this process.

Canada's parliamentarians support this initiative. 126 Members of Parliament from all political parties and all regions of Canada have written to the Prime Minister urging that he serve as honest broker between the two parties 12. Many prominent Canadians, from all walks of life, have also supported the campaign 13. As the Dalai Lama's visit to Canada approaches, public opinion in favour of Canadian involvement is expected to substantially increase.

Canada's active involvement in the Tibet-China Negotiation Campaign would be coherent with its established positions and priorities regarding China and Tibet. Canada is broadly engaged with China in a number of areas including trade and investment, security, development and technical assistance. It also maintains an active bilateral human rights dialogue with the Government of China.

Since 1998, the Department of Foreign Affairs & International Trade has conducted several official fact-finding missions to Tibet, including one at the ministerial level, as part of the human rights dialogue program. The Canadian International Development Agency is currently engaged in a bilateral development assistance project in the TAR and the 2001 Team Canada Mission included a special session for the private sector on China's Western Development Strategy.

Canada's growing involvement and apparent interest in Tibet, in conjunction with its foreign policy priority with regards to peacebuilding, make it the ideal broker for Tibet-China negotiations.

Conclusion

In the coming years, high profile international events, including the World Trade Organization's Ministerial meeting in 2005 and the Olympics in 2008 will focus the world's attention on China's human rights record. With public opinion firmly in support of the Tibetan cause, failure to break the negotiations impasse threatens to undermine the image of reform it seeks to portray internationally.

Clearly, it is also in Canada's interests that China succeeds in overcoming obstacles to the development of its new image. China is Canada's 4th largest trading partner and the Canadian private sector would certainly favour strategies to mitigate the negative image associated with doing business in China. Perhaps more compelling, however, is the public stature Canada would portray to a world overwhelmed by the politics of violence. A nation committed to peacebuilding must step forward to support those causes which strive to develop non-violent strategies to resolve conflict.

Notes

1 The full text of the Seventeen Point Agreement can be found at http://www.tibet.ca/pub/17PointAgreement.htm

2 For a description of events leading up to the Lhasa Uprising, see The Lhasa Uprising: A Sequence of Events at http://www.tibet.ca/pub/lhasauprising.html.

3 For a chronology of the negotiations campaign, see http://www.tibet.ca/c2000mediakit/tibet&negotiations.html

4 For more information about the Tibetan government-in-exile, see www.tibet.net

5 China has signed both Covenants and has ratified the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. Canada has signed and ratified both treaties.

6 Read the text of the UN resolutions at www.tibetjustice.org

7 Tibet and the Chinese People's Republic, International Commission of Jurists, 1960.

8 Tibet : Human Rights and the Rule of Law, International Commission of Jurists, 1997.

9 TAR and provinces

10 Full text available at http://www.state.gov/p/eap/rls/rpt/20699.htm

11 The White House Report on Tibet Negotiations, May 8, 2002, was submitted to the United States Congress as a requirement of the Tibetan Policy Act.

12 See http://www.tibet.ca/tibetchinanegotiation/ for a complete list of MPs who have supported the campaign

13 A complete list of "Advisory Committee" members is available at http://www.tibet.ca/en/dalailamaottawa2004/

Suggested Reading:

  • Poverty by Design: The Economics of Discrimination in Tibet , Andrew Fischer, Canada Tibet Committee, 2002
  • The Dragon in the Land of Snows: A History of Modern Tibet since 1947, Tsering Shakya, Pimlico, 1999.
  • Tibet : Human Rights and the Rule of Law, International Commission of Jurists, 1997
  • The Status of Tibet: History, Rights, and Prospects in International Law, Michael van Walt van Praag, Westview Press, 1987.
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