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Tibetan hope for Obama's India visit

September 11, 2010

By Saransh Sehgal
Asia Times (Hong Kong)
September 10, 2010

DHARAMSALA, India - The latest United States
government report on Tibet negotiations has
sparked off speculation and hope among the exiled
Tibetan community that the Tibet issue might be
on US President Barack Obama's agenda during his
maiden visit to India in November.

In its annual report on Tibet negotiations,
submitted to US Congress on August 18, the State
Department called for better dialogue between
Beijing and the Dalai Lama, the Tibetan spiritual leader in exile.

"Encouraging substantive dialogue between Beijing
and the Dalai Lama is an important foreign policy
objective of the United States. We continue to
encourage representatives of the PRC [People's
Republic of China] and the Dalai Lama to hold
direct and substantive discussions aimed at the
resolution of differences, without precondition," said the report.

"China's engagement with the Dalai Lama or his
representatives to resolve problems facing
Tibetans is in the interests of both the Chinese
government and the Tibetan people. Failure to
address these problems will lead to greater
tensions inside China and will be an impediment
to China's social and economic development."

The US government also recently called on Nepal
to honor a past commitment to allow Tibetan
refugees the freedom of travel to India through
Nepal. In a meeting with Nepal's Home Minister
Bhim Rawal on August 18, visiting US Acting
Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for South and
Central Asian Affairs Atul Keshap expressed
concern over the "violation of a gentlemen's
agreement", the Kathmandu Post reported. Keshap
reminded Rawal of a United Nations-brokered deal
to allow fleeing Tibetans free passage to India's
Dharamsala - the de facto capital of Tibetan
exiles - through Nepal, government officials were quoted as saying.

The US government's recent double-take on Tibet -
publicizing the report on Tibet negotiations and
putting pressure on the Nepalese government to
give Tibetan refugees the right to travel -
suggests Washington is ready to show support for
the Dalai Lama and his followers, who have been
struggling for more than half a century for a
free Tibet. It has also added to speculation that
Tibet may be among the issues Obama would discuss
with Indian leaders during his visit to India from November 7 to 10.

The Tibet issue again caused a ripple in
India-China relations on August 11 when Indian
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh met the Dalai Lama.
Beijing protested and conveyed its opposition to
any foreign leaders meeting Tibetan spiritual
leader, though Indian External Affairs Minister S
M Krishna later clarified that New Delhi regards
the Tibetan spiritual leader as an "honored
guest" but does not "encourage" him to engage in political activities.

The meeting with Manmohan came just a month after
India's Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao held talks
with the Dalai Lama in the northern Indian hill station of Dharamsala.

The Tibetan government in exile has welcomed the
State Department’s "Report on Tibet Negotiations:
March 2009 - February 2010”. “It shows details of
all the steps taken by the Obama administration
and encourages China and Dharamsala to resolve
the issue through dialogue, which the Tibetan
side really wants," said Samphel Thupten, the
spokesman of the Tibetan government in exile.

However, the report, which was due in March, was
submitted to congress only on August 18, a
significant delay that the Indian press has
suggested implies a downplaying of Tibet by Obama administration.

China so far has kept silent on the US report,
which does reiterate that the Tibet Autonomous
Region is part of China. Tibetans in the exile
community believe the US has a key role to play
on the Tibet issue, and hope Obama will discuss
the issue during his visit. This, they believe,
would increase pressures on Beijing for a new
round of talks with the Dalai Lama's
representative. The US’s Tibet policy is based on
the Tibet Policy Act 2002, which supports, among
other things, negotiations between the Dalai Lama
and Beijing and respect for Tibetans' religious,
linguistic and cultural heritage and human rights.

Under the act, the US government is required to
submit its annual report on the negotiations
between Beijing and Dalai Lama. There have been
nine rounds of talks held since 2002 but they
have not produced any major results. The talks
had not been held for almost 15 months until a
ninth round was held in January 2010 in Beijing.

Some Indian experts also believe that the Tibet issue should be on the agenda.

"An exchange of views on the progress of the
talks between Dalai Lama and Beijing should be on
the agenda. The government of India should take
the initiative in proposing the inclusion of this
item on the agenda. His Holiness should also be
invited to any reception hosted by our president
in honor of President Obama," said B Raman,
director of the Institute for Topical Studies and
an associate of the Chennai Center for China Studies.

However, anything offered to Dalai Lama during
that time could lead to severe criticism from
Beijing and further sour Indian relations with
China following Manmohan's meeting with the Dalai Lama.

Saransh Sehgal is a contributor based in
Dharamsala, India, who can be reached at info@mcllo.com .
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