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Beijing's last chance to make peace in Tibet: Direct talk with Dalai Lama now

April 9, 2008

Zanesville Times Recorder
Apr 8, 2008

The long-running struggle for independence from China by Tibet has taken
a dramatic, and fatal, turn since March 10. As people all over the world
watched the rage, arson, destruction of property, even bloodshed
exploded in the Tibetan capital Lhasa and spilled over into neighboring
Chinese provinces populated by Tibetans.

Tibetan monks, in their distinctive vermilion apparel, were torching
ethnic Han Chinese property and challenging Chinese authorities in Lhasa
and other Tibetan cities, and many Tibetans are angry and emboldened as
never before, hoisting eye-catching "Free Tibet" flags. Chinese security
forces suppressed crowds with tear gas and bullets in what have become
the most violent confrontations there in two decades. The March 2008
protests, which have since claimed many lives, also marked the 49th
anniversary of the demand for independence from China by Tibet.

Why are the Tibetans so angry today?

The Dalai Lama, Tibet's spiritual leader who fled his homeland 29 years
ago after a failed uprising, has called the recent protests in Tibet a
"natural result of deep resentment caused by China's treatment of
Tibetans as second-class citizens in their own land." Moreover, Tibet's
"ancient cultural heritage," says the Dalai Lama, "is threatened with
extinction by China." Beijing is trying to "use force to gain stability
and peace," but the end result is "cultural genocide" has been taking
place in his homeland, the exiled Tibetan-Buddhist leader told CNN
recently. "True harmony and unity," says the Dalai Lama, "must come from
the heart."

What is perhaps even more important, as Newsweek's Melinda Liu has
noticed, is the fact that "thousands of younger Tibetans are hardening
in their fury. Every attempt to silence the protests seems almost
calculated to do the opposite. Although few Tibetans openly challenge
the Dalai Lama's nonviolent 'middle way,' dissent is rising among
younger Tibetans. Many young exiles are mentally preparing for a freedom
struggle. They see this moment as a 'historic opportunity' to reclaim
their homeland."

 From Chinese government's point of view, the recent protests and riots
in Tibet are nothing but a result of the "conspiracy of sabotage."
"China has pinned the blame," reports Reuters' David Fogarty, "for the
violence in the Tibetan capital Lhasa and other unrest in nearby areas
on the Dalai Lama." Referring to the violence carried out by protesters
in Tibet to express their opposition to the central government in
Beijing, a People's Daily editorial proclaimed, "Evidences prove this
was organized, premeditated, masterminded by and incited by the Dalai
Lama clique."

Beijing also blamed "Westerners," including Speaker of the U.S. House of
Representatives Nancy Pelosi, President of the European Parliament
Hans-Gert Pöttering and foreign media and human-rights groups, for
"framing up crackdown charges against the Chinese government." According
to Xinhua, China's official news agency, "What these Westerners care for
is nothing but their political agenda, that is, how to use their idea to
smear or vilify China's development and, as for the interest of
Tibetans, it merely serves as a tool to achieve their political aim.
Riots are, after all, riots, and on no account can they be prettified or
whitewashed as 'peaceful protests,' as they have been embellished by
some Western figures."

What is perhaps even more alarming, however, is the reaction of average
Chinese citizens who are clearly outraged by international discussions
to link up protests in Tibet with China's prized Beijing 2008 Olympics.
In public and online, Chinese citizens, especially among young
generations, are angered at the global focus on Tibet as the Beijing
Olympics near.

Beijing clearly has trouble reading Tibet's pulse. And Chinese leaders'
inability or unwillingness to comprehend Tibetans, especially their
newer generations and young leaders, has become the Achilles' heel in
China's Tibet policy.

The conflict over the political status of Tibet vis-à-vis China has
reached a critical juncture. The current crisis, as Melinda Liu noted,
"is far more serious than the last big eruption of Tibetan unrest in
1989. Then the protests never spread beyond the Tibetan capital. This
time the flames have leaped to far-flung ethnic enclaves."

The Dalai Lama's willingness to sit down with Chinese leaders to
negotiate and his calling for greater autonomy, not full independence,
for Tibet may be Beijing's last chance to make peace in the pious
Himalayan region. It is time for Beijing to stop its smear campaign
against the Dalai Lama and start direct talk with Tibet's spiritual
leader immediately.
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