Join our Mailing List

"I believe that to meet the challenges of our times, human beings will have to develop a greater sense of universal responsibility. It is the foundation for world peace."

For Talks to Succeed, China Must Admit to a Tibet Problem

May 21, 2008

Prof. Michael Davis
Global Politician
May 20, 2008

HONG KONG -- Under the glare of the Beijing Olympics, China's failed
policies in Tibet have moved to the front pages of newspapers
worldwide. Under international pressure Chinese officials resumed
their dialogue with the representatives of the Dalai Lama on May 4.
The parties agreed to continue the ongoing dialogue that began in
2002 and included six rounds of meetings. Chinese officials
emphasized that they'll approach these renewed meetings with "great
patience and sincerity." Chinese officials have long promised that
anything can be discussed if the Dalai Lama stops seeking
independence, which the Dalai Lama has repeatedly said is not his
goal. The talks can succeed if China proves its promised sincerity by
first acknowledging that there is a Tibet issue and the Dalai Lama's
representatives are the best interlocutors to resolve it.

The depth of Tibetan anger about Chinese policies, expressed during
March demonstrations, shocked the world. Tibetans who took to the
streets faced certain Chinese crackdown. The world was disappointed
by the toxic Chinese official reaction and by the rather
nationalistic popular demonstrations that followed the Olympic torch
around the world. High Officials labeled the Nobel Peace Laureate
Dalai Lama a "wolf in monk's robes," a "serial liar" and a "slave
owner." Is sincerity likely in the face of this continuing vilification?

For the Chinese, hosting the Olympics symbolizes China's emergence on
the world stage as a responsible great power, and indeed, people
expect a high standard of behavior from an Olympic host. While the
Tibet issue is generally seen as posing a serious challenge to
Beijing, it can also offer an opportunity for China to prove its
sincerity and responsible behavior. China has historically set up
obstacles to successful dialogue on Tibet, yet can now take steps to
demonstrate its sincerity.

First, China should accept at face value the Dalai Lama's repeated
statements that he does not seek independence. A protracted
discussion about the “true intentions” of this highly respected
Tibetan leader serves no purpose. Both sides have long conceded that
Tibet should remain part of China and that it should be autonomous.
The Dalai Lama has proposed "genuine autonomy" under what he calls
the "middle way" approach. The Chinese side has not offered a
response through six years of protracted discussions.

Second, China should drop its attacks on traditional Tibetan
governance. The Chinese side has long accused the Dalai Lama of
formerly running a feudal theocracy, as if this is what awaits an
autonomous Tibet. Surely China was equally feudal before the founding
of the People's Republic of China. But these accusations are
irrelevant since the Dalai Lama proposes to step down from any
temporal role and to establish democracy, human rights and the rule
of law under his "middle way" approach.

Third, in these discussions China should avoid its oft-stated
historical title claim. Chinese officials are fond of arguing that
Tibet has for centuries been “an inseparable part of China” as a
strategy to deny that there is a Tibet issue. If independence is off
the table and the goal is autonomy, this claim is irrelevant. Even if
such history were taken seriously, it is not clear it would work in
China's favor. China's claim of 700 years of imperial patronage
offers little that would justify a modern state's claims to
territory. Of more relevance to autonomy, China never directly
governed Tibet until the PRC took over in the 1950s. It is
uncontested that through these long centuries Tibet remained largely
Tibetan. Chinese census data reports that the Tibet Autonomous
Region, the largest Tibetan area, is still 92 percent inhabited by
ethnic Tibetans today.

Fourth, China should accept that the Tibet issue is one of human
rights rather than insist that the only issue is national unity. A
superficial examination of reality refutes this claim. In the heady
days after the Chinese revolution, the Chinese failed to live up to
their obligations, imposing repressive radical leftist policies.
China's former party leader, Hu Yaobang acknowledged this in the
1980s and apologized. Human-rights violations continue, and the Dalai
Lama recently asked China to end repressive policies, release
prisoners, open Tibet up to the media and stop the "patriotic
reeducation" campaign which denigrates traditional Tibetan culture.

Fifth, China should avoid using its own constitution as an obstacle
to settlement. On its face, the Chinese constitution allows greater
flexibility than Chinese officials concede. The Chinese Constitution
allows for two forms of autonomy, including the type of national
minority autonomy now applied to Tibetan areas and the more
substantial autonomy reflected in the creation of special
administrative regions, as now applies in Hong Kong. The former,
applied nationwide to implement Communist Party control in designated
minority areas, offers little genuine autonomy and does not seem to
allow the level of autonomy proposed under the "middle way" approach.
Chinese officials have argued that the Hong Kong model cannot be
applied in Tibet because Tibet has not involved the regaining of
sovereignty and has already undergone democratic and socialist
reform. Tibetan efforts to push forward their genuine autonomy model
under either approach have proven futile.

Even a superficial look at Tibetan history refutes the claim that
sovereignty has never been an issue and that Tibet has always been an
inseparable part of China. The failure of democratic and socialist
reform in Tibet and nationwide is equally obvious.

Sixth, China should stop viewing genuine autonomy as "splittist."
Officially the country has 55 national minorities. Would other
minorities demand the same treatment or would Tibetans use autonomy
as a platform for independence? That Tibetans have long been
considered distinctive among these groups is evident in the 1951
"17-point Agreement for the Peaceful Liberation of Tibet," the only
agreement of its kind entered with a so-called national minority.
Practically, only one other minority in China poses such risk ­- the
Uighur Muslims in Xinjiang. Becausee of assimilation or location,
other minorities are not likely to seek independence. A peaceful and
fair Tibetan settlement, in fact, would offer a positive example for
the Uighurs.

Seventh, China should abandon the constant suspicion of foreign
interference. China is too big and powerful a nation to wallow in
this victim mentality. In an age of ethnic wars and terror, the
treatment of a domestic indigenous minority is increasingly a matter
of international concern. With the September 2007 passage of the UN
Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, standards for the
autonomy of indigenous ethnic groups have become more concrete. While
China claims not to have any indigenous peoples, these standards may
still provide a useful guideline. Tibetans are clearly distinctive as
to their land, history, language, culture, religion, customs and traditions.

Eighth, China should simply enter into negotiations with the Tibetan
side over the boundary of an autonomous Tibet. Historically dividing
Tibet into 13 areas, China has objected to the Tibetan request that
all contiguous Tibetan-populated areas be united into one autonomous
Tibet. Tibetans argue that since they are not seeking independence
this should not be a problem. Compromise that considers current
ethnic distribution and the protection of Tibetan culture should be possible.

The suggested actions offer a yardstick by which China can prove its
sincerity and win the confidence of the Tibetan people and the world.
The Dalai Lama is the rare negotiating partner with the capability to
win over even the more skeptical segment of the Tibetan community.
China should take advantage of this opportunity.

-- Michael C. Davis is a professor of law at Chinese University of
Hong Kong. * Reproduced with permission from YaleGlobal.
CTC National Office 1425 René-Lévesque Blvd West, 3rd Floor, Montréal, Québec, Canada, H3G 1T7
T: (514) 487-0665   ctcoffice@tibet.ca
Developed by plank