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"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."

Beijing: A Harder Line on Tibet?

June 12, 2008

By Simon Elegant/Beijing
TIME Magazine
June 10, 2008

Until the devastating May 12 earthquake in China's Sichuan Province,
the attention of most China watchers had been focused on a completely
different part of the country: Tibet. After bloody anti-Chinese
protests in mid-March were suppressed by the Chinese military,
Beijing closed the Himalayan region off from the outside world and
made scores of arrests. Those moves brought widespread international
condemnation, which in turn sparked a nationalistic backlash in China
that some feared might imperil the smooth running of the Beijing
Olympics this August.

But since the quake, in which nearly 100,000 were killed and millions
left homeless, global attention — and sympathy — has shifted
decisively away from Tibet to China. Indeed, some observers say
support in Western capitals for the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader,
the Dalai Lama, has lessened noticeably since the quake. They fear
the shift is an opportunity for China to harden its position, setting
off a new round of tension and violence.

Those concerns were heightened in recent days when Beijing, citing
the Sichuan earthquake, postponed a scheduled June 11th meeting
between its representatives and those of the Tibetan government in
exile in Dharamsala, India. The meeting, set before the earthquake,
would have marked the resumption of talks suspended in 2006, and thus
was widely seen as an encouraging sign that rapprochement was possible.

If China does harden its stance or take other actions that threaten
the talks, it will significantly worsen the risk of renewed protests
inside Tibet, says a go-between, one of several informal
intermediaries between the Tibetan government-in-exile and Beijing.
"If the talks collapse without result, the Dalai Lama won't be able
to control the young radicals who want to take more forceful action
and say he has been too accommodating," he says.

He and others familiar with the negotiations say the Dalai Lama's
government in exile is under enormous pressure to produce results or
risk losing authority over exile groups such as the Tibetan Youth
Congress, which advocate a more militant approach. Without some
tangible proof that the Dalai's self-proclaimed 'third way' is
working — such as, for instance, an invitation to Beijing to meet
with Chinese President Hu Jintao -- frustration could also erupt
inside Tibet itself, they warn. The Dalai Lama himself has expressed
that fear. If the talks break down, "demonstrations I think will
happen," he told the French news service AFP in late May. "Serious
demonstrations, not only demonstrations but also involving violence."

In fact, some analysts argue that fresh protests could break out as
early as this weekend, when the Olympic torch relay passes through
the Tibetan capital Lhasa, a route some protesters have claimed was a
deliberate provocation. In an apparent concession, Beijing shortened
the time the torch would be present in Tibet, but refused to cancel
the leg entirely.

One result of the earthquake has been to leave Beijing, which already
held most of the cards in negotiations with the Dalai Lama, with an
even stronger hand, the go-between says. He points out that the Dalai
Lama has made enormous efforts to comply with Beijing's demands in an
attempt to ensure that there is no excuse to sink the talks. In early
June, for example, the Dalai Lama pointedly reaffirmed his
conciliatory stance on issues the Chinese consider critical if the
talks are to succeed. According to reports in the Beijing-leaning
South China Morning Post, Chinese officials have received a document
containing the Dalai Lama's statement of support for China's right to
hold the Olympics, his denial that he advocates independence, and a
condemnation of any use of violence.

In another attempt to publicly demonstrate goodwill, the entire
government in exile led by the Dalai Lama himself participated in
lengthy prayers for victims of the Sichuan earthquake on June 4th.
"The Dalai wants to be invited back but he wants to walk back in, not
crawl," says the go-between. "He is already in serious danger of
losing control to the radicals. He has to have something to show the
Tibetan people. He has bent over backward, but it's all up to Beijing
now. There's no more he can do."
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