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"On my part, I remain committed to the process of dialogue. It is my firm belief that dialogue and a willingness to look with honesty and clarity at the reality of Tibet can lead us to a viable solution."

Messages of Intent

June 18, 2008

Laurence Brahm
South China Morning Post (SCMP)
Jun 17, 2008 

As the Dalai Lama's special envoys prepare for a seventh round of
talks with ministerial-level counterparts in Beijing, a rare
opportunity - if not the last - may now be on the table. A
breakthrough on Tibet is needed now as much as ever, to assure the
survival of Tibetan Buddhism in China, Tibetan culture and to clean
up China's sensitive human rights image, which is receiving excessive
media exposure in this Olympic year. Such a breakthrough could
happen, within weeks, if that is the intention of both sides.
Buddhists say everything begins with intention.

On June 4, in Dharamsala, the Dalai Lama led prayers for the Sichuan
earthquake victims. The ceremony was attended by Samdhong Rinpoche,
the prime-minister-in-exile, and all cabinet ministers, officials and
staff. Thousands of Tibetans, and monks and nuns, were present in a
seemingly unprecedented outpouring of compassion and sympathy. It
also sent a clear message of intention, possibly one Beijing has been
waiting for.

For some time, Beijing has accused the Dalai Lama of failing to
control protests as a sign of his intention. Actually, the Dalai Lama
today sees himself as a spiritual leader but not really a political
one. Moreover, diverse non-governmental organisations within the
exile community, incubated in India's free-thinking democracy, say
and do what they want; aside from moral persuasion, there is not much
the Dalai Lama can do to control them. However, organising the entire
government-in-exile to say prayers for China's earthquake disaster
victims is something he can do, to show positive intention, and he did it.

Ironically, this year's Sagadawa festival (a celebration of Buddha's
birth, enlightenment and nirvana) fell on June 4 according to the
Tibetan calendar - an obviously politically sensitive coincidence.
Holding prayers on this day had a calming effect. On that same day,
the Tibetan government-in-exile issued a statement about the Dalai
Lama's position on three issues about which China had been seeking
reclarification: his support of the Olympics; adherence to
non-violent expression; and not seeking separation or independence.
The document was also signed by Samdhong Rinpoche, underscoring the
support of the government-in-exile, as well. The issues should now be
beyond doubt, which means that negotiations should be able to move on
to other matters.

Both sides should seek to place common points above differences at
this juncture. Failure to do so and achieve some form of breakthrough
may lead to further frustrations among Tibetans on both sides of the
Himalayas and, predictably, protests in the Olympic run-up. This is
not what China needs or wants, or the Dalai Lama for that matter.

What both sides should be discussing is a potential meeting between
President Hu Jintao and the Dalai Lama, where his public statements
supporting the Olympics, non-violence, and not seeking separation or
independence could be repeated, once and for all. The Dalai Lama has
already agreed to send representatives to Tibetan areas to emphasise
these points and assure stability in the run-up to the Games and beyond.

There is a kind of chicken-and-egg conundrum. As foundations for such
a meeting, the Tibetan side calls for conditions to improve in Tibet,
namely an amnesty for participants in the March demonstrations (and
those who should be punished tried openly, according to the law), and
a halt to the forced criticism of the Dalai Lama by monks and nuns
through "patriotic education". Clearly, this rhetoric will not change
until Mr Hu meets the Dalai Lama. Then, just as the anti-imperialist
language ended after Mao Zedong met US president Richard Nixon, the
propaganda engines will shift to a new story.

If the Dalai Lama is not being criticised in monasteries, monks and
nuns will be calm, and Tibetans will feel better. That will ensure
the stability China needs for the Olympics and also in the long term.
In this year of calamity, nobody wants more disasters.

Laurence Brahm is a political economist, author, filmmaker and
founder of Shambhala
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