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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."

Negotiating to Negotiate with China

July 2, 2008

by Tashi Topgyal
New York, USA
June 29, 2008

We have been negotiating to negotiate with China since Deng Xiaoping
said "apart from independence, all issues can be discussed" in 1979.

The immediate come out was visits to Tibet by several Tibetan
delegations from exile. But it took almost ten years to make a formal
statement on the future status of Tibet - the Five Point Peace Plan
in 1987 and the Strasbourg proposal the following year by the Dalai
Lama. The Strasbourg called for one country two system -- same as
what China give Hong Kong. In short, Tibetans govern themselves under
a democratic system and China is responsible for foreign and defense.
Many Tibetans criticized Strasbourg proposal.

In 1987, 1988 and 1989 large scale demonstrations took place in Tibet
against Chinese rule. The demonstrations were violently crushed by
the Chinese. China declared martial law in March 1989. Despite the
worsening situation in Tibet, the Dalai Lama continued to seek
dialogue with China.

Between 1979 and today, many delegations from Dharamsala visited
China. The elder brother of the Dalai Lama visited China several
times. During one visit he asked the Chinese leaders if Deng mislead
him by saying "anything but independence" as talks with China were
making no progress even though the Dalai Lama stopped calling for
Tibetan independence.

For a long time, there was no contact with China. However, in 2002
Mr. Lodi Gyari and Mr. Kelsang Gyaltsen, the Dalai Lama's two envoys
renewed contacts with Chinese officials. The First Round of dialogue
with China began in September 2002. There was great expectation.

On Mr. Gyari return, he said "what impressed us more this time was
the much greater flexibility displayed by the current leaders in
their mental attitude." Also "We had the opportunity to visit some
areas of Chengdu, Shanghai and Beijing and were greatly impressed
with the progress and development that have taken place." And not a
word about the situation in Tibet.

Since then five rounds of talks have taken place. Tibetans officials
are optimistic that the seventh round will take place soon before the
Olympics. But what happens after the Olympics?  What was the outcome
of the 4 May talks with China?

Very little has been achieved during these talks. The task is not
easy. There have been further complications. The Chinese cunningly
appointed Mr. Sitar as a senior member of their team. This is a
strategy to present the Tibetan issue as a problem between Tibetans
and not with China. Mr. Sitar is a Tibetan from Eastern Tibet was
earlier stationed at China's Consulate in Zurich. He succeeded in
building good contacts with some Tibetans in Switzerland.

Many Tibetans feel that the talks are a waste of time. Some Tibetans
even question the personal integrity of Mr. Gyari. He has done a lot
in promoting the Tibetans issue. But many complain that the
Washington, DC based International Campaign for Tibet started by the
Dharamsala, is today runs independently by him. Also money funds that
should be raised for Dharamsala are being hijacked by ICT. And ICT
staff knows more details about the talks than even senior Tibetan officials.

Mr. Gyari's deputy Mr. Kelsang Gyaltsen is a high flying official who
joined the Tibetan government service after leaving a banking career
in Switzerland. He was the Dalai Lama's Representative in Switzerland
and secretary in India. Under controversial circumstances he was
appointed the Dalai Lama's Envoy when he moved back to Switzerland.

When appointed to head the newly established Tibet office in Brussels
to lobby the Tibetan issue in European Union, Mr. Gyaltsen refused to
be based there but continued to work from his home in Switzerland.

Earlier this year, Dharamsala announced that Mr. Gyaltsen will open a
new office in Zurich to promote political activities in Europe. Why
Zurich and not Brussels, the capital of European politics..
Switzerland is not even a member of the European Union. Was has he
been doing the last 10 years in Europe?  Instead of consolidating our
work in Europe, opening a new office has high financial implications
for our government.

To complicate the matter more, a veteran official Mr. Tashi Wangdi,
currently the New York Representative and ex-minister will head the
Brussels office. So what is Mr. Gyaltsen's actual role and work?

Once can over hear senior officials jokingly saying in Dharamsala,
whatever Mr. Gyatlsen says - I want to work from home - he gets his
way. The other interesting anecdote is that the Envoys don't report
to our foreign minister. Do they make their own foreign policy
independent from our foreign ministry? Recently, Mr. Gyari while
addressing a US Congress hearing on Tibet said that the Olympic torch
should not rally through Tibet. I understand that this wasn't a
policy decided in Dharamsala. This is not the first time and will not
be the last.

As the criticism and delusion grows stronger amongst the younger
generation as well as government officials, our policy to engage the
China must become more transparency. After every round of talk with
China, there must be clear briefings to the government officials and
the community at large and not mere one page statements.

Samdhong Rinpoche is a charismatic and respected leader, populously
elected Tibetan Prime Minister. During his first term, he streamlined
and strengthened the framework of the government. During the second
term, I hope same success is achieved in our foreign policy. Surely,
he has the wisdom and courage to hold the two envoys more
accountable. No individual other than the Dalai Lama is indispensable.

China's current policy on Tibet is more hard-line than 1980s. Mr.
Phuntso Wangyal, a veteran Tibetan Communist accused the Chinese
government hawks of closing the door on dialogue with the Dalai Lama
and misleading the Chinese leadership about the Dalai Lama's
influence in Tibet.

It is unlikely that this faction will lose power anytime soon.

Finally, a few meetings cannot resolve the deep-rooted misconceptions
and strong distrust between the Tibetans and Chinese. An important
beginning has been made and we must continue this process. More
important, we need to find ways to influence Chinese people and
policy makers within China to change their policy in Tibet.

The talks with China will go on for a long time. We should be under
no delusion about this. A change in the team by including some young
blood preferably someone who reads and speak Chinese must be
considered. We need to think about continuity.
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