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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."

China's window of opportunity on Tibet

July 9, 2008

Frank Ching
The Globe and Mail (Canada)
July 8, 2008

Last week's meeting between representatives of the Dalai Lama and the
Chinese government produced a slight softening of Beijing's position,
but it also exposed a wide gulf between the two sides on the purpose
of the talks.

Du Qinglin, head of the Communist Party's United Front Work
Department, told the Tibetans that their spiritual leader should
promise "not to support activities to disturb the upcoming Beijing
Olympic Games, not to support plots to fan violent criminal
activities, not to support and concretely curb the violent terrorist
activities of the Tibetan Youth Congress and not to support any
argument and activity to seek Tibetan independence." Previously,
Beijing had assumed the Dalai Lama's guilt, telling him to "stop the
activities aimed at splitting China, stop plotting and inciting
violence and stop disrupting and sabotaging the Beijing Olympics."

However, the two sides remain far apart on a basic issue: why they
are talking. A statement issued Saturday by Lodi Gyari, the Dalai
Lama's chief representative, said: "Throughout our talks we have
reiterated to our counterparts that the issue at hand is the welfare
of the Tibetan people and is not about the personal status and
affairs of His Holiness the Dalai Lama or that of the Tibetans in
exile." But the next day, a Chinese spokesman spelled out a
diametrically opposed view, saying: "the contacts and dialogues were
about Dalai Lama's personal future, not so-called 'China-Tibet
negotiation' or 'dialogue between Han and Tibetan people,'."
according to the state-owned Xinhua news agency. The only agreement
reached was that they would meet again — after the Olympics.

This represents a victory of sorts for Beijing. After the Lhasa riots
in March, the international community brought great pressure to bear
on China for talks with the Dalai Lama. Now that two meetings have
been held, the pressure has receded.

The Dalai Lama's camp is clearly disappointed. "There is a growing
perception among the Tibetans, among friends of Tibet … that the
whole tactic of the Chinese government in engaging us is to stall for
time," Mr. Gyari said in his statement. "My colleague and I told our
Chinese counterpart candidly that we ourselves are beginning to inch
toward this school of thought."

However, the dialogue process began in 2002 -- long before any talk
of an Olympics boycott -- so Beijing evidently sees some value in
continuing the discussions.

The differences over the purpose of the talks can be bridged. After
all, there can be no settlement of the Tibet issue without a
resolution on the role of the Dalai Lama. Similarly, the Dalai Lama
will not agree to return to China without an understanding on how
Beijing's policies on Tibet will change. The two issues are inseparable.

The danger is that Beijing may have decided that it does not need the
Dalai Lama, who turned 73 on Sunday and may not be around much longer.

This would be a mistake. The spiritual leader's demise will actually
make the problems much more acute for China, since his is a voice of
moderation. His death will result in the rise of radical Tibetan
elements who want full independence, not just autonomy.

A hint of Beijing's awareness of this can be discerned in its list of
"do not supports." The call for the Dalai Lama to "curb the violent
terrorist activities of the Tibetan Youth Congress" and "not to
support any argument and activity to seek Tibetan independence" shows
that Beijing no longer equates "the Dalai clique" with Tibet's more
radical elements. It is progress that Beijing no longer accuses the
Dalai Lama of having instigated the violence.

Mr. Gyari said the Chinese side "expressed the view that the dialogue
process has been productive and that we need to keep in mind that a
half-a-century-old issue of great complexity cannot be resolved in a
matter of years."

This suggests a willingness to continue talking, perhaps for many
more years. If so, it is a positive development showing that Beijing
recognizes that the Dalai Lama's presence provides a window of
opportunity to make progress on the Tibetan issue. The window will
close upon his death. China should understand that an accord must be
reached while there is still time.

Frank Ching is a Hong Kong-based writer.
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