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"As long as human rights are violated, there can be no foundation for peace. How can peace grow where speaking the truth is itself a crime?"

Olympics may make China more obdurate over Tibet

August 15, 2008

The Economic Times/IANS (India)
August 14, 2008,

The Dalai Lama's reported acceptance of Communist Party rule in Tibet
as a gesture of sincerity to bring the resolution of the Tibetan
issue within grasp is bit of a non sequitur.

In an op-ed piece headlined 'An olive branch from the Dalai Lama',
Nicholas D. Kristof of the New York Times quoted the Dalai Lama as
having accepted Communist rule as a major concession to elevate the
dialogue to a far more efficacious level than it has been in the past
six years. Then he quoted the Tibetan leader as making an assertion
that is the real crux of the dispute now. "The main thing is to
preserve our culture, to preserve the character of Tibet. That is
what is most important, not politics," the Dalai Lama said.

In China's view the Dalai Lama's acceptance is really no concession
since in Beijing's view Tibet's subservience to its overarching
political socialist ideology was not up for any discussion in the first place.

The real question is: can Communist Party rule be so accommodating as
to allow the Tibetans to preserve a culture and character which so
fundamentally diverge from the established wisdom in Beijing? The
question goes to the heart of broader religious, cultural and
political freedoms for not just Tibetans but for the Chinese
generally that the Communist Party has so severely restricted.

Tied to the question of Tibetan culture and character is the very
definition of China which officially recognises 56 distinct ethnic
groups, Tibetan being one of them. Would Beijing indulge the six
million Tibetans with such freedoms as it has continued to deny other
much larger ethnic groups? The notion that all these ethnic groups
flourish under one benign and predominantly Han Chinese umbrella was
rudely disproved in the recent deaths of 16 armed policemen in the
restive Xinjiang region where some nine million Uighur restive Muslims live.

It is true that in terms of their sheer demographic muscle the 55
non-Han Chinese ethnic groups constitute barely eight percent or some
112 million out of the 1.3 billion Chinese. Beijing cannot grant the
Tibetans any special favours in the name of preserving their culture
and character without running the risk of creating similar
expectations among the other ethnic groups. Of course, one can
reasonably argue that the case of Tibet is distinct and unique
inasmuch as it once constituted a living nation of its own strength
and rich history. But that is an argument China settled in its own
mind over five decades ago when it annexed it.

On the face of it the Dalai Lama's acceptance of the socialist system
under Communist rule in Tibet seems like a major offer. But seen in
the context of his insistence on maintaining his homeland's cultural
and religious uniqueness it may not amount to much as a negotiating
device. Assimilation of sub-nationalities has been one of the core
principles of Chinese Communist thinking.

Although China ostensibly celebrates the majesty of its multi-ethnic
character, in reality the minorities are merely one more prop in its
well-oiled PR machine that projects the country as a picture of
harmony. Even special rights such as being able to have more than one
child that the minorities enjoy much to the resentment of the
majority Han Chinese do not do much to help their real plight.

It is anybody's guess whether China will treat the Dalai Lama's
overtures with any degree of seriousness or merely interpret them as
a sign of his growing exasperation. On his part, the Dalai Lama has
really made some very serious efforts to find a solution to the
dispute of which he is the most high profile victim. Even a Buddhist
monk as full of equanimity, compassion and detachment as the Dalai
Lama has to operate within the limits of reasonableness set by his
people. It is more than likely that the younger generation of
Tibetans, particularly those in exile, will be less than pleased with
his offer.

More than any other politically well-defined nation-state, China is
astute at spotting a weakness and exploiting it. It is possible that
the latest move by the Dalai Lama will be seen as a sign of weakness
by Beijing. The Dalai Lama may be making that gesture out of a
genuine wish to move the dialogue forward but there is nothing to
suggest that the Chinese leadership will choose to view it in that light.

In this context, a successful execution of the 2008 Beijing Olympics
could well make China more obdurate in dealing with its many
unsettled disputes, of which Tibet is the most prominent one.
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