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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."

Op-Ed: After the Games, Tibet

August 15, 2008

By Nicholas D. Kristof, Op-Ed Colunnist
The New York Times
August 14, 2008

BEIJING -- China's cup runneth over. The Olympics are a milestone in
Chinese history, a celebration of the Middle Kingdom's return to
international greatness after nearly two centuries of torpor and humiliation.

Yet the Olympics could end up being the second-most-significant event
in China this year.

The Chinese leadership and the Tibetan government in exile have
delicately discussed a possible visit by the Dalai Lama to China,
nominally to commemorate the victims of the earthquake in Sichuan
Province in May. That would be the first meeting between the Dalai
Lama and Chinese leaders in more than 50 years and would give
enormous impetus to resolving the Tibet question.

The opportunity arises in part because of the Dalai Lama's public
acknowledgement last week for the first time that he could accept
Communist Party rule for Tibet. Previously, the Dalai Lama had seemed
to demand something like the "one country, two systems" model of Hong
Kong, and his concession was a courageous signal of his yearning to
reach a deal with the Chinese government.

"The Dalai Lama has taken the kind of courageous step that great
political leaders make at crucial turning points in history," said
Melvyn Goldstein, a prominent historian of modern Tibet and a
professor at Case Western Reserve University. "After more than 20
years of stalemate, the Dalai Lama, at great risk to his standing in
the West and among Tibetans in exile, has unilaterally sent Beijing a
clear signal that he is now ready to accept the kind of difficult
compromises that are needed to resolve the conflict."

"For the first time in decades, reconciliation is now genuinely
possible," Professor Goldstein added.

Since then, the Dalai Lama has been scolded by many Tibetans who
think that he has been too conciliatory toward China. President Bush
and other leaders should praise his courage in taking such a
difficult step toward reconciliation.

The big question now is whether China will respond with its own olive
branch. At a Foreign Ministry press conference on Wednesday, a
spokesman, Qin Gang, said only: "Our position and policy on the
Tibet-related issue is clear and persistent. We should not only take
into account what the Dalai Lama said, but what he has done. We need
to see concrete action."

That was less than an effusive welcome but better than another
knee-jerk denunciation of the Dalai Lama. My sense is that Chinese
government officials are waiting for direction from their own top leaders.

If President Hu Jintao and Prime Minister Wen Jiabao respond with
approval, and especially if they pursue a visit by the Dalai Lama in
November on the six-month anniversary of the earthquake in Sichuan
Province — then they just might resolve the Tibet problem that has
dogged all previous Communist leaders. As a first step, they should
take over the Tibet portfolio from the United Front Work Department,
so that top-level talks can proceed directly between the Dalai Lama
and either Mr. Hu or Mr. Wen.

Some Chinese officials believe that the best strategy to deal with
Tibet is to wait for the Dalai Lama to die. Without a leader, they
think, Tibetans will be more compliant — but that is a catastrophic

On the contrary, the Dalai Lama, who is 73, is restraining Tibetans,
and he speaks some Chinese and has roots in China in a way that
younger Tibetan exiles do not. Once he is gone, more radical groups —
including the Tibetan Youth Congress — will gain sway and many
frustrated Tibetans, left on their own, are likely to turn to violence.

President Hu this year engaged in bold diplomacy to defuse tensions
with Japan and Taiwan alike. China's willingness to sound out the
Dalai Lama about a visit to commemorate the earthquake victims is a
ray of hope for similar outreach to Tibetans. The United States can't
do much to help — this has to be worked out between the Dalai Lama
and the Chinese leadership — but we can do more to encourage the
process and nudge it to a higher level.

Western leaders, including President Bush, have mostly engaged in the
politics of symbolism regarding Tibet — choreographing photos with
the Dalai Lama, issuing protests, or calling for China-Tibet talks
that everyone knows will get nowhere. What we need is less symbolism
and more diplomatic heavy-lifting aimed at a practical settlement of
the Tibet question.

President Hu and Prime Minister Wen are basking in good will from
their management of the Olympics, so far widely perceived as a
triumph for China. If they can also bring the Dalai Lama back to
China in November and engineer a deal to resolve Tibet's future, that
would be an even more monumental achievement.

It is in their hands.
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