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"We Tibetans are looking for a legitimate and meaningful autonomy, an arrangement that would enable Tibetans to live within the framework of the People’s Republic of China."

OPINION: China and Clinton's Tibet

February 22, 2009

C. Raja Mohan, Indian Express
Posted online: Feb 22, 2009 at 0008 hrs
As the U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton arrives in Beijing Friday
on the last leg of her Asian tour, Tibet has begun to acquire an
unexpected profile in the Obama Administration's engagement with China.

When Clinton referred to Tibet in her first foreign policy speech last
week, most observers had seen it as little more than pro-forma.

Addressing the Asia Society in New York last week, Clinton had promised
to listen to what the Asians had to say, but insisted that the Obama
Administration will not hesitate to take up honest differences over
human rights.

"As part of our dialogues, we will hold ourselves and others accountable
as we work to expand human rights and create a world that respects those
rights, one where¿ Tibetans and all Chinese people can enjoy religious
freedom without fear of prosecution," Clinton declared.

In the week since she has been on the road, Tibet and its adjoining
provinces have seen major protests. Cracking down hard on these
protests, China has brought additional troops into the disturbed areas
and closed the troubled regions to foreigners.

Whether intended or not, the renewed restiveness of the Tibetans is
bound to cast a shadow over Clinton's talks with the Chinese leaders.

Beijing might find it hard to sweep the discontent under the carpet, as
Tibetan frustrations boil over.

The Tibetan new year, Losar, which falls next week and the 50th
anniversary of the failed Tibetan uprising that falls next month, have
added a new edge to the renewed tensions. When Tibetan protestors rioted
last March, with a rare ferocity, the Bush Administration pressed both
sides to renew contact and pick up the threads of their stalled
dialogue. This helped avoid making Tibet an international issue on the
eve of the Beijing Olympics.

Once the Olympics got over, Beijing had little incentive to look good on
the issue, let alone address the Tibetan grievances. Meanwhile, the
Dalai Lama and his followers are convinced that there is no future in a
dialogue with the CCP.

If Tibet does stay in the international headlines during this weekend,
Clinton will find it hard not say unpleasant things. The Chinese, in
turn, don't take kindly to lectures by outsiders on matters that they
consider internal.

Washington, however, is not the only capital that will find itself in a
cleft stick over renewed disturbances in Tibet. New Delhi, which saw
last summer what trouble in Tibet could do to its relations with
Beijing, should be bracing for a rough ride.

(C. Raja Mohan is a Professor at the S. Rajaratnam School of
International Studies, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore.)
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