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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."

Finding Common Ground

November 18, 2009

Tibet's exiled spiritual leader reaches out to "ordinary Chinese."
RFA
November 16, 2009

WASHINGTON --- Chinese government control of
information on Tibet has left the Chinese people
ignorant of the region’s real history and opposed
to efforts to promote Tibetan autonomy, according
to regional experts and Tibetan activists in exile.

Because of this, the Dalai Lama now seeks direct
contact with the Chinese people, these sources said.

After an August meeting in Geneva called Finding
Common Ground, more than 100 Tibetan and Chinese
scholars declared that "the Beijing government’s
claim that ‘Tibet has always been a part of China’ is factually incorrect."

"The root cause of the Tibetan issue is not a
conflict between the Chinese people and Tibetan
people," they said in a statement, "but rather
the autocratic rule of the People’s Republic of
China in Tibet and its cultural genocide in Tibet."

China defends its presence in Tibet by pointing
to its investments in the economic development of
what it calls a "backward" region.

"I think it has been the approach of His Holiness
the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan leadership to
reach out as much as possible to the Chinese
people," Bhuchung Tsering, director of the
Washington-based International Campaign for Tibet, said in an interview.

"[This is] because they believe that one of the
issues underlying this lack of progress in the
Tibetan talks is that the Chinese people do not
have access to the real positions of His Holiness
or what the Tibetan people really want."

Talks break down

An eighth round of formal dialogue between
Chinese officials and envoys of the Dalai Lama
broke down last year amid disagreements over
proposals for greater autonomy for Tibet as a
part of the People’s Republic of China.

Though China’s leaders routinely accuse the Dalai
Lama of trying to "split" Tibet from China, the
Dalai Lama himself has said he wants only to
secure more cultural and religious freedoms  for Tibetans under Chinese rule.

Chinese troops marched into the self-governing
Himalayan country in 1949, and the Dalai Lama
fled into exile in India 10 years later following a failed national uprising.

In March 2008, a peaceful demonstration in the
Tibetan capital, Lhasa, erupted into a riot that
left at least 22 dead and ignited protests in
three neighboring provinces in China.

The Tibetan government-in-exile in India says
about 220 Tibetans died and nearly 7,000 were
detained in the subsequent region-wide crackdown.

In part because of the Chinese government’s
control of information about these events, the
protests appeared to cause a "ignificant
nationalist backlash among many Chinese people,
Dennis Cusack, co-chair of the London-based
International Tibet Support Network, said.

"But I think we have to be skeptical about how
deep that nationalist feeling runs, because it’s
very difficult -- if not impossible -- to get a
very clear picture about what a true
cross-section of Chinese society really thinks about anything."

Force for change

The Tibetan freedom struggle may emerge as a
"powerful driver" for wider political change in
China itself, Cusack, author of the book Tibet's War of Peace, said.

"I think it’s that sense of identity that allows
the Tibetans to take more risks and speak more
loudly -- and speak in a way that they will be
heard above the constant simmering feelings of
unrest and anxiety that exist throughout China."

The Chinese people may increasingly come to
recognize "this huge strength, this huge value,
in certain aspects of Tibetan culture -- such as
religion and philosophy," Robbie Barnett, a Tibet
scholar based at Columbia University, added.

"This will change the chessboard, so to speak," he said.

"It doesn’t change what the politicians do, and
it doesn’t directly involve the Chinese people
demanding this or that political outcome. But it
changes the framework within which Chinese leaders would have to think."

For now, though, China’s position is that as long
as talks on Tibet’s status can be delayed, "the
greater the advantage for China, and the less
pressure for them to do anything," Barnett said.

A new generation?

Jamyang Norbu, a U.S.-based Tibetan writer and
advocate for Tibetan independence, said that
there is no chance in any case that these talks will help Tibet.

"This is because of the nature of the communist
regime, which tends to be totally cynical about these things," Norbu said.

"They use people, and they’ve learned to play a game with the Dalai Lama."

"It is naïve to think of reaching out to the
Chinese people, when the Chinese people
themselves are deprived of many rights that people in the West have."

Though Tibet’s India-based government-in-exile
continues to support the Dalai Lama’s "Middle
Way" call for autonomy instead of independence,
"there is a sense that there is really no way forward with this," Norbu said.

There is a new generation of Tibetans, both
inside and outside Tibet, who believe that Tibet
should be fully independent, Norbu said, and
Tibetans in exile should consider openly forming
a political party to promote this view.

"There is some hope here -- not immediately for
Tibetan independence, but at least to get the
movement going, to rejuvenate the whole thing.
And that’s all I guess we have for the time being."

"But for me, that’s good enough," he said.

"In the end, we have to be sensible. After all,
we are up against communist China, and it’s a
huge deal. Just to be able to take it on is a tremendous thing."

Original reporting by Richard Finney. Edited by Sarah Jackson-Han.
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