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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."

The Realist Case for Tibetan Autonomy

January 9, 2010

wsj JANUARY 6, 2010

Any change in U.S. policy toward the Dalai Lama will encourage bad behavior
in Beijing.

By PAULA J. DOBRIANSKY

When President Obama didn't meet with the Dalai Lama during his October trip
to Washington, it gave many the impression that human-rights promotion was
not central to this administration's foreign policy. This impression needs
to be promptly corrected. While the U.S. accepts that Tibet is part of the
People's Republic of China, for decades our country has supported Tibetan
autonomy, especially in culture and religion. If the U.S. were to step back
from this position, increased Chinese repression of Tibetans would likely
follow.

Such repression would also have adverse consequences for China. A China that
engages in harsh repression is incapable of ensuring domestic stability. An
oppressive China is also unable to function as a responsible global
player-something that the U.S. has long sought to encourage.

The view that repression in Tibet would have negative consequences for China
is shared by our European allies. As British Foreign Minister David Miliband
has said: "Like every other EU member state and the United States, we regard
Tibet as part of the People's Republic of China. Our interest is in
long-term stability, which can only be achieved through respect for human
rights and greater autonomy for the Tibetans."

Contrary to the oft-repeated, but erroneous claims to the contrary, the U.S.
commitment to Tibet-which began during the Nixon administration-has not
harmed U.S.-Chinese relations. The overarching principle for both China and
America has been stability and consistency. Any alteration of America's
long-standing policy toward Tibet would prompt the opposite result.

It would certainly not earn us any lasting gratitude from Beijing. Any
rebalancing of American policy toward China would most likely cause the
Chinese to conclude that the U.S.-beset by an economic crisis-is retrenching
from many of its traditional commitments and can't be counted on to pursue
robust policies across a range of international issues. If China were to
reach such a conclusion, it would be inclined to be less helpful to the U.S.
on such issues as Iran, North Korea or even economic cooperation.

The U.S.-China relationship continues to grow in importance and complexity.
This fall, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Treasury Secretary Timothy
Geithner co-chaired a key bilateral forum-the Strategic and Economic
Dialogue-that was established to address at the senior level a range of key
issues, including the economy and the environment.

As progress is being made on all of these matters, the Obama administration
should call for substantive dialogue between Beijing and the Dalai Lama's
envoys. President Obama should meet with the Dalai Lama when he comes to
Washington in February and publicly appeal to China's leaders to let the
Dalai Lama make a pilgrimage to China.

The meeting should also be used as an opportunity to showcase practical
ideas that would benefit all of China's citizens, including Tibetans. One
excellent example of such an idea is tackling the massive environmental
degradation in Tibet. Setting up a environmental committee-as has been urged
by the Dalai Lama-would be a good place to start.

While U.S. support for Tibet is usually defended on moral grounds, this an
issue where idealism and realism are aligned. A balanced policy toward China
that features continued U.S. support for the cause of Tibetan autonomy is
both doable and necessary. It has been tackled successfully during the last
two administrations, and President Obama should continue to build upon this
record.

Ms. Dobriansky is a former under secretary of state for democracy and global
affairs and special coordinator on Tibetan issues.
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