Join our Mailing List

"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."

Dalai Lama firm on Obama meeting

February 7, 2010

By Saransh Sehgal
Asia Times
February 5, 2010

DHARAMSALA, India -- The Dalai Lama's envoys in
Beijing have refused to bow to pressure from
China to steer the Tibetan spiritual leader away
from meeting US President Barack Obama.

In talks this week, Chinese and Tibetan
government-in-exile officials failed to narrow
their differences over Beijing's rule of Tibet as
an autonomous region, Kelsang Gyaltsen, one of
Dalai Lama's two envoys told Asia Times Online.
Beijing raised the issue of his planned visit to the US later this month.

"Our reply was that the since 1991 every American
president has met with His Holiness the Dalai
Lama whenever he is in Washington DC, which is
the reflection of the strong sympathy ... for the
Tibetan people," Gyaltsen said in the interview
on his return to Dharamsala, where the exiled leader has been based since 1959.

After the riots in Lhasa, Tibet's capital, two
years ago Beijing has repeatedly warned leaders
of foreign countries with diplomatic ties with
China not to meet the Dalai Lama, saying this
would hurt their relations. The possible
Obama-Dalai meeting adds to the issues troubling
US-Sino relations, together with US latest arms
sales to Taiwan and Google's planned withdrawal
from China over allegations of state support for
hacking accounts - which Beijing denies.

The talks held this week in Beijing were the
first for 15 months after riots on March 14,
2008, and a security clampdown of Tibetans in the
run-up to the Beijing Summer Olympic Games later
that year soured relations. A good sign is that
this time both sides have left the door open for future negotiations.

Gyaltsen brushed aside the view that Beijing
agreed to resume talks with a purpose to prevent
an Obama-Dalai meeting: "I don't think so because
I think the American administration has always
been very clear that President Obama will be going to meet with His Holiness."

At a press conference in Beijing after the
conclusion of talks with the Dalai Lama's envoys,
Chinese negotiator Zhu Weiqun, executive vice
minister of the Communist Party's Central
Department of United Front Work, warned of
serious damage to Sino-US relations if the US
leader were to meet the Dalai Lama, saying the
move would "harm others but bring no profit to
itself either". A meeting would be irrational and
harmful, he said. "If a country decides to do so,
we will take necessary measures to help them realize this."

Washington brushed the warning aside. ''The
president told ... China's leaders during his
trip last year that he would meet with the Dalai
Lama, and he intends to do so," White House
spokesman Bill Burton said on Tuesday. "The Dalai
Lama is an internationally respected religious
and cultural leader, and the president will meet with him in that capacity.''

No date has been set for the meeting, Burton
said. The Dalai Lama is scheduled give talks in
California and Florida from February 21 to 24. It
would be possible for him to meet Obama after
then. He is due to return to Dharamsala for a lecture on February 28,

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Ma Zhaoxu
repeated on Wednesday that "China resolutely
opposes the visit by the Dalai Lama to the United
States, and resolutely opposes the US leader
having contact with the Dalai Lama in any name or any form".

Apart from this, Beijing and the Dalai Lama
failed to narrow their differences on their positions on the Tibet issue.

At the press conference in Beijing, Zhu said
Beijing and the Dalai Lama had "sharply divided"
views in the latest talks. "We have been
accustomed to such a confrontation as views had
been divided in previous talks," he was quoted by the Xinhua News Agency.

The talks "had some upside" as they let both
sides know exactly their differences and how wide
these were, Zhu said. "It helps the Dalai Lama
realize the position he has been in," he said,
adding that the talks were not fruitless, as the
central government arranged trips for the envoys
to visit central Hunan province to better
understand the country and the regional ethnic autonomy policy.

The biggest difference lies in their
interpretations of "Genuine autonomy for all
Tibetans". Zhu said that during previous round of
talks, Lodi Gyari - another envoy of the Dalai
Lama - had presented a "Memorandum from All
Tibetans to Enjoy Genuine Autonomy",
intentionally using obscure words to explain the
meaning of Greater Tibet and "a high degree of
autonomy". When the memorandum was rejected by
the central government, Gyari said he would not
want new talks, Zhu said at the press conference.

In the interview with Asia Times Online, however,
Gyaltsen said: "We are not talking about greater
Tibet, what we are talking about is that Tibetans
living on the Tibetan plateau should not be
divided in many parts but should be administrated
under [a] single administration.

"Our demand is clear and simple - the provision
must be enshrined in the Chinese constitution as
well as in the Chinese laws governing regional
autonomy be implemented for the Tibetan people."

Zhu said that Beijing always kept its door open
to talks with the Dalai Lama, while Gyaltsen
said, "having talks is better than having no talks".

The following is an interview Asia Times Online
conducted with Gyaltsen in Dharamsala on Wednesday.

Asia Times Online: What were your first
impressions of the ninth round of talks with Beijing?

Kelsang Gyaltsen: There was no real big change
from our previous visits. We visited Hunan
province - the birthplace of Chairman Mao Zedong,
where, as on our previous visits, we were
received very well. The atmosphere of talks in
Beijing was similar to the previous meetings. So
actually I did not really notice any big change
in the atmosphere as well as in the treatment from the Chinese government.

ATol: What were the main things discussed in the
latest talks? What has been agreed and what
differences still remain? In your view, has any
progress been achieved this time?

KG: We once again emphasized the fact that the
call for genuine autonomy for the Tibetan people
within the framework of People Republic of China
(PRC) is a legitimate demand and also consistent
with the principles of the constitution of the
PRC. We also emphasized the fact that His
Holiness the Dalai Lama has no personal request
to make to the Chinese government concerning his
personal status or privileges. The core issue of
the Tibet issue is the basic rights and freedom,
welfare and future of the Tibetan people. We
stressed this fact and also we made the proposal
that one of the major differences in the position
between the Chinese government and our side is
the view on the current situation inside Tibet.

The Chinese side said the majority of the Tibetan
people inside Tibet are happy, there are no
problems but we have totally different reports
... that the Tibetans inside Tibet have genuine
grievances, that there are severe restrictions on
the exercise of Tibetan religion, culture and
concerning preservation of Tibetan language.
Therefore, in order to find out the truth about
the current situation we propose a joint effort
to study the reality in the field so that we can
come to a common view. If the majority of the
Tibetans inside Tibet are really happy then we
have no quarrel with the Chinese government. On
the other hand, if the outcome is that there are
problems inside Tibet, that the majority of the
Tibetans are not happy with the present
conditions, then the Chinese government must
recognize this and make joint efforts to address the problems.

There was no concrete agreement during the latest
talks except that both sides expressed an
interest in maintaining contact and continuing
the dialogue process. There was no real agreement
on the issues we discussed during the many hours of talks.

ATol: Beijing warned Obama not to meet the Dalai
Lama, saying this would damage Sino-US relations.
Do you think Beijing agreed to hold the talks
with the purpose of preventing such a meeting?

KG: I don't think so, because I think the
American administration has always been very
clear that President Obama will be going to meet
with His Holiness. The only thing new was that
the American administration and His Holiness the
Dalai Lama both agreed to postpone the meeting in
last October when his Holiness was in Washington
until after President Obama's visit to China (in
November). But that President Obama is to meet
the Dalai Lama is always made very clear by the American administration.

ATol: Did Beijing officials bring up the issue in
the talks with you? What was your answer?

KG: Yes. Our reply has been that the since 1991
every American President has met with His
Holiness the Dalai Lama whenever he is in
Washington, this is the reflection of the strong
sympathy in the American government as well as in
the American congress and senate for the Tibetan
people. It is also a reflection of American
people's high respect and regard His Holiness.
Moreover the American administration's decision
to meet with Dalai Lama reflects the Americans'
values such as human rights, democracy and
liberty. This is not against the People's
Republic of China, it's the widespread strong
sympathy in US for the Tibet issue and also the
high regard for the Dalai Lama's leadership.

ATol: Now nine rounds of talks with Beijing have
been held. Do you think such talks valuable? Are
the Chinese really sincere in solving the Tibet
issue through such talks? Are they doing it to
get rid of the international pressure or to tell
visiting dignitaries that some development is happening?

KG: I think talks are better than no talks at
all, than no face-to-face meeting at all. One of
the principles of the [exiled] Tibetan
leadership's policy is to seek a solution to the
Tibet issue through non-violence and through
dialogue so that meeting face-to-face talks are
essential in this effort. If we take the path of
dialogue and non-violence in resolving a problem,
then we need patience and courage.

We must realize that even inside the Chinese
government there are different views on many
issues, including Tibet. At present,
unfortunately, it seems the hardliners inside the
Chinese government have an upper hand in policy
making toward Tibet. But obviously there are also
serious discussions (inside the Chinese
government) concerning the Tibet issue and also
different views concerning the best ways to
handle it. We feel our approach in engaging with
the Chinese side in a dialogue is the best way in the long run.

ATol: On Tuesday, a Chinese official said China
would never accept greater autonomy for a
"Greater Tibet''. How can this deadlock be
broken? Could the Dalai Lama possibly make concessions?

KG: First of all, if one reads our documents -
such as the memorandum on genuine autonomy for
the Tibetan people, as well as our note that we
handed over this time - there is no mention of
greater autonomy. What we demand is very
straightforward: that the rights provided in the
Chinese constitution, as well as in Chinese laws
governing regional autonomy, be implemented in an
effective way. Secondly, we are not talking about
a greater Tibet, what we are talking about is
that Tibetans living on the Tibetan plateau
should not be divided in many parts but should be
administrated under single administration. Our
demand is clear and simple, that the provision
enshrined in the Chinese constitution, as well as
in the Chinese laws governing regional autonomy,
be implemented for the Tibetan people.

ATol: The Chinese officials call the Dalai Lama a
"splitist". Do they still see the Dalai Lama a
major factor in the dialogue or is it the other
Tibetan exiles who demand for "Rangzen'' - a fully independent Tibet?

KG: The Chinese realize that the Dalai Lama is
the key figure among the Tibetan people. I
believe they label him a separatist because at
the present moment within the Chinese leadership
the hardliners have the upper hand and are not
willing, or have no political will, to seriously
address the issue of Tibet and find a solution.
Hence they make such groundless baseless allegations.

ATol: Will there be a change in policy by Tibetan
exiles? Or any compromise in the future? If so, what will it be?

KG: It is difficult to say because as you know we
have a democratic setup, in 2011 we'll have
elections - we will be electing our new prime
minister. There will be a new parliament and
nobody knows what kind of Tibetans will come up
during the elections, so that's difficult to predict.

ATol: You are negotiating the future of the
Tibetan people. What are you hearing about the current atmosphere inside Tibet?

KG: Of course, people inside Tibet heard that
once again the envoys of His Holiness the Dalai
Lama were traveling to China for negotiations,
which gave them some hope. On the other hand,
they may have felt disappointed with the
fruitless talks. Nevertheless I think if we keep
with the Chinese government, people inside Tibet
will know that the dialogue process is still
going on and that the chapter on the Tibet issue is not closed.

ATol: What were the reactions of the Dalai Lama
and the Tibetan government-in-exile over the
results of the ninth round of talks with Beijing?

KG: His Holiness listened very carefully, and
with great interest, to our briefs and also asked
questions to sort clarifications. His Holiness
felt it was good that we were once again able to
meet our Chinese counterpart face-to-face and
present our position and clarify our views.

The outcome of the ninth round of talks was
expected. We know the present situation is very
negative, the attitude of the Chinese side is
very rigid, and not only on the issue of Tibet
but presently many governments in the world also
complain about the arrogance of power displayed
by the Chinese government. In such a situation,
the Tibetan leadership did not expect real big
breakthroughs or new developments.

So when we came back and reported what happened
during the discussion there was no surprise for everyone.

ATol: In general do you think the Tibet issue
could eventually be solved through negotiation with Beijing?

KG: This is our firm belief - that the issue of
Tibet can be resolved through dialogue and His
Holiness the Dalai Lama is totally committed to
non-violence. That means we want to solve the
issue of Tibet through dialogue by striving to
find a mutually accepted solution that is in the
best interests of the Tibetan people as well as
in the interests of the Chinese people.

ATol: Is the tenth round of talks scheduled? If
not, do you have any sign from your Chinese
counterparts that the tenth round of talk is also forthcoming?

KG: No, there is no fixed date. Our immediate
occupation is to really review the discussion, to
analyze and make new assessments and then if we
have done our homework than we will be discuss a next round of meetings.

* Saransh Sehgal is a contributor based in
Dharamsala, India, who can be reached at info@mcllo.com.
CTC National Office 1425 René-Lévesque Blvd West, 3rd Floor, Montréal, Québec, Canada, H3G 1T7
T: (514) 487-0665   ctcoffice@tibet.ca
Developed by plank