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"As long as human rights are violated, there can be no foundation for peace. How can peace grow where speaking the truth is itself a crime?"

Why is Tibet still an issue? Beijing has only itself to blame

February 26, 2010

China has been unreasonable in its criticism of
Obama's meeting with the Dalai Lama
Frank Ching
The Globe and Mail
February 22, 2010

 From Tuesday's Globe and Mail Published on
Monday, Feb. 22, 2010 7:20PM EST Last updated on
Wednesday, Feb. 24, 2010 4:34AM EST

Barack Obama's meeting with the Dalai Lama
provoked fury in Beijing even though the U.S.
President had informed counterpart Hu Jintao that it would happen.

"The U.S. act grossly interfered in China's
internal affairs, gravely hurt the Chinese
people's national sentiments and seriously
damaged the Sino-U.S. ties," declared a statement
issued late last week by the Chinese Foreign Ministry.

The Chinese reaction was slightly less violent
than that to Washington's recent announcement of
a $6.4-billion (U.S.) arms sales package to
Taiwan. This time, there was no threat of
reprisals. Still, it was totally out of
proportion to what had occurred. Mr. Obama went
out of his way to placate Chinese feelings by not
meeting with the Dalai Lama last October when the
Tibetan monk was in town. Indeed, that was the
first time since 1991 that the Dalai Lama was not
received by a sitting president while in
Washington. The U.S. leader wanted to ensure a
good atmosphere for his state visit to China the
following month, when he informed Chinese leaders
of both the pending arms sales package for Taiwan
and the meeting with the Dalai Lama.

Chinese propaganda is heavily laced with
accusations that the United States is still
imbued with a "Cold War" mindset and is
attempting to play the "Tibet card" against
China. Nowhere does China acknowledge that
Beijing itself created this issue by sending
tanks against defenceless students in 1989.

It was no coincidence that six months after the
Tiananmen Square massacre of June, 1989, the
Dalai Lama was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for
his policy of "peaceful resolution instead of
using violence" in Tibet. At the time, Beijing
was so angered that it withdrew its ambassador
from Oslo to protest against the committee's decision.

In his acceptance speech, the Dalai Lama focused
on the importance of peaceful means to maintain a
dialogue with China and criticized Beijing for
having used force against student protesters.

It was only after the Dalai Lama became a Nobel
laureate that he was regularly received by
Western leaders. In 1991, George H.W. Bush, who
saw himself as a friend of China, became the
first U.S. president to receive him.

Since then, the Dalai Lama has been received by
the president, regardless of political party,
nearly every time he's visited Washington.

This is the background to the reception given to
the Dalai Lama. To the extent that it was an
expression of revulsion to the bloody actions in
China of 1989, yes, it can be called the playing
of a card. But it is a stretch from that to
saying that the intention is to dismember China
or to prevent its rise into a global power.

In fact, with very few exceptions, U.S.
presidents have gone to great lengths to meet
with the Dalai Lama in a low-profile manner so as
not to provoke China. Bill Clinton, for example,
used to see the Tibetan spiritual leader when he
was in the White House ostensibly to meet another
official, and the president would happen to drop
by. Last week, Mr. Obama met him not in the Oval
Office but in the Map Room, and no press was allowed to cover the meeting.

But efforts to placate Beijing seem to have no
effect. That being the case, the United States
may decide in future that there is little point
making such gestures since they are not appreciated.

The crux of the Tibet issue is that Chinese
policy in the region over the last half-century
has been a dismal failure, despite a policy of
pumping infrastructure money into the region. If
Chinese governance of Tibet had been really
successful, there would not still be a Tibet
problem. Tibetans in China would no longer try to
flee the country and those in exile would return from India.

In this, the Hong Kong issue is instructive. The
exodus from Hong Kong before 1997 ended after the
resumption of Chinese sovereignty and many of the
hundreds of thousands of people who left have returned.

China should abandon its hard-line policy and
instead work to attract Tibetan exiles to return
to their homeland. It must begin by stopping the
ridiculous caricature of the Dalai Lama as a
terrorist and a separatist. Castigating the Dalai
Lama, who continues to enjoy the respect, indeed
the reverence, of most Tibetans will simply perpetuate Chinese policy failures.

* Frank Ching is author of China: The Truth About Its Human Rights Record.
CTC National Office 1425 René-Lévesque Blvd West, 3rd Floor, Montréal, Québec, Canada, H3G 1T7
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