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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."

China's Tibet Policy

February 27, 2010

By Frank Ching
The Korea Times
February 24, 2010

President Barack Obama's meeting with the Dalai
Lama provoked fury in Beijing even though the
American leader had informed President Hu Jintao
when he visited China in November that this would happen.

A statement issued by the Chinese Foreign
Ministry declared: ``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.''

The Chinese reaction was slightly less violent
than that to Washington's recent announcement of
a $6.4 billion arms sales package to Taiwan. This
time, there was no threat of reprisals.

Still, the Chinese reaction was totally out of
proportion to what had occurred. After all,
President Obama had gone out of his way to
placate Chinese feelings by not meeting with the
Dalai Lama last October when the Tibetan monk was in town.

In fact, it was the first time since 1991 that he
was not received by a sitting American president while in Washington.

The U.S. leader wanted to ensure a good
atmosphere for his state visit to China the
following month, at which time 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 defenseless students in June 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 Nobel 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
peace 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 American president to receive him.

Since then, the Dalai Lama has been received by
the president, regardless of political party,
virtually each time he has 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, American presidents with very few
exceptions have gone to great lengths to meet
with the Dalai Lama in a low-profile manner so as not to provoke China.

President 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.

This time, for example, President 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 the future that there is little
point making such gestures since they are not appreciated.

But 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 money into the region by building infrastructure.

If Chinese governance of Tibet had been really
successful, there would be no Tibet problem
today. 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 toward
Tibet 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 a journalist and commentator in
Hong Kong. He can be reached at Frank.ching@gmail.com .
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