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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."

Chinese Functionary Rules Out Tibet Autonomy, Criticizes ‘Divisive Nature’ of Dalai Lama ‘Clique’

December 9, 2013

[Article by Beat U. Wieser on interview with Zhu Weiqun, chairman of the Subcommittee of Ethnic and Religious Affairs of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, at Bern's Bellevue Palace Hotel]

December 4, 2013 - Talking with Chinese functionaries is often like banging your head against a brick wall if you do not share their view.  With Zhu Weiqun, the man who conducted the dialogue with the representatives of the Dalai Lama, it is different.  Instead of responding to tough questions or remarks, he evades them, calmly and with a silent smile, constantly pirouetting around his own opinion as if there was nobody who contradicted him.  Every objection bounces off this solo dancer, who only hears what adds dynamism to his dancing.


Religious Freedom and Religious Ban


The conversation with Zhu and his entourage, which includes also a living Buddha from Gansu, takes place at Bern’s Bellevue Palace Hotel.  The 66-year-old functionary played a major role in the talks with Lodi Gyari and Kelsang Gyaltsen, the representatives of the Dalai Lama, which came to a halt three years ago.  At that time, he was deputy minister of the United Front of the Communist Party Central Committee.  Today, he heads the Subcommittee of Ethnic and Religious Affairs of the [Chinese People's] Political Consultative Conference, the upper house to the [National] People’s Congress.  In other words, he is the man who puts forward proposals to the government on religious and minority affairs.


However, he does not seem to have great understanding for religion.  He describes himself as a materialist in the Marxist sense and regards his atheism as an advantage in exercising his function.  Because he is not a religious person, he will never come under the suspicion of giving an advantage to one religion over the other, he says slyly.  But apparently, he would prefer to cut down all religions although he stresses the high degree of religious freedom that is practiced in China.  In general, he calls for stronger integration of the 100 million faithful in China — an official figure; the actual figure is probably much larger — into the party.  For party members, he regards a religious ban as appropriate.  Party membership is incompatible with belonging to a religious confession, Zhu says, coming straight to the point, at the same time lightheartedly praising once again China’s religious freedom.


It is not easy to follow such contradictions.  But Zhu leaves no choice.  He talks about the different ethnic groups in China, pointing out that all nationalities are equal before the law.  However, following hard on the heels of that is a plea for national unity, which is necessary to maintain and promote.  One should not exaggerate the differences between the ethnic groups, says Zhu.  Rather, it was important, for example, to spread Chinese as spoken and written national language in the entire country.


Ethnic Merger


In an essay in February of last year, Zhu promoted a “natural merger of all nationalities,” and in this connection, he spoke out in favor of removing ethnic classifications from passports and identity cards.  This would enhance “ethnic development and relevant progress as well as the strengthening of unity of the biggest Chinese race,” he wrote.  The objection that this is a contradiction in itself and that “the natural merger of nationalities” is finally only possible to translate into reality by force, he refuses to acknowledge.


Instead, rather abruptly, he starts talking about the Dalai Lama, “the divisive figure who undermines China’s national unity,” and who, addressing the US Senate in 1987, said that all Han Chinese would be expelled from an autonomous Tibet.  This statement is easy to refute because it is not, or at least no longer, true, and therefore, it is misleading. 


In the Memorandum on [Genuine] Autonomy for the Tibetan People, which the representatives of the Dalai Lama submitted to Zhu Weiqun in 2008 at Zhu’s express request, the chapter “Regulation on [Population] Migration” says: “It is not our intention to expel the non-Tibetans who have permanently settled in Tibet and have lived there and grown up there for a considerable time.”


For a moment there is growing disquiet among the Chinese delegation.  Delegates take papers out of their briefcases and pass them between them at the breakfast table over croissants, salmon, and scrambled eggs.  “Now we are discussing documents,” Zhu says grudgingly.  But very soon, he finds his own way out.  “The Dalai Lama has never expressly withdrawn the sentence of 1987,” he says in a concluding tone.  Moreover, there have never been Chinese programs to promote the re-settlement of Han to Tibet.  The migration that took place was a “normal market economic development.”


Scraps of conversations with Chinese people in Tibet in the year 1988 cross one’s mind.  They all suggested that there was state coercion and financial incentives.  At that time — before the hardening of political fronts in the wake of the Tiananmen massacre — hardly any Chinese voluntarily saw his personal future in Tibet.  But no one comments on that because Zhu has already started to read quotations from papers that have been passed to him.  They are all supposed to prove the “divisive nature of the Dalai Lama clique.”  However, they are just sentences from various media that cannot be verified.


When taking the trouble to study the transcripts of the conversations of 2008 and 2010, one notes a striking difference in tone and argumentation between the Tibetan and the Chinese side.  The representatives of the Dalai Lama present their ideas of a Tibetan autonomy within the Chinese framework point by point, with exact reference to the Chinese constitution and the law on Regional National Autonomy, whereas the Chinese representatives sweep aside everything, making blanket accusations as if they had not read at all the submitted texts.


Asking for Forgiveness


Zhu says that he never had the intention to negotiate about autonomy with Lodi Gyari and Kelsang Gyaltsen.  He only asked them to work out an autonomy paper because he wanted to check whether the “Dalai Lama clique” had left its separatist path and finally approached the Chinese Government’s view.  It cannot be made any clearer than that that there is no room for a substantial dialogue between Beijing and the Tibetans.


Meanwhile, Lodi Gyari and Kelsang Gyaltsen have stepped down from their functions as conversation partners of the Chinese Government because they hardly see any chance for progress at present.  According to Zhu, however, they have been urged out by the newly appointed prime minister of the Tibetan government in exile, Lobsang Sangay, whom he regards as an even greater separatist and who, in his view, harms the Dalai Lama.


The conversation lasts already for two hours, and Zhu Weiqun once again wants to stress his credo: “We want to win over the Dalai Lama to the patriotic side,” he states.  “We do not conduct negotiations, but we stay in contact at least, with the goal that the Dalai Lama recognizes and admits his mistakes and asks for forgiveness.  We will never negotiate with him about his separatist and treacherous intentions.  The fate and the future of Tibet lie in the hands of the Chinese Central Government and not in the hands of the Dalai Lama.”


It seems as if the emperor has spoken.  The delegates get up.  Friendly handshakes — even with the living Buddha, whose thoughts behind the happy smile would be interesting to read.  The group walks out through the splendid dining hall.  A few minutes later, a Chinese diplomat returns with an old photograph that Zhu would like to give us.  It shows the 19-year-old Dalai Lama, who seemed a bit insecure, and [former Chinese leader] Mao Zedong in apparent harmony at a reception in Beijing in 1954.  At that time, Beijing still had control over the spiritual leader of the Tibetans, and gave him the post of deputy chairman of the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress.  Perhaps, Zhu regrets that these times are over.

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