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"On my part, I remain committed to the process of dialogue. It is my firm belief that dialogue and a willingness to look with honesty and clarity at the reality of Tibet can lead us to a viable solution."

The situation in Tibet is critical, but the Chinese are not talking

March 1, 2009

Posted By: Malcolm Moore at Feb 25, 2009 at 10:59:44 [General]
Posted in: Foreign Correspondents , Religion
The Telegraph, UK (online)

As it is Tibetan New Year, I thought I would post parts of an interview
I did with Kelsang Gyaltsen, the Tibetan envoy to Europe.

(BTW, I hear the first day of the New Year, or Losar, passed by calmly
in Lhasa, although there was heavy security).

Mr Gyaltsen, 56, is one of Tibet's two negotiators with China. He has
been through eight rounds of talks with the Communist Party about the
status of Tibet, none of which has led to any visible progress.

Nevertheless, he said he was ready to talk again "any time and any place".

If you remember back to the last round of talks, in November, the
Tibetans complied with a request from China to set out their vision for
Tibet in a ten-page document. In it, the Tibetans request autonomy, but
not independence.

"No one really knows how the decision-making mechanism really works in a
Communist state. One can see that sometimes there are sudden changes in
position," said Mr Gyaltsen. "In July, the Chinese took a hardline
position, but at the same time they invited us to present our views on
autonomy. So we thought there might be an opening, an opportunity.

"We thought that because of the events in March and April 2008 in Tibet
(when there were widespread riots) there might have been some rethinking
on their part," he said.

However, it turned out that the Chinese were only taunting the Tibetans.

"They invited us to explain and clarify our views and so we submitted
the memorandum. But during the talks they actually told us bluntly they
had just wanted to see how much we had changed our position and how
close we would come to the position held by the Chinese government," he

"Their position is first of all that there is no issue," he added "They
say there are no problems inside Tibet and the majority of people are
satisfied. The second point [they made] is that the Dalai Lama has no
authority to speak on behalf of the Tibetan people. They were only
willing to discuss his personal situation and the situation of a small
group of people around him."

I asked Mr Gyaltsen whether framing the memo in terms of the Chinese
constitution was a good idea - after all, there are many activists in
China who claim that their constitutional rights are abused and if the
government gives way to one party, wouldn't it dramatically weaken its

He said the Tibetans were appealing to domestic Chinese with the
document, and trying to strike a conciliatory tone that would be
acceptable to the growing number of middle-class Chinese who are
educated and informed on the issue.

By putting it in terms of the Chinese constitution, the Tibetan
negotiators were trying to show the Chinese that they are not aiming to
split Tibet away from the mainland.

But the Chinese side had problems with the document. "We asked, for
example, that in Tibetan areas, the main language should be Tibetan in
order to protect our culture. But they claimed that this demonstrated a
clear intention that we wanted to separate Tibet from China because
Mandarin is the state language," he explained.

When the envoys asked for Tibet's monasteries to be allowed to operate
independently and freely, the Chinese accused them of "trying to
strengthen the monasteries in order to protect separatists". Mr Gyaltsen
said: "They told us that the monasteries were well-known as hotbeds of
Tibetan separatists, so this showed our intention".

He said another request, for an arbitration panel to resolve disputes
between locals and Beijing was criticised as an attempt to set up a
proto-parliament for Tibetans.

Tensions in Tibet are now very high, and it's unclear what will happen
over the next month (during which the 50th anniversary of the Dalai
Lama's exile falls), but Mr Gyaltsen is committed to more talks if

"It is the view of many Tibetans that the Chinese are waiting for the
Dalai Lama to pass away and that they hope that the problems will
disappear," said Mr Gyaltsen. " This group believes there is no real use
in entering into discussions, but my personal opinion is that we should
continue. It is becoming clear to the whole world that there are very
serious problems in Tibet."
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