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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."

China's Post-Dalai Lama Endgame

March 23, 2009

Mark O'Neill
Asia Sentinel
March 20, 2009

March 2009 will go down as the month in which
Tibet entered the countdown for the era after the Dalai Lama.

A month supposed to celebrate the 50th
anniversary of the 'peaceful liberation' of Tibet
ended with the region in a virtual state of
martial law, with heavily armed troops patrolling
the streets and the Dalai Lama denouncing Chinese
rule of his homeland as 'hell on earth'.

For his part, China's Foreign Minister Yang
Jiechi warned foreign countries not to allow the
Dalai Lama to visit. "They should not let him use
their territory to engage in secessionist
activities," he told a news conference on March 7.

The growing hostility between the two sides made
several points clear. One is that there will be
no meaningful negotiations between Beijing and
the Dalai Lama and no change in the status of Tibet.

The second is that, despite widespread public
support in the west, the exiled Tibetan
government will receive no significant help from a major power.

In March, more than 100,000 people, including
film stars and several Nobel Peace Prize winners,
signed an open letter to Chinese President Hu
Jintao, calling for an improvement to the human
rights of Tibetans, and Tibetan exiles held
demonstrations in capitals around the world. But
the reality is that no major government will come
to their aid. As the financial crisis worsens, so
the economic strength and diplomatic clout of
China strengthens. More than ever, the major
powers need its capital, investment and access to its market.

Safe in this knowledge, Beijing can treat Tibet
as an internal matter. Its policy is, while
ruling with an iron fist, to raise living
standards to win the hearts and minds of
Tibetans. According to official figures published
this month, the region's economy has grown at an
annual average of at least 12 per cent a year
over the past seven years, with a GDP in 2007 of
34.2 billion yuan in 2007. The annual income of
urban Tibetans in 2005 was 9,000 yuan, up from
400 in 1979, while those of rural Tibetans rose
to 1,200 yuan from 150 over the same period.

It said that, over the past five years, the
government had invested 8.22 billion yuan in
education in Tibet and provided free medical care
to the farmers and shepherds, who account for 80
per cent of the population. The average life
expectancy has risen from 35.5 years in the 1950s to 67 now.

Since 1980, the government says it spent more
than 700 million yuan on 1,400 monasteries and
cultural relics. It said the number of ethnic
Tibetans in Tibet doubled from 1.21 million in 1964 to 2.41 million in 2000.

With the impasse in negotiations, each side is
preparing for the post-Dalai Lama era. Beijing
intends to pick his successor in accordance with
traditional rites -- a young boy in the
territories in China occupied by Tibetans. It
will then control both the Dalai Lama and the
Panchen Lama, the second highest leader in Tibetan Buddhism.

Faced with this, the Dalai Lama said last year
that he may appoint a successor himself or have
one chosen democratically by the senior Tibetan
monks. His most likely choice is to split his
political and religious duties: he will remain as
a religious leader and give someone else his political functions.

This has become more likely with the
deterioration in his health. Last year, he had
surgery to remove gallstones removed in a New
Delhi hospital, six weeks after spending six days
in a Bombay hospital for abdominal pain. He is 73.

The front-runner to succeed him in his political
role is Karmapa Lama, 24, the head of Kagyu sect,
who ranks third in Tibetan Buddhism. Born in a
mountainous area of eastern Tibet, he was
recognized as the leader of the Kagyu sect at the
age of seven after a joint search by the Chinese
government and the Dalai Lama and enthroned on September 27, 1992.

In late December 1999, at the age of 14, he fled
Tibet for India, where he lives in Dharamsala and
has devoted himself to study and preaching and
spoken little about politics. The Dalai Lama holds him in high esteem.

For years, the Indian government banned the
Karmapa from going abroad and does not allow him
to visit his sect's headquarters in exile in
Sikkim. In 2008, he made his first trip to the
United States, visiting New York and San
Francisco, the first step toward a larger
international profile. He speaks Chinese and
Tibetan and some English and is a strict
vegetarian, and a keen follower of Chinese
culture, including religious texts and calligraphy.

In an interview in March, the Karmapa told the
BBC's Chinese service that the talks were going
nowhere because Beijing did not want to
communicate. "We must wait until China is more
open and more democratic and then the DL's
'Middle Way' will have an opportunity. I hope to
solve the Tibetan problem in a quick and peaceful way and play a role in this."

He said that his decision to flee was his own and
was because he found he had no freedom in his own
temple or anywhere in Tibet. "I wanted to go to
India to study from teachers but my application
to leave China was repeatedly denied. I feared
that, when I was 18, I would be appointed a vice
chairman of the NPC or CPPCC and forced to
criticize the Dalai Lama. Every Tibetan wants to
return home one day. I am very hopeful of that day."

While Beijing was enraged at his escape to India,
it considers him a better interlocutor than the
Dalai Lama. He is a man who grew up under Chinese
rule and understands intimately the Chinese
position. He does not have the historical
responsibility of the Dalai Lama, who led his
people into exile in 1959. On his slender
shoulders may rest the future of his homeland.

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