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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, Tibet and the dialogue of the deaf

March 26, 2009

Peter Foster
The Telegraph (UK)
March 25, 2009

Is it possible to be 'neutral' over the issue of
Tibet? Probably not, but if for sake of argument,
it were possible then a 'neutral' person might
wonder why it is this issue which causes so much
friction between China and the outside world.

China and the rest of the world have plenty of
substantive things to disagree about and yet the
issue that (from a Western perspective at least)
is more really more moral and ethical than
economic or geopolitical is the one that gives
rise to such intense diplomatic heat.

Again from a Western perspective - and I also
speak here as a media man, I suppose - China's
pressuring South Africa into refusing the Dalai
Lama a visa appears bewilderingly counter-productive.

If the Chinese had not asked South Africa to
block the Dalai Lama's visa - and past history on
this issue makes it highly plausible that they
did - I doubt this peace conference would have
made headlines beyond a few photo-calls for
Nelson Mandela and some well-meaning stories
about racism and football in the sports supplements.

But having taken this stand, China finds itself
held up once again as an international bully-boy
while handing its foreign critics an open goal
(if you'll excuse the pun) in terms of international publicity.

The result is that a time when it has never been
more important for China and the rest of the
world to be engaging constructively, the Tibet
issue is once again muddying China's reputation
in the eyes of the world, even if China would never see it like that.

Whatever China says about the Dalai Lama's
'separatist tendencies' it is hard to square the
China whose maxim is 'never to interfere in the
internal affairs of other countries' with the
China that tells other countries who they can or can't invite over for tea.

As the G20 approaches, France is still in China's
diplomatic deep-freeze because Nicholas Sarkozy's
refused to bow to the similar pressure when China
warned him against meeting with Dalai Lama in Poland last December.

Mr Sarkozy - who, like China, objects to other
nations interfering in his country's sovereign
right to make its own decisions - rightly refused
and met the Dalai Lama anyway.

As a result there will be no meeting between Mr
Sarkozy and China's president Hu Jintao at the
G20 until France "explicitly, positively, and
actively respond to China's major concerns to put
Sino-French ties on the right track," to quote
China's vice-minister of foreign affairs at a
briefing I attended earlier this week.

If you didn't know otherwise, you'd think that
France, like some other countries I could
mention, had been snooping on Chinese submarines
in the South China Sea, cribbing about Chinese
defence spending and industrial espionage or
placing billions of dollars of China's foreign
exchange reserves at risk through extreme regulatory incompetence.

But while all those thorny issues are open to
diplomatic accommodation and finesse - as Hillary
Clinton showed so clearly on her recent visit to
China - on Tibet the usual diplomatic formulae
about 'parking this difficult issue', 'twin-track
solutions', 'respecting each others positions' or
'wanting to work together for a mutually workable
settlement' falls on deaf ears with Beijing.

To get an idea of how deaf, check out this
brilliant snap-survey of China's efforts to get
its message across on Tibet - both inside and
outside China - by David Bandurski at the South China Morning Post.

It just shows how little either side is willing
or able to listen to the other. It's like two men
trying to have a row when neither speaks each
other's language. And it's hard to see it changing any time soon.
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