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Negotiation Nightmare

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Thursday, May 8, 2008
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I must ask the reader’s forgiveness for my occasional forays into amateur psychology. I wrote about something like this in a previous article but I want to discuss another kind of recurring nightmare, also known to clinical psychiatry, in which the sleeper manages, after a tremendous struggle, to get out of a frightening situation and thinks he has woken up, when he realizes that he is back again in that same nightmare. What if this situation repeated itself seven or eight times in your dream till you began to suspect that perhaps you were stuck in it forever.

The following passage is from an article I wrote back in April 1993:

“Whenever the Tibetan issue has received any substantial attention in the world, be it with the demonstrations (1987-90) in Lhasa or the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to the Dalai Lama, the Chinese have nearly always succeeded in side-tracking international concern by making titillating press announcements soon after the event, declaring their willingness to sit down and talk with the Dalai Lama or his representatives. Those sympathetic to Tibet naturally heave a huge sigh of relief on hearing this, and the situation is then effectively defused.”

This March, when the Rangzen Revolution exploded in the international arena, Beijing, ever true to form, did exactly as it had done many times before and invited the Dalai Lama’s envoys for negotiations. Dharamshala, of course, did as it had done many times before, and accepted the invitation in a heartbeat. The IOC board and world leaders (George Bush being one) keen to attend the Beijing Games (but facing public criticism for their attitude) heaved a huge collective sigh of relief and the situation was effectively defused. Ministers of ASEAN countries welcomed the negotiations and “restoration of normalcy in Tibet” and “expressed confidence that the Beijing Olympics would be a success”. We can expect other leaders and celebrities to make their announcements soon. We just gave them the moral excuse that they needed.

Starting from around 1979 I’ve written about nearly all the attempts by Dharamshala to convince China to sit down to some discussion on “associate status” “one nation two systems” “zone of ahimsa”, “Middle Way Approach”, “real autonomy” and of course “meaningful autonomy. As the years went by I found myself getting jaded with the whole futile exercise, and even caught myself reproducing passages from some previous writing in the latest piece I was writing. On one occasion I tried to treat the issue with a little levity, borrowing a couple of characters from the Charles Schultz’s comic strip, Peanuts.

“Once in a while, though, the delegation does actually get to go to Beijing. They invariably return to Dharamshala in a daze, with a look on their faces not unlike that on Charlie Brown’s when he is lying flat on his back, after having been persuaded by Lucy, for the umpteenth time, to take a running kick at a football that she never fails to yank away at the last moment. “Isn’t trust a wonderful thing, Charlie Brown?”

c4b_football

This time the chief Tibetan negotiator, Lodi Gyari, might have landed on his head when Beijing pulled away the football since the statement he gave to the press in Hong Kong didn’t make sense. “It was a good first step,” he said (What about all the previous talks? What sort of steps were they? Or have we decided to go backwards?) Lodi Gyari continued his briefing on this reassuring note “All very candid. We had very candid discussions,”

The New York Times of 5th May citing Xinhua (the official Chinese news agency) reported that the talks, “mostly involved finger wagging (by the Chinese) and a warning that future dialogue would be fruitless unless the Dalai ceased advocating Tibetan Independence. They also urged him to stop disrupting and sabotaging the upcoming Olympics Games.” The Chinese negotiators were two low level officials Zhu Weijun and Sitar, but they weren’t low enough for Chinese netizens who ridiculed the talks saying, “next time it will do just to dispatch a bureau chief,” or “the city management will be able to deal with the issue, do not bother the Chairman and the Prime Minister too much.”

The two officials talked down to Lodi Gyari and Kalsang Gyaltsen in the most condescending and arrogant manner, like ministers of ancient China dealing with troublesome barbarian sub-chiefs. They declared that Tibetans had through their evil behavior created obstacles to resuming negotiations but that “the central government still arranged this meeting with great patience and sincerity.” Throughout this period the Chinese press and intelligentsia kept up a continual barrage of incredibly abusive rhetoric against the Dalai Lama, which were reminiscent of the Cultural Revolution according to Woeser. Woeser’s own opinion of the talk was forthright “The Sino-Tibetan talk at present is completely tendentious. It is an effort to satisfy the pressure from the western society and to brag about itself.”

I didn’t write anything earlier because I hoped that the envoys might get an opportunity to confront Chinese leaders about their harsh crack-down on Tibetan protesters and at the very least initiate some discussion on the conditions of the Tibetans being arrested and persecuted, and obtain some minimal assurance about the condition of these people.

From the little information we are getting it appears that the Chinese are conducting massive crackdowns and reprisals all over Tibet. First of all it is clear that the trial of the thirty protesters in Lhasa, although a travesty in terms of real justice, is also possibly a red herring. The basic idea of the trial seems to have been to create the impression that not many people have been arrested in Tibet.

In reality thousand of Tibetans have been arrested and will probably be tried in secret (or not have a trial at all) and be incarcerated or shot. Woeser in her last Tibet Update reports that “thousands of Tibetans have met with the fate of being killed, being arrested, being tortured to confess, being missing, committing suicide or having mental disorder, and this has brought disasters to countless Tibetan families.”

I have also heard of many hundreds, maybe even a thousand or so men in rural Amdo and Kham hiding out in the mountains, to avoid police and military crackdowns in their districts. There has been the report of a gunfight between Tibetans and Chinese security personnel. A couple of days ago I received an unconfirmed account of two women in a village in Amdo who were harassed beyond endurance by Chinese policemen about religious images in their home. The women stabbed three policemen to death and were themselves subsequently gunned down. In all likelihood it appears that the situation in Tibet will deteriorate further. The situation is deeply troubling especially since there is little or no information on what is actually happening.

No amount of begging, pleading or further negotiating with Beijing will bring any resolution, even a little improvement, to this crisis. I think that Dharamshala has one real option left to deal with this situation. It must act in a way that is bold, dynamic and totally unanticipated by Beijing. The exile government must declare that in light of the sentiments expressed by Tibetan people in the recent protests, and the harshness and implacability of the Chinese government’s response to the expression of their basic human rights, the Tibetan government is compelled to reconsider its Middle Path policy. That the Kashag and the Tibetan parliament will immediately commence joint hearings to review the Middle Path policy and that representatives of Tibetan organizations advocating independence will be invited to offer their testimonies at the proceedings.

To His Holiness I would respectfully suggest that he make a public announcement stating that though he had genuinely and unreservedly supported China’s bid to host the Olympic Games, the lives and welfare of the thousands of Tibetans – victims of China’s crackdown – were far more important than a sporting event (even one as major as the Olympics). That unless China agreed to allow international agencies as the Red Cross, the UN or Amnesty, Human Rights Watch, Reporters Without Borders, and other such organizations, to send their personnel freely throughout Tibet to verify the conditions of these people and check on their legal situation, he would be compelled to appeal to the world to boycott the Beijing Games. Furthermore he would call on all his subjects, his friends, supporters and disciples worldwide, to engage in non-violent but direct action to disrupt China’s massive ultra-nationalist propaganda exercise, for which the 2008 Olympic Games is being effectively employed.

Real negotiations might follow, for the first time.

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