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Engaging in selective hearing

Sunday, Jul 4, 2010

Illustration: Cüneyt Arikan

With Dharamshala’s foreign policy being shaped almost exclusively by Beijing’s hide-and-seek strategy, anticipating its next move can be safely done through a simple reading of China’s public statements. One of these was made in early June in Oslo and most likely will be regarded as a “key” announcement by the Tibetan government-in-exile. It came from the new Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Fu Ying, who declared during a lecture on China’s development at the Norwegian Institute of International Affairs that the door for Tibet talks always was open and that there was sincerity from the Chinese side to continue the dialogue.

What is doubly interesting about Fu’s statement — or troubling, depending on your perspective — is the coincidence: not only did it happen on the exact day the Task Force was meeting in Dharamshala for the twenty-second time, but also during a three-day visit to Norway by Penpa Tsering, the Speaker of the Tibetan Parliament-in-exile, who attended Fu Ying’s lecture.

Considering how enthusiastic Dharamshala is about any “positive” signs sent by the Chinese regime, the Vice Foreign Minister’s declaration must come as a relief. This at least is what came out from Penpa Tsering, who met Fu Ying after the lecture. According to him, she seemed to be “sincere” and her move “could be a possible positive shift” to continue the dialogue.

Personally, I find it tragic that after twenty-two years of fiasco, there still could be some Tibetan leaders and officials who believe in Beijing’s “sincerity” and desire for talks. After all, everything has proved them wrong. What frightens me the most is that these advocates of a dialogue gradually have become completely hermetic to alternate advice, no matter where it comes from. Their stubbornness now is proportional to their failures; the more Beijing shatters their hope, the more they are convinced of its values.

Indeed, for some time, the Tibetan government-in-exile seems to have chosen to disregard advice and opinions that it itself had asked for. As a reminder, in November 2008, the Dalai Lama called for a special meeting “to understand the real opinions and views of the Tibetan people.” Although the vast majority of opinions gathered from Tibetan communities abroad were in favor of following the Dalai Lama’s guidance, the final recommendations presented by the delegates insisted on a specific validity point: to “stop sending envoys and to pursue complete independence or self-determination if no result comes out in the near future.” Now, I don’t want to sound sarcastic, but I’ve heard this “near future” stuff just too many times in my twenty-five year involvement with Tibet’s struggle for independence; I tend to find it rather nauseating.

Then, nine months after this special meeting, a Sino-Tibetan Conference was held in Geneva under the auspices of the International Fellowship of Reconciliation. This time, the Tibetan government-in-exile wanted to get the opinion of the Chinese intelligentsia. Though the conference echoed discordant opinions and included some pro-independence Chinese intellectuals such as Cao Changqing, author of “Tibetan People’s Right to Independence,” only one Chinese speech was made available on the conference’s web site. This was a lecture from Yan Jiaqi, probably the Dalai Lama’s best Chinese friend. Yan Jiaqi was the former political advisor of Zhao Ziyang during the 1980s and was one of the leading intellectuals supporting the student movement in 1989. Now, guess what Yan Jiaqi had to advise? That “representatives and delegations should no longer be dispatched for further negotiations.”

So, what are we supposed to make of Dharamshala’s deaf ear? In terms of political choices, it is most disturbing that “positive signs” from a brutal regime that never bothered to keep its word are given more considerations than the true aspirations of the Tibetan people or, for that matter, the advice of a high-ranking Chinese advisor with a solid insider’s experience. Why the hell did Dharamshala call these people if their opinions have no value?

But, beyond delegates’ recommendations and intellectuals’ advice, in fact beyond anything else, the Tibetan government-in-exile should seriously reconsider the true aspirations of the Tibetan people. Despite the fact that much has been undertaken to tailor and manipulate public opinion and give a semblance of support for the Dalai Lama’s policy, the picture is pretty clear: for most Tibetans, in occupied Tibet or in exile, the Middle Way is a dead end that benefits only Beijing.

For many years now, in addition to being forced to witness the disgraceful surrender and dismantling of their nation, the Tibetan people also have been sternly instructed to strive toward a “conductive atmosphere for negotiations” and to refrain from any anti-Chinese activities, with the declared intention of showing “the world that all Tibetans can stand united when it comes to our fundamental cause.”

Naturally, these measures have infuriated many people, especially when the Prime Minister made an appeal in October 2002 urging Tibetans and Tibet supporters not to demonstrate during Jiang Zemin’s visit to the United States, a call reiterated in April 2006 for Hu Jintao’s visit. Other attempts were made by the Dalai Lama to tame public opinion, such as appeals not to demonstrate against the Olympic Games and the Torch Relay, or not to proceed with the March to Tibet, but to no avail; much to the chagrin of the Tibetan leadership, ordinary Tibetans refused to pay attention to these pleas and demonstrated by thousands all over the world.

In fact, right from the beginning, the Tibetan people showed little support — and even less enthusiasm — for the Dalai Lama’s efforts toward a reconciliation with China. In the late 1970s, long before the disastrous Strasbourg Proposal was issued, long before this surrendering policy was referred to as the “Middle Way Approach,” the rapprochement aimed by Dharamshala already had been heavily condemned by Tibetan intellectuals and activists.

By 2005, however, grassroots discontent became so widespread and embarrassing that the Tibetan government decided to launch a “massive public awareness campaign on the Middle-Way Approach of His Holiness the Dalai Lama”. Not surprisingly and to avoid any form of real debate, Prime Minister Prof. Samdhong insisted on reminding everyone at the campaign launch that as long as the leadership of the Dalai Lama remains “there may not be any change in the policy of the Middle-Way Approach,” and that the exiled Tibetan community “must demonstrate a conspicuous majority support for the Middle-Way policy.”

But imposing capitulation and submission is not without consequences. One cannot ban nationalist slogans from public events, stop hunger strikes, prevent demonstrations against Chinese leaders, outlaw actions against Beijing’s propaganda machine, attempt to enforce political orthodoxy in literature, and expect a genuine desire of reconciliation without facing the risk of being accused of treason.

Dharamshala is about to face a major crisis if nothing is done to change the course of events. At present, the legitimacy of the government’s policies relies almost exclusively on the faith and loyalty shown by the vast majority of Tibetans toward the Dalai Lama. Without him, the Tibetan government will be in no position to defend the actual policy of appeasement and surrender. The inevitable passing away of the Dalai Lama won’t bring an end to the Tibetan struggle, as many believe, but it definitely will bring serious damage to Tibet’s governmental institutions if the status quo is sustained.

Forget about the Chinese Vice Foreign Minister’s declaration; her words are worth nothing but disillusion. Forget also about foreign governments’ support for dialogue; their relations with China are far too beneficial to hope for any kind of objectivity. Let’s look ahead. It’s time for a major shift in Dharamshala’s foreign policies, a rebranding of the Tibet issue and a call for a nationwide civil disobedience campaign. It’s high time to put independence back on the agenda.

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  • avatar Tenpa Gapshi says:

    Thanks for the great article. I didn’t know about the meeting they had with the chinese intelligensia. I am afraid you will be faced once again with the resounding deaf ears of Gangkyi.

  • avatar Piero Verni says:

    Excellent article. Really excellent. I agree 100%.
    Me too I am afraid you will be faced with deaf ears from TGIE.

  • avatar Jamyang Norbu says:

    The TGIE may have deaf ears but Tibetans everywhere should read this article. Spread the word. Great job.

  • avatar Tica says:

    It’s all too familiar – well observed and well put ! and hopefully will be widely read.
    In the larger context and given his level & functions as head of state (not government) and protector of Tibet’s culture, HHDL’s Middle Path approach seems wise to me – too bad so many feel they are expected to conform to what HH does at the macro/global level, while possibly not following his example at the micro/personal level ?

  • avatar rigsel says:

    hi cristoph,
    dharmasala is place only for the religion nothing more….the word itself shows…it’s tiny vatican
    city all corupted….religion and politic two huge different domaine…wake up fellows so called tibetans…..otherwise chinese yougster will teach us democracy……dhasa force us unidemo or semi dicta…
    thanks for your article

  • avatar lungta says:

    Great article. The TGIE would be well inspired to follow the Chinese policy of always asking the maximum if they want to have a chance to get at least something in return! And the only way to achieve this is for all the Tibetans to ask for rangzen. The only success the TGIE might achieve with all this “kotowing” is that the Chinese authorities choke to death while loughing so much! HHDL middle way approach is only valid if the Tibetan people are asking for independence.

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