Agam's Gecko
Wednesday, July 06, 2005
Tibetan prayer wheel

est Wishes and Long Life to His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama, today on the occasion of his seventieth birthday!

There will be several days of celebrations in Dharamsala, India and in Tibetan settlements around the world in honour of the Dalai Lama's completion of 70 years on this earth. And lest we forget, he has spent 46 of those years in exile from his homeland. Tibetans in Tibet are prevented from celebrating the occasion, where the throwing of tsampa (roasted barley flour) is strictly prohibited.
"A peaceful resolution of the Tibetan issue will have wide-ranging positive impacts on China's transition and transformation onto a modern, open and free society. There is now a window of opportunity for the Chinese leadership to act with courage and farsightedness in resolving the Tibetan issue once and for all."

- Statement of His Holiness the Dalai Lama on the 45th Anniversary of Tibetan National Uprising Day 10 March 2004
Representatives of the Tibetan Government in Exile met last week in Berne, Switzerland with representatives of the PRC. The location was the PRC embassy in the Swiss capital. Phayul has an account of the talks along with some press releases, and the International Campaign for Tibet has some analysis.

It may be simply wishful thinking to attribute a maturing of the Chinese attitude to the choice of venue, as the Executive Director of ICT, Mary Beth Markey proposes. It does at first seem significant that this is the first time these talks have taken place outside China, the scene of the first three rounds. Markey notes that, "A third country venue appropriately reflects the tremendous support of the international community for resolving the Tibetan issue and may indicate that China is interested in raising the profile of the dialogue." The problem with this is that China has never actually acknowledged this dialogue process, and made mention of the first three visits of the Tibetan delegation to China (and occupied Tibet) since September 2002 as nothing more than "some Tibetan compatriots returning to the motherland for sightseeing and family visits." The Chinese side is never seen coming to the Tibetan side in any way, and the venue of a PRC embassy is hardly any different.

Nevertheless, there is some reason to be hopeful that the process may develop further. The first couple of meetings were seen mostly as confidence-building efforts, but apparently some specific issues were raised at the third meeting which were then addressed in a prepared way during this latest fourth meeting. The Prime Minister of the Tibetan Government, Samdhong Rinpoche sounds pretty upbeat about the prospects for progress, indicating his feeling that a settlement may be found during the current Dalai Lama's lifetime.

Yet the Chinese remain stubborn on their preconditions to any possible consideration for the right of the Dalai Lama to return home. Although he has for many years been saying that the goal is not independence, but a meaningful degree of autonomy in certain areas as culture, religion and environmental stewardship of the plateau, the Chinese continue to castigate him as a "splittist". One wonders if they are not breaking their own rules, if that is the case, in even meeting with what they consider to be "splittist forces". He is required to make explicit statements that "Tibet has always been an inalienable part of China" and also that "Taiwan is an inalienable part of China" -- although what Taiwan has to do with things is never quite made clear. But since the first statement is certainly historically untrue, they have simply placed an obstacle of their own choosing to block the path of concilliation.

The Tibetans have made all the concessions, including some very big ones like accepting Chinese sovereignty (a stance that many Tibetans have a very hard time accepting). Only someone with the stature of the Dalai Lama would have the ability to move his people toward such a "Middle Way" approach to the problem, and even so there are many dissenting voices to this policy. But alongside all this accomodation on the Tibetan side, the Chinese have never moved and inch. It isn't simply "take, take, take and never give," but "take, take, take and never acknowledge what the other side has given." To an outside observer, the situation continues to look like only one side is operating honestly and in good faith, with sincere wish to find a mutually agreeable solution. The other side sits back with the attitude of, "You come to me, and let's see what you're going to give me this time. And don't expect me to thank you for it either."

Frankly, I would never trust the communists to keep their word on anything, so I hope the Tibetans are being very careful. But they have no choice at all in their negotiating partners, they have to deal with the Chinese communists if they want any hope of saving Tibetan civilisation from its impending extinction under Chinese rule. Prime Minister Samdhong Rinpoche believes that the Chinese may have reached the conclusion that His Holiness is not really the problem, but might actually be the key to a settlement. The Chinese writer Wang Lixiong has been telling them this for years. He wrote:
"China should not regard the Dalai Lama as an obstacle to resolving the issue of Tibet, but as the key to a lasting solution. However, if the issue is not resolved well, the key that can open the big door can also lock it."
Tibetans must begin to see some real progress coming from the other side, and soon. The Olympics being held in Beijing in three years' time will become a point of pressure that will be used by individuals and groups from around the world who support the Tibetans' just cause. This is something the PRC leaders want very much to be a mark of China's arrival on the world stage as a "great power." So there is in fact something there that can be taken away from them -- not necessarily the Olympics per se, but certainly the acquisition of the big face they desire out of them. They could easily turn into a huge embarrassment by the concerted efforts of the worldwide Tibet (and Chinese democracy) support movements. The Chinese communists want something here, so let's see them give something.

The Dalai Lama has some good years ahead of him yet. His health is good, despite a minor scare a couple of years ago. I'm just reminded of a wonderful little documentary I saw this morning on PBS News Hour, on the legendary Beale Street Blues Boy, B.B. King. Eighty years old, and he can belt it out as strong as ever! He just likes to sit down these days when he plays Lucille. Sharp as a tack, too. Impressive.

The International Campaign for Tibet has set up a page to send your birthday wish to the Dalai Lama.

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