Dialogue  April-June 2009 , Volume 10 No. 4

How the Dalai Lama forsake Independence

Claude Arpi

The First Contacts

In 1973, in his annual March 10 Statement, the Dalai Lama outlined his main aspiration: the happiness of 6 million Tibetans. He declared: “The aim of struggle of the Tibetans outside Tibet is the attainment of the happiness of the Tibetan people. If the Tibetans in Tibet are truly happy under Chinese rule then there is no reason for us here in exile to argue otherwise. The basic need of every human being is adequate food, clothing and shelter.”

Till today, this has remained his main consideration. It is also the guiding factor of policy towards Beijing.

In the early 1970’s, another factor which motivated the Dalai Lama to renew some contacts with Communist China was probably the sufferings of the Tibetans inside Tibet during the Cultural Revolution.

The first encounter between one of the Dalai Lama’s representatives and the Beijing regime occurred in April 1973 when Kundeling Dzaza, a minister in the Dalai Lama’s Cabinet returning from Japan stopped in Honk Kong on his way to India. George Patterson, a Scottish missionary who lived in Tibet before the invasion and was working in Hong Kong as a journalist, was instrumental in brokering a meeting with Chinese officials.

 Patterson introduced Kundeling to Lee Tsung-ying, the editor of English edition of the Ta Kung Pao, the oldest Chinese language newspaper in Hong Kong who was financed by Beijing and was the precursor to the China Daily. Apparently nothing came out of the meeting.

A month later1, Gyalo Thondup, the Dalai Lama’s brother met a US Embassy official in Delhi to discuss the possibility to approach Beijing to open a dialogue. This encounter must have been considered as important by Washington because Patrick Moynihan, the US Ambassador himself sent a full report of the meeting to the US Secretary of State in Washington. This cable which has recently been declassified gives some inkling on the Dalai Lama’s hope to open up ways of communication with Mao’s regime.

When questioned by the US official about what he expected from the US, Gyalo Thondup “referred vaguely to a possible offer by the US of its good offices or mediation for confidential talks between the Tibetans and the Chinese. The US might also urge Peking to be more sympathetic to Tibetan aspirations. The Tibetan refugees, he added, had not changed their position on Tibet. Nor could they change their position in the abstract since their struggle had a twenty-year history. However, they might be flexible if talks with China got underway.”

 Thondup confirmed that Kundeling had a meeting with the Communists in Hong Kong. But according to him, the Dalai Lama had not authorized any talks with the Chinese and Kundeling had not been officially authorized to contact them.

 In conclusion, the US Ambassador informed Washington: “The Embassy officer gave Thondup no encouragement. He said that of course it was up to the Tibetan refugees what they wanted to do with regard to talks about their future. The officer said it was his personal judgment, however, that the US government would not be prepared to raise the matter with Peking. He simply took note of Thondup’s request that the Dalai Lama’s proposal be reported to Washington.”

Gyalo Dhondup’s first encounters

The death of Mao Zedong in September 1976 heralded a new era for China and the world. Those who had suffered of the brutal repression of the Great Helmsman’s policies (particularly during the Cultural Revolution) began dreaming of a brighter and more harmonious future.

Soon after the disgruntled Mao’s widow and her colleagues of the Gang of Four were removed from the scene, one of the leaders who had several times ‘purged’ and had been in disgrace for several years was back on the political stage, Deng Xiaoping.

For the ‘nationalities’ and particularly the Tibetans, the first post-Mao years became an era of relative freedom. One could see the first signs of detente in China as well as in Tibet. The Panchen Lama, the second Tibetan religious figure after the Dalai Lama and Bapa Phuntso Wangyal, the ‘first Tibetan Communist’ who lead the Chinese troops into the Tibetan capital in September 1971 were released after more than 15 years in the Chinese jails. Both had managed to survive in most inhuman conditions.

It is in these circumstances that the Dalai Lama announced on March 10, 1978 that he was keen that Tibetans living in exile should be allowed to visit Tibet and vice-versa. He declared: “If the six million Tibetans in Tibet are really happy and prosperous as never before there is no reason for us to argue otherwise. If the Tibetans are really happy the Chinese should allow every interested foreigner to visit Tibet without restricting their movements or meetings with the Tibetan people. This would enable the visitors to really know the true conditions in Tibet.”

This declaration, probably read by the Chinese leadership in Beijing, prompted a new opening. With the arrival of the pragmatic Deng Xiaoping in power, it augured well for China and Tibet.

A few months later, Gyalo Thondup met Li Ju-sheng who was designated as ‘Xinhua Director No. 2’ in Hong Kong. Both had several encounters which lasted 5 or 6 weeks. Li probably relayed his conversations to the leadership in Beijing. From the Chinese side, it seems that the main objective of these encounters was to build some confidence and eventually prepare the ground for a visit of Thondup to China where he could meet senior officials. Li’s role was to plan and set up these meetings.

At the beginning, Gyalo Thondup did not know that Li Ju-sheng was close to Deng Xiaoping (who was acquainted with his intelligence work in Indonesia in the 1960s). Deng had personally sent Li to Hong Kong and given him this designation (‘Director No 2’).

Li recommended to Deng to invite Thondup to frankly discuss the situation in Tibet. The meeting between the new leader of the People’s Republic of China and the Dalai Lama’s brother took place in Beijing in February 19792. Immediately, Deng rejected the blame for the difficult situation in Tibet on the Gang of Four. It was then the standard excuse for all what had gone wrong in China (and in Tibet) since the mid-sixties. Deng said that he was keen to improve the lot of the Tibetan populations. He told Thondup that he would like to invite the refugees in India and abroad to return to Tibet. He told the Dalai Lama’s brother: “It is better to see once than to hear a hundred times”.

It is during this encounter with Gyalo Thondup that Deng Xiaoping stated: “The door is opened for negotiations as long as we don’t speak about independence. Everything else is negotiable”

It is in these circumstances that three delegations were sent by the Dalai Lama in 1979 and 1980 to visit their native land after a gap of 20 years and much suffering.

On March 10, 1980, the Dalai Lama declared: “It is still too early to predict the outcome of what may happen in the future. In response to these changes, as well as to the request by the Chinese government, I have despatched a fact-finding delegation to visit Tibet through China. It is for the first time in nearly twenty-one years that we have established contact with the Chinese government, as well as our beloved countrymen.”

From Beijing side, the leadership was under the impression that the ‘backward Tibetans’ had finally been ‘liberated’. The local authorities briefed the Tibetan population in Lhasa about the forthcoming visit of the Dalai Lama’s delegates. “You should not resent this visit. You should not insult the delegates; you should not spit on them, just receive them as your own countrymen,” were the strict Party instructions.

They had however misread completely the people’s feelings, their deep resentment, as well as their will to resist colonization. Wherever the Dalai Lama’s envoys went, they were mobbed by crowds of Tibetans. One delegate remembered: “The Tibetans tried even to tear our chubas (Tibetan dress) to have them as relics”. The entire Lhasa population was in the streets; everybody wanting a darshan of the Dalai Lama’s envoys.

In Beijing, changes were in the offing.

A year earlier, Deng Xiaoping had nominated a Party Central Committee’s Working Group on Tibet. This was the first working group formed after Hu Yaobang had become the General Secretary of the CCP. The Group was presided by Hu and Wan Li, then member of the Standing Committee of the Politburo was also a member.

Hu Yaobang decided to see by himself what was going on in Tibet. He had then the courage to go for an inspection tour on the high plateau.

Reaching Lhasa, Hu Yaobang was shocked to see the level of poverty in Tibet. During a meeting with the Party cadres, he asked “whether all the money Beijing had poured into Tibet over the previous years had been thrown into the Yarlung Tsangpo [Brahmaputra] river”. He said the situation reminded him of colonialism. Soon after hundreds of Chinese Han cadres were transferred back to China.

The visit tended to prove that the Central Government in Beijing was ready to settle matters through consultation with the local people. It demonstrated that the Politburo was keen to get a new start and “restore the harmonious atmosphere of cooperation which had prevailed in the early 1950s” as a Chinese commentator had put it.

In March 1981, the Dalai Lama wrote to Deng Xiaoping: “We must improve the relationship between China and Tibet as well as between Tibetans in and outside Tibet. With truth and equality as our foundations, we must try to develop friendship between Tibetans and Chinese through better understanding in the future. The time has come to apply, with a sense of urgency, our common wisdom in a spirit of tolerance and broad mindedness in order to achieve genuine happiness for the Tibetans.”

The answer of the Chinese government came indirectly in July 1981, but it only mentioned the status of the Dalai Lama and his future role in case he comes back to his ‘motherland’: “The central authorities sincerely welcome the Dalai Lama and his followers to come back to live. This is based on the hope that they will contribute to upholding China’s unity and promoting solidarity between the Han and Tibetan nationalities, and among all nationalities, and the modernization programme.” And the communiqué added: “The Dalai Lama will enjoy the same political status and living conditions as he had before 1959.”

This was not acceptable to the Dalai Lama and his exiled administration. The Tibetan leader wanted to talk about the happiness and the fate of his 6 millions of countrymen.

From that time till today, the Chinese leadership has consistently kept this approach: talks (or negotiations) are about the Dalai Lama’s status and role, not about Tibet’s status. This has always been objected by the Dalai Lama for whom the happiness of his people is the main issue to be settled.

In April 1982, a delegation comprising Juchen Thubten Namgyal, the senior most Ministers in the Kashag, Phuntso Tashi and Lodi Gyari (today the Dalai Lama’s Special Envoy) left for Beijing for preliminary talks with the Chinese authorities. Their first demand was the reunification of the three traditional provinces of Tibet (Kham, Amdo and U-Tsang) under a common administration.

These negotiations were kept secret. Very few in Dharamsala were in the know that a delegation had gone to Beijing to discuss. Even after their return, they refused to brief not only the press, but also the Tibetan People’ Assembly of what transpired during the ‘negotiations’. It is twenty years later that we could get all the details from the head of the delegation. This secrecy clause imposed by the Chinese was not much appreciated in Dharamsala.

While the three fact-finding delegations went to Tibet on the basis of the statement of 1978 Deng Xiaoping (“It is better to see once than to hear a hundred times”), the purpose of the visit to Beijing of Juchen Thubten and his colleagues was different, they were to hold discussion on the future of Tibet.

They first discussed a 9-point offer from the Communists to the Kuomintang regime in Taiwan. Beijing had proposed that 3 important issues Politics, Finance and Defense could remain with the Formosans. All other subjects could be shared. When the Tibetan representatives raised the “one-country, two-systems” formula that Beijing was ready to grant to Taiwan and Hong Kong, the Chinese bluntly refused and said that it was not applicable to Tibet which had already been ‘liberated’ under the 17 Point Agreement in 1951.

Nothing came out of the talks.

In October 1984, the same Tibetan delegation returned to Beijing. In the meantime the Dalai Lama had expressed his wish to visit Tibet in 1985. Though the 1984 talks were the follow-up of the 1982 visit, the main subject of the discussions was the proposed visit of the Dalai Lama to his native land.

But the Chinese used delaying tactics saying that they were ‘busy’ with developmental works in Tibet (sic) and with the celebration of the 20th anniversary of the foundation of the Tibetan Autonomous Region.

Once again, the talks led nowhere.

The following two years remained crucial for the history of the relations between Tibet and China (and India), not because any important event took place, but because the situation in China began sliding toward a more authoritarian regime. The Middle Kingdom which for the first time at the end of the 70’s had felt a wind of change and openness began to close itself again. More conservative leaders appeared on the scene. At the end of the decade, this eventually led to a state of Emergency in Tibet imposed by Hu Jintao (then Party Secretary for Tibet and today President of the PRC) in March 1989 and the Tiananmen massacre three months later, but we are not yet there.

Internalization of the Tibetan issue

One of the reasons which forced the Dalai Lama to change his policy at the end of the 80’s was what he himself called the ‘vast seas’ of Chinese migrants who “threaten the very existence of the Tibetans as a distinct people”. In an article in the New York Times3, he explained: “In the eastern parts of our country, the Chinese now greatly outnumber Tibetans. In the Amdo province, for example, where I was born, there are, according to Chinese statistics, 2.5 million Chinese and only 750,000 Tibetans. Even in the so-called Tibet Autonomous Region (i.e., central and western Tibet), Chinese government sources now confirm that Chinese outnumber Tibetans.”

A similar process had already occurred in Eastern Turkestan (Xinjiang) and Inner Mongolia. The Dalai Lama pointed out: “Today, in the whole of Tibet 7.5 million Chinese settlers have already been sent, outnumbering the Tibetan population of six million…”

It is in this circumstances that the Tibetan leader decided to call on the International community to help find a solution for Tibet. He knew that there was no chance that the negotiations could reach a meaningful solution without an outer push, but there is no ‘free meal’ in politics.

The Tibetan leader’s international supporters were only ready to help if he accepted to forsake his country’s independence.

At the same time, in Beijing the hardliners did not see any advantage (economic or political) in the success of the talks, there was therefore not much scope to unknot the issue in the near future.

 The Dalai Lama had no choice to pay the heavy price and renounce independence.

The Five-Point Peace Plan

On September 21, 1987, the Dalai Lama addressed the members of the United States Congress in Washington D.C.. He presented his ‘Five Points Peace Plan for Tibet’. The Plan was well received in the United States; many saw a positive step towards a solution to the Tibetan issue and a chance for durable peace in Asia.

The Five Points were the following:

          1.   Transformation of the whole Tibet into a zone of peace.

          2.   Abandonment by China of its population transfer policy which threatens the very existence of the Tibetans as the race.

          3.   Respect of the Tibetan people’s fundamental rights and democratic reforms.

          4.   Restoration and protection of Tibet’s natural environment and abandonment of China’s use of Tibet for the production of nuclear weapons and dumping of nuclear waste.

          5.   Commencement of earnest negotiations on the future status of Tibet and of the relation between the people of Tibet and China.

Regarding the last Point, the Dalai Lama elaborated further: “We wish to approach in a reasonable and realistic way, in the spirit of frankness and conciliation and with a view to finding a solution that is in the long term interest of all: the Tibetans, the Chinese, and all people concerned. Tibetans and Chinese are distinct peoples, each with their own country, history, culture, language and way of life. Differences among peoples must be recognized and respected. They need not, however, form obstacles to genuine cooperation where this is in the mutual benefit of both peoples. It is my sincere belief that if the concerned parties were to meet and discuss their future with an open mind and a sincere desire to find a satisfactory and just solution, a breakthrough could be achieved. We must all exert ourselves to be reasonable and wise and to meet in a spirit of frankness and understanding”.

Six days after the Dalai Lama had announced his Plan in front of the US Congress, the first demonstration erupted in Lhasa. The situation degenerated during the following two years which saw constant unrest and in March 1989, serious riots in Lhasa led to the clamping of the martial law.

The crossing of the Rubicon

In June 18 1988, the Dalai Lama addressed the members of the European Parliament in Strasbourg. He explained: “I thought a long time on how to achieve a realistic solution to my nation’s plight.” Later speaking about his “Five Points Plan”, he added: “The fifth point of the Peace Plan called for earnest negotiations between the Tibetans and the Chinese. We have, therefore, taken the initiative to formulate thoughts which we hope, may serve as a basis for resolving the issue of Tibet. I would like to take this opportunity to inform the distinguished gathering here of the main points of our thinking.”

He further elucidated: “The whole of Tibet should become a self-governing democratic political entity founded on law by agreement of the people for common good and the protection of themselves and their environment, in association with the People’s Republic of China. The Government of People’s Republic of China could remain responsible for Tibet’s foreign policy. The Government of Tibet should however, develop and maintain relations, through its own Foreign Affairs Bureau, in the fields of commerce, education, culture, religion, tourism, science, sports and other non-political activities.”

Soon the European Parliament, the U.S. Congress, the German Bundestag and other parliaments passed resolutions in favor of immediate ‘negotiations’ between Beijing and the Dalai Lama’s Administration.

The fact that the ‘Strasbourg’ proposal was well received by Western Governments tend to bring water to the rumour mill that the Dalai Lama was influenced by certain Western politicians who told him that if he abandoned his objective of independence, he would get some political support from the West. The Dalai Lama has always denied that he was ‘influenced’. It is however true that he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize a year after having made his proposal for ‘genuine autonomy’ and that since that time, his popularity has tremendously increased in the West.

The Tibetans especially younger generation, reacted strongly to the fact that their cherished dream of independence was abandoned.

The main urgency in finding a quick and ‘acceptable’ solution, while making this huge concession to full independence (it was actually a surrender of Tibet’s sovereignty), was the colonization of Tibet by Chinese settlers, putting in peril Tibet as a nation; it is a fact that the Chinese were in a position of force. They were occupying the Roof of the World for nearly 40 years, hundreds of thousand soldiers were stationed on the plateau and they were no sign that they would leave on their own.

What forced the Dalai Lama to cross the Rubicon?

Many factors are probably involved, we have already mentioned some. The lukewarmness of the Government of India to support any initiative4, the failure of the 1982 and 1984 ‘talks’, the purge of some of the most progressive Chinese leaders, the alarming situation inside Tibet and the pressure from some of the Western nations to give up ‘independence’ were some of the reasons which forced the Dalai Lama to review his policy.

Had he any other choice?

Let us not forget, that not a single nation recognized his administration in exile (twenty years later, this has not changed). India generously helped for the rehabilitation and the education of the refugees, but had never done anything politically.

Lodi Gyari, the Dalai Lama’s Special Envoy for the current negotiations, who also participated to the 1982 and 1984 talks, explains: “It has been extremely difficult for His Holiness [the Dalai Lama]. When he chose ‘the Middle Way’ path5, there were tremendous protests from his own people. This strong opposition came from people who were ready to give their lives for the cause. And as someone who served His Holiness very closely and has been intimately involved in the process, I can tell you, it was very painful. It was certainly a difficult thing for those of us who had the honour to be associated with him. But it was even more difficult for His Holiness to take such a decision. He showed that he was a real leader, because a real leader has sometimes to take unpopular decisions. He showed that he had the courage to take difficult decisions. I always share this with my Chinese colleagues to give them an idea of the extent His Holiness has gone to work for a mutually satisfactory solution.”

Twenty years later, many Tibetans are still upset and resent the decision taken by their leader in 1988. The younger generation represented by the Youth Congress are ready to publicly express their feelings.

Perhaps even harder for the Tibetan leader, was the fact that Beijing answered negatively to this historic compromise. On June 23, 1988 a communiqué of the Foreign Ministry in Beijing stated that it was no question for the People’s Republic to accept “independence, semi-independence or independence in disguise”.

Beijing was not ready to start serious negotiations, or was it a tactic? To refuse the Dalai Lama’s compromise placed Beijing in an even stronger position of force for future talks.

At that point in time, the Tibetan Administration in Dharamsala announced that a 6-member team would participate to future talks. One of the envoys was Michael van Walt van Praag, a Dutch lawyer, author of The Status of Tibet, History, Rights and Prospects in International Law. The fact that the list of the delegates was released to the press before informing the Chinese authorities was not appreciated in Beijing.

However, a few days later6, the Chinese Embassy conveyed to the Dalai Lama that “[Beijing] welcome the Dalai Lama to have talks with the central government at any time, and talks may be held in Beijing, Hong Kong or any of our embassies or consulates abroad. If the Dalai Lama finds it inconvenient to conduct talks at these places. He may choose any place he wishes.”

But one of the conditions was that no foreigners should be involved. They however reiterated that the main conditions were ‘independence’ should be dropped and they were only talking to private representatives of the Dalai Lama.

Two days later, the Tibetan representatives responded: “We welcome China’s positive response to His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s call for talks on the Tibetan issue. We similarly welcome their leaving the choice of the venue for the talks to us. We would like the talks to be held in Geneva, Switzerland which is the host convenient and neutral venue. We would also like the first round of talks to be held in January”.

The conditions were similar to what had been conveyed to Juchen Thubten Namgyal in 1982 and 1984: Beijing was ready to speak to personal representative of the Dalai Lama, but not to representatives of the exile community, even less to people pretending to represent the entire Tibetan population.

It is unfortunate that when Rajiv Gandhi, the Indian Prime Minister went to China in December instead of gently encouraging a dialogue, he unnecessarily stressed that Tibet was part of China and that “anti-China political activities by Tibetan elements are not permitted on Indian soil.”

Interestingly, twenty years later, the Chinese continue to repeat that the Dalai Lama has never rejected his desire for independence, though the Tibetan leader has repeated hundreds of time that we did not seek anymore separation from China.

However, the real problem is not there for Beijing: the main issue is that the Dalai Lama is not ready to rewrite history. Beijing would like the Tibetans to admit that they have always been part of the Great Chinese Motherland, which is historically wrong and will never be accepted by the Tibetans.

Today, the Chinese authorities are still not ready to recognise the reality about the past history of Tibet. As long as they keep this colonialist attitude, it is doubtful if a solution could be found to this vexed issue. There is no reason for the Dalai Lama to admit something which is fundamentally untrue, i.e. for centuries Tibet was part of China.

During the months following this exchange, the situation deteriorated in Tibet. It ended by the proclamation of the Martial Law on March 8, 1989, hardly two months after Hu Jintao had taken over as Party Chief.

In June, Beijing witnessed the massacre of Tiananmen Square, it is said that some 3000 students were smashed by tanks in the early hours of June 4. The world woke up to the brutality of the regime in Beijing.

The Western powers stopped for a time their pressure on the Communist totalitarian regime to find a solution with the Dalai Lama.

After difficult years during the 90’s (only one delegation from Dharamsala visited Beijing in July 1993), the contacts started again in 2002.

New Rounds of Talk

On September 9 2002, a four-member Tibetan delegation arrived in Beijing. During the following week, the delegates met many officials both in China and Tibet. Samdhong Rinpoche, Prime Minister of the Tibetan Government-in-Exile, described the visit as “a culmination of efforts over the years to reach out to the Chinese government”.

At that time, the Chinese officials did not confirm the visit, but spoke about “a private [visit] and a chance for exiled Tibetan leaders to see the progress in their homeland under Chinese rule.” Beijing did not even accept the designation of Gyari and his colleague as the Dalai Lama’s special envoys.

 In May 2003, the same delegation returned to China and Tibetans. They met amongst others Ms. Liu Yandong, head of the United Front Work Department of the Communist Party of China.

Lodi Gyari explained: “In addition to the main objective of continuing the process begun in September 2002 to meet Chinese leaders responsible for Tibetan affairs, we had three specific aims for this visit; i) to broaden our overall understanding of the situation in China through visits to different areas and meeting with officials; ii) to meet Chinese Buddhist leaders and to visit Buddhist holy sites; and, iii) above all, to visit Tibetan areas and meet Tibetan officials.”

Since then 7 rounds of talks have been held without any tangible results, except to know better each other’s positions. One of the problems is that the Chinese do not fully trust the Tibetans.

On the ground, the genuine autonomy demanded by the Dalai Lama is still decades away. Tibetans do not have a say in their lives. With the arrival of the railway line (3.8 million Chinese travelled by train to Lhasa last year) and the influx of new Han settlers, the resentment has tremendously increased.

The March-April Riots

On March 10 this year, trouble started when 300 monks from Drepung Monastery, near Lhasa begun a peaceful protest march towards Barkhor Street in central Lhasa. A few monks were arrested by Public Security Bureau (PSB) officials and a large deployment of force was immediately seen around Drepung Monastery.

People’s Armed Police personnel, including plain-clothed police, were reportedly present around Central Cathedral in Lhasa. The next day, Sera Monastery got involved in peaceful demonstrations. Again, some monks were arrested, and severely beaten and manhandled by PSB officials.

 The following day, about 2,000 Chinese troops fired teargas to disperse hundreds of Sera Monastery monks who were calling for the release of their fellow monks while shouting pro-Tibet slogans. The situation further deteriorated in the following days with the use of brute force against the demonstrators.

 On March 14, Chinese sources spoke of ‘a tumultuous day’. China’s official news agency, Xinhua, reported: “Witnesses said the unrest started around 1:10 pm on Friday, several people clashed with and stoned the local police around Ramogia Monastery in downtown Lhasa.”

Ramogia Monastery is the Ramoche Monastery. However, the Chinese use their own phonetic spellings to Sinicise Tibetan names: ‘Ramoche’ thus become ‘Ramogia’. Every old colonial trick is being used in Tibet today; even Lhasa time is Beijing Standard Time. Lord Macaulay would have to admit that the Chinese are far superior to the British in forcing their ‘culture’ on indigenous people.

Beijing immediately put the blame for the riots on the Dalai Lama. A Government official in Lhasa told Xinhua that there was evidence to prove that the ‘sabotage’ in Lhasa was “organised, premeditated and masterminded” by the Dalai Lama’s clique. Xinhua added that the authorities “were forced to use a limited amount of teargas and fired warning shots to disperse the desperate crowds”.

 The ‘limited’ use of force mentioned by the Chinese Government nevertheless took the lives of 16 people, according to Chinese sources. The Dalai Lama’s government spoke of at least 100 dead.

 For the Dalai Lama, “These protests are a manifestation of the deep-rooted resentment of the Tibetan people under the present governance.” He said that “unity and stability under brute force is at best a temporary solution. Force is not conducive to finding a peaceful and lasting solution.” While urging his fellow Tibetans not to resort to violence, he said that “the protest in Lhasa is borne out of China carrying out a sort of cultural genocide in Tibet, intentionally or unintentionally”.

The situation today

In September 2008, using Article 59 of the Tibetan Charter (Constitution in Exile), the Dalai Lama called for an emergency meeting to consider the ‘serious situation inside Tibet’ and the future of the negotiations.

The Tibetan Parliament has prepared a proposal for the meeting to be held from November 17 to 22. Present and past Ministers and members of the Tibetan Parliament in Exile, former government officials above the rank of Joint Secretary, some representatives of Tibetan NGOs, intellectuals and Tibetan youth are called to participate. A draft will then be presented to the Dalai Lama for final approval.

The meeting will the largest ever gathering of representatives both from government and non-governmental bodies of the exiled community. The opinion of the public is also being collected.

In the meantime, Lodi Gyari, the Dalai Lama’s Special Envoy has warned that failure of talks with China could lead to future violence.

An eighth round of talks is due to be held in October, 2008 but Gyari said that ‘the lack of progress from this dialogue is turning some Tibetans away from engagement”.

Speaking at the Asia Society in New York Gyari feared that some Tibetans might opt for violence after the Tibetan leader’s demise: “If the issue is not resolved, then I’m afraid a section of the Tibetans will resort into violence. Would we win? Most probably not! And in the end we will suffer more. But it is a reality. And in fact, you know, the major contributing factor to that kind of situation is the Chinese policy.”

In Beijing, despite the compromises made by the Dalai Lama, the official line has not changed. Foreign Ministry Spokesman Qin Gang recently repeated that it is “imperative for the Dalai Lama take concrete actions to respond to the central government’s requests and create conditions for contact and talks.” Does it mean that the Dalai Lama should accept Beijing’s version of the History?


Retrospectively, little has been achieved during the past thirty years. No solution is in sight and the future seems rather bleak for the Tibetans. After the ‘success’ of the Olympics, one can doubt if Beijing will suddenly become more flexible.

However, it would probably be wrong for Beijing to wait for the Dalai Lama’s demise; their image which has been battered in March-April unrest could suffer further with a possible general uprising of the Tibetan population.

 In India, many have started to realize that the ‘Tibet card’ is an important one. A more proactive role of the Indian government after the next elections could certainly facilitate a win-win solution for Beijing, Dharamsala and Delhi. Let us not forget that India has an important stake in the Tibet’s future.


    1  On May 2, 1973.

    2  Was it a coincidence but Atal Bihari Vajpayee, India’s External Affairs Minister visited China around that time.

    3  His Holiness the Dalai Lama, “A Vast Sea of Chinese Threatens Tibet,” New York Times, August 9, 1985.

    4  During the months following the Strasbourg Proposal, India remained silent. Rajiv Gandhi, the young Prime Minister was then preparing his visit to China (in December) which has later been termed as ‘path-breaking’ by the Indian press.

    5  Name of the Dalai Lama’s policy seeking ‘genuine autonomy’ within the People’s Republic of China and not independence anymore.

    6  On September 21, 1988.


Dialogue (A quarterly journal of Astha Bharati)

Astha Bharati