Sunday, January 31, 2010



His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s Special Envoy Lodi G. Gyari and Envoy Kelsang Gyaltsen arrived in China on January 26,2010, for the ninth round of discussions with the representatives of the Chinese leadership.The eighth round terminated without any agreement in November 2008. The present dialogue started in 2002. They were accompanied by senior assistants Tenzin P. Atisha, Bhuchung K. Tsering, both members of the Tibetan Task Force on Negotiations, and Jigmey Passang from the Secretariat of the Tibetan Task Force. As the talks progress, China seems to have suspended for the time being its campaign of demonisation of His Holiness. Even overseas supporters of His Holiness concede that the Chinese Government and the Communist Party have toned their rhetoric against His Holiness.

2. Messages coming out of commentaries and editorials on the resumption of the talks after an interval of 14 months are that unless His Holiness adopts a more realistic attitude in the present round of talks, there will be no useful outcome. By a realistic attitude, the Chinese mean His Holiness accepting the present constitutional and political status of the Tibet Autonomous Region without raising demands for a merger of all Tibetan inhabited areas and without insisting on the expansion of the autonomous powers of the re-constituted Tibetan region. After the failure of the last round, the Chinese had also stated that the Dalai Lama should stop raising the issue of the alleged Han colonization of Tibet and should accept the need for the continued presence of the People’s Liberation Army troops in the Tibet Autonomous Region. While accepting that Tibet is a part of China, His Holiness reportedly wants for it a special status similar to the status enjoyed by Hong Kong. The Chinese have already ruled this out.

3.In a commentary titled “Dalai Should Seize Chance Provided by Talks” published on January 28,2010, the “Global Times” run by the party-owned “People’s Daily” group, explained in the following words what the Chinese expected of His Holiness: “Now, at the age of 75, time is not on the side of the Dalai Lama. Though the March 14 riots in Tibet in 2008, plotted by the Dalai clique, caught the world's attention for a while, it is always the progress of China, including Tibet, which has impressed the world. For his own sake, the Dalai Lama needs to make the most of the opportunity provided by the current round of talks with the central government. As the new round of talks in eight years, also the first since November 2008, is underway, it is time for him to reflect on the discussions thus far, the reasons for them getting stalled and adopt a more realistic approach to keep the dialogue going with the central government. Only when he gives up "Tibetan independence", eschews separatist activities, and acknowledges Tibet as an inalienable part of China can the talks yield results. Any unrealistic request – such as greater "autonomy" in Tibet and some Tibetan-populated regions, proposed by his envoys during the last talks – are certain to be turned down. The realistic appreciation of Tibet – and not as a mysterious Shangri-la steeped in esoteric religious and cultural traditions – can help clear up the misunderstanding between China and some Western countries over Tibet. The mystification of Tibet has added to the confusion, and even prejudice against the Chinese central government's policy in Tibet. Some sections of the West have gone further by playing the Tibet card to embarrass China, either out of ignorance of Tibet's past and present, or in pursuit of their own political agenda. That explains why the Dalai clique's deliberate agitation and disguised attempt to seek "Tibetan independence" in the name of "autonomy" could once gain some momentum in the West. But more Westerners have come to realize that supporting the Dalai Lama will be in vain and do them no good.”

4. Overseas supporters of His Holiness say that the Chinese initiative for holding another round of talks with the representatives of His Holiness was preceded by the holding in Beijing of a Tibet strategy session from January 18 to 20, 2010. Since the People’s Liberation Army occupied Tibet in 1949-50, Chinese leaders are reported to have held five such strategy sessions under the name the Tibet Work Forum. The latest session called the Fifth Tibet Work Forum was reported to have been attended by about 300 Party, Government and military leaders playing a role in policy-making on Tibet.

5. The strategy session was held at a time when China had successfully weathered international pressure on it on the question of the human rights of the Tibetans. During his visit to China in November last, President Barack Obama was reported to have suggested the resumption of the talks with the representatives of His Holiness. However, it is not clear whether his raising the issue played any role in the Chinese decision to resume the dialogue with His Holiness.

6. Why was a new strategy session held at this time when there is seeming normalcy in Tibet after the anti-Chinese uprising of 2008 and when the international pressure on China on the human rights issue has eased after its successful holding of the Beijing Olympics in August,2008? Does it indicate Chinese nervousness about a fresh spell of trouble in Tibet after the exit of His Holiness, particularly if the person nominated by the Chinese as His Holiness’ reincarnation is not accepted by large sections of the Tibetan population? Do the Chinese want to explore the possibility of reaching a compromise with His Holiness on the modalities for his succession in order to avoid a controversy and fresh violence? Will the Chinese take the initiative in proposing any new ideas to the emissaries of His Holiness instead of merely reacting negatively to suggestions emanating from His Holiness and rejecting them as they were in the habit of doing in the past? While advising the Dalai Lama to be realistic, are the Chinese prepared to be realistic themselves and realize that future peace in Tibet depends on an uncontested succession process endorsed by His Holiness?

7.These are important and relevant questions, but no answers are forthcoming in the Chinese commentaries on the ongoing talks. The International Campaign For Tibet, a Washington DC based organization of His Holiness’ supporters, has come out with a detailed analysis of the recent strategy session on Tibet held by the Chinese leadership. Some interesting points emerging from the analysis are quoted below:

The Fifth Tibet Work Forum concluded days before the envoys of the Dalai Lama, led by Lodi Gyaltsen Gyari, arrived in China for the ninth round of the Sino-Tibetan dialogue. Speculation on the timing of the ninth round of dialogue so soon after the Fifth Tibet Work Forum has raised expectation that this could be a pivotal moment for Tibet.

The Fifth Tibet Work Forum was the first since the protests and crackdown beginning in March, 2008; the fourth was held in June, 2001. It was not announced in the official media until two days after the meeting was over, and the only prior indication that it was about to take place was a series of brief online articles in the state media in English referring to previous Tibet Work Forums. Since then, a carefully-chosen selection of statements from the meeting has been published in the official press, including speeches by Party Secretary and President Hu Jintao, and Prime Minister Wen Jiabao.

Reports on the Fifth Tibet Work Forum in the official media do not indicate a policy shift on Tibet – the emphasis is still on consolidating central control by further assimilation of Tibet into a ‘unified’ Chinese state – but there is a difference in tone and approach, with a notable lack of virulent rhetoric against the Dalai Lama, which is usually such a prevalent feature of official comment and reporting on Tibet.

Reports indicate that there is more of an emphasis on improving conditions in rural areas, although this emphasis still exists within a model of economic development based on infrastructure construction and resource extraction that has shown to deepen the marginalization and poverty of Tibetans. While this new focus on improving conditions in rural areas could be a positive step, the strategy for Tibet’s development as a whole needs to be addressed. The reports suggest that there is less emphasis on the large amount of funds spent on major ‘aid and development’ projects compared to previous Party and government planning documents on Tibet, which may signal a recognition that flooding Tibet with money does not automatically secure loyalty to the state. Tibetans from some of the most ‘developed’ areas of Tibet including Lhasa and parts of eastern Tibet were at the forefront of protests from March 2008 onwards.

Reports from the Fifth Tibet Work Forum demonstrate that Tibet is not of marginal concern but is a core issue to the Party, as evidenced by the strategic significance of Tibet laid out in the published statements. Compared to previous high-level meetings and in line with global concerns on climate change, the Fifth Tibet Work Forum emphasizes security issues linked to the environment of the Tibetan plateau, which is the source of Asia’s major rivers. The Party’s assertion of control over Tibet’s natural resources and fragile eco-system is in the context of an increasing international awareness of the global significance of the impact of climate change in Tibet. Many scientists characterize the Tibetan plateau as the earth’s ‘third pole’ because it has the biggest ice-fields outside the Arctic and Antarctic.

While the Fourth Tibet Work Forum in 2001 focused on the Tibet Autonomous Region, the Fifth includes all Tibetan areas in Sichuan, Yunnan, Gansu and Qinghai provinces – encompassing the eastern Tibetan regions of Amdo and Kham – which may indicate a trend towards regional integration of policies across all Tibetan areas of the PRC. Government statements have typically represented only the Tibet Autonomous Region as ‘Tibet.’ The protests that began in March 2008 spread to all Tibetan areas in the PRC, indicating a shared Tibetan identity, a commonality of grievances, concerns and a determination to express a shared loyalty to the Dalai Lama.

The Chinese authorities have announced that they would hold the First Work Forum on the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (East Turkestan) after the regional capital Urumchi erupted in protests and rioting in July 2009. The strategy for Xinjiang is framed with a stronger emphasis on the “fight against splittism” and independence activism than in the Fifth Tibet Work Forum statements seen to date. This could indicate a distinction in the way the Party is now handling policy on Xinjiang and Tibet. ( 1-2-10)

( The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai. He is also associated with the Cennai Centre For China Studies. E-mail: )



At a time when Chinese officials and non-Governmental analysts have been highly confused by the unusually strong line taken by Mrs.Hilary Clinton, the US Secretary of State, in support of Internet freedom in the wake of Google’s threat to stop censoring its search engine in China and its protests over alleged Chinese web snooping into the Google mail accounts of Chinese political dissidents and Tibetan and Uighur nationalists, they have been in for another shock by the decision of the administration of President Barack Obama to notify the Congress on January 29,2010, of its plans to sell a fresh package of arms to Taiwan in disregard of Chinese protests and sensitivities on the subject.

2. Mrs.Clinton’s strong statement on the question of Internet freedom has already given rise to Chinese allegations of the US reverting to its past policy of “information imperialism” and adopting double standards with regard to restrictions on the Internet in the interest of national security. As a result, earlier speculation and even expectations that the Chinese authorities and Google could reach a face-saving compromise to facilitate the continued operation of the Google in the Chinese market have been belied so far.

3. The continuing controversy over the Google was till now viewed by the Chinese authorities as an aberration and not as reflective of any change of policy by the Obama Administration towards China. However, the Administration’s notification to the Congress of its plan to sell to Taiwan US $ 6.4 billion worth of Patriot missiles, Black Hawk helicopters and minesweepers has come as a second surprise to Beijing. It is learnt that the Chinese authorities were aware for some time that the sale of this package was under the consideration of the Obama Administration, but were confident that after the smooth visit of Mr.Obama to China in November last and the importance attached by him to China’s role as an Asian power with stakes even in South Asia, he will not go ahead with the sale.

4. His surprise (to the Chinese) decision to go ahead with the sale has evoked strong resentment in official circles and has been strongly criticized by non-governmental analysts, who have accused him of being insincere and projected his decision as a wake-up call to China about the real Obama.

5.In its strong reaction within 24 hours of the notification, the Chinese Government has suspended (not cancelled) all military exchanges with the US. Mr.Qian Lihua, Director of the Foreign Affairs office of the Chinese Defence Ministry, lodged a strong protest with the US Defence Attache in Beijing. A press release issued by his office on the protest said: "The Chinese military expresses grave indignation and strongly condemns such a move to grossly interfere in China's internal affairs and harm China's national security interests. The Taiwan issue is related to China's sovereignty and territorial integrity, and concerns China's core interests. The US arms sales to Taiwan gravely violates the three joint communiques between China and the United States, and seriously endangers China's national security and harms China's reunification course. Such a move also constitutes severe violation of the agreements reached by the top leaders of both sides on the China-US relations in the new situation. It runs counter to the principles of the joint statement issued during US President Barack Obama's visit to China in November last year.”

6. A strong commentary on the US notification by the “China Daily” published on January 31,2010, said: “ The latest US arms sale to Taiwan has once again come up as a wake-up call. It cannot but let us be clear that in a world where the law of the jungle still prevails, China, like any other developing country, cannot remain aloof from bullies. It is painful to come to such reality. The feeling gripped us when our embassy was bombed in Belgrade; when our ace pilot was knocked down into the sea by a spy plane at door step. It is gripping us now….
More than 20 years after the end of the Cold War, the US is still bent on integrating Taiwan into the American defense strategy in Asia, and still dreaming of using the island as an "unsinkable aircraft carrier" to contain the growth of China. Forget about the pledge that "the United States does not seek to contain China" made by Mr Barack Obama when he was in Beijing just two months ago. Sincerity is subject to proof by action, not by words….China's response, no matter how vehement, is justified. No country worthy of respect can sit idle while its national security is endangered and core interests damaged. When someone spits on you, you have to get back. Compared with the US, China is still weak, both economically and militarily. The counter-measures that China has taken -- ranging from repeated protests to plans to halt military exchanges and punish US companies involved in the arms sale, may not be forceful enough to make Washington smart and mend its ways. But a message has to be sent: From now on, the US shall not expect cooperation from China on a wide range of major regional and international issues. If you don't care about our interests, why should we care about yours? China must never waver to make sure that it means what it says.”

7. The Chinese have also been surprised by indications from Washington DC that Mr.Obama intended meeting His Holiness the Dalai Lama at a convenient time. He had avoided meeting His Holiness during his last visit to the US which came shortly before Mr.Obama’s visit to China.

8. Chinese analysts are confused as to why this sudden change in the policies of Mr.Obama on two issues----Taiwan and Tibet--- which are among the core concerns of China. Barring what the US viewed as China’s unhelpful stance at the recent Copenhagen summit on climate and Beijing’s dispute with Google, the relations between the two countries have been proceeding smoothly and the Chinese, in Beijing’s perception, have been co-operating with the US in its efforts to stabilize the global economy.

9. Even presuming that the Obama Administration might have been unhappy over the Chinese role in Copenhagen, its dispute with Google over web snooping, its failure to exercise sufficient pressure on North Korea to return to talks on the nuclear issue and its opposition to robust sanctions against Iran, would that be sufficient cause to go ahead with the arms sale to Taiwan at the risk of serious damage to Sino-US relations? That is a question to which the Chinese have not yet been able to find an answer. (31-1-10)

( The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai. He is also associated with the Chennai Centre For China Studies. E-mail: )