Stanley's blog

The shadow of the Dalai Lama

The EU and Chinese officials prepare for the bilateral summit in Lyon on 1 December with a large black cloud overshadowing them. It is in the shape of the Dalai Lama. Beijing deeply resents the attention being paid him by European governments and the European Parliament. In particular, Nicolas Sarkozy, who will co-chair the summit, plans to meet the Dalai Lama in Gdansk on 6 December. It is not beyond doubt that the Chinese will cancel the summit.

No issue causes greater misunderstanding or produces greater misperceptions than Tibet and The Dalai Lama.

The bilateral talks between the Tibetans and the Chinese have made, and will make, no progress. Whatever the true character or intentions of the Dalai Lama, the results of the recent five-day meeting in Dharamsala, India, that brought together Tibetan exiles from all over the world, the Dalai Lama emerged with his authority unchallenged and the policy towards Beijing unchanged: the Tibetans should seek only autonomy under Chinese rule, not full independence.

However, more ominous signs were appearing. Younger Tibetans at the Dharamsala summit had more radical ideas and the meeting also concluded that if China made no effort to meet the demands for autonomy, then calls for independence and self-determination, would be put forward. Violence was not discussed but there was no need to do so.

This is a worrying period for China as for other countries, because severe economic downturns frequently lead to social unrest.

It is impossible to imagine a compromise. The Tibetans argue that their “Middle Way” is autonomy and not independence. Beijing does not accept the extent of the geographical area claimed or the policy areas included. Autonomy is in any case seen as a first stage to independence.

It is to be hoped that European and Chinese journalists will not increase the tensions by inaccurate reporting. For a start, it would be useful to know precisely what “autonomy” means.

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