Stanley's blog

The most difficult outcome of yesterday’s encouraging and constructive China-EU roundtable at the Chinese Mission to the EU, between a Chinese Tibetan delegation and Brussels think tanks, was to understand the Chinese approach to the ongoing talks with the Dalai Lama’s representatives, a further round taking place next week in Beijing.

Most interestingly, the discussion focussed on the present and future. History is important but not so that we are prisoners of it.

The conflict between the preservation of Tibetan culture on the one hand, and economic and social development on the other, was discussed. This is a natural and by no means unique conflict. These two objectives can, however, be mutually reinforcing if there is mutual trust. Culture evolves; it is not static.

There was recognition of the importance of human rights but these must reflect the level of development of the country, remembering that food if the first right. Only economic development can assure human rights.

There was agreement on the extent of European and Chinese misperceptions on respective attitudes towards Tibet and the Dalai Lama and the need to expose and explain them. We tend to perceive according to experience in our own societies. We both need greater understanding of each other’s cultures and societies.

As to the talks with the Dalai Lama’s representatives, these say the Chinese, can only be upgraded if the demand for independence is given up, they stop splitting the country and furthermore recognise that Taiwan is part of China. The failure to change the 1991 Tibetan Constitution, adopted by the ‘government in exile’ was cited in some detail as forming the basis of the Dalai Lama’s current thinking. The constitution states the objective of transforming “a future Tibet into a Federal Democratic Self-Governing Republic and a zone of peace throughout her three regions.” It named the Dalai Lama as the political and religious leader.

Setting preconditions for talks is not a constructive approach as Washington has discovered. It is also difficult to understand why Beijing has not obtained from the Dalai Lama the specific terms of the autonomy he seeks, following his personal renunciation of independence. We are told by the Chinese that the autonomy is not confined to the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) but includes ‘Greater Tibet’ extending to the Tibetan communities in the three neighbouring provinces. Religious and cultural autonomy is obviously intended but these have political implications. Apparently, the Dalai Lama wants the region demilitarised. Needless to say, how Beijing handles Tibet will influence the behaviour of other ethnic groups in China.

The discussion revealed that the Chinese are to some extent, prisoners of history. It is all very well to argue that the Dalai Lama, as the head of the ‘government in exile’ is accountable for the actions of the exiles, but this does not sufficiently acknowledge that he appears to have lost control over the young Tibetans seeking independence, who have seen that no progress has been made in 49 years by peaceful means. The immediate response to this from the Chinese is that maybe the Dalai Lama is not therefore the right person with whom to negotiate. Western concerns are that he is the last person who can deliver an agreement. His successors will be far more extreme in their demands and conduct.

Of course, it is also important to bear in mind that the Tibetan thinking under discussion is principally that of people who have lived a large part or all of their lives in exile and is not necessarily the same as that of Tibetans living in the TAR.

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