Has China finally shut the door on Dalai Lama? (Comment)

November 11th, 2008 - 3:00 pm ICT by IANS  

The door has been peremptorily shut on the Dalai Lama’s quest for a “middle path” peaceful solution to the over five-decade-old Tibet dispute with China accusing him of seeking “ethnic cleansing” across the region.The startling assertion by Zhu Weiqun, a vice-minister of the Chinese Communist Party’s united front work department, comes just days before a special general meeting of the Tibetan exile community to decide on the future course of action. The meeting is scheduled between Nov 17 and 22 and comes in the shadow of the Dalai Lama’s rare expression of loss of “faith and trust” in dealing with the Chinese leadership.

“If [the Dalai Lama] seizes power he will, without any compunction or sympathy, carry out ethnic discrimination, apartheid and ethnic cleansing,” Zhu was quoted as saying at a news conference after the eighth round of talks with the Dalai Lama’s special envoys Lodi Gyari and Kelsang Gyaltsen from Oct 30 to Nov 5.

He said there was no progress in the talks with the envoys and blamed the Tibetan leadership. Zhu called the current system “perfect”, adding there was no need for any revision. “There is no other way,” he added.

While the Chinese have been forthcoming about the outcome, or lack thereof, of the talks the Tibetan envoys have not made any detailed comments, perhaps conscious of the upcoming special meeting. Characterising the Dalai Lama’s position as wanting to seek ethnic cleansing is by far the harshest denunciation coming out of Beijing in recent times. It has frequently accused “the Dalai clique” of carrying on “splittist” activities but charging him with wanting to carry out apartheid and discrimination in Tibet goes well beyond anything heard in recent times.

Among the interpretations of the latest hardening of Beijing’s positions is that it wants to push the exiles towards a more radical approach and then use that as an excuse to call off any more dialogue. In any event, with the Dalai Lama himself wondering whether it made any more sense to continue on the “middle way”, there is very little room for flexibility left.

There may be several calculations behind China’s latest pronouncements. Chief among them is its long held but never articulated strategy of waging a war of attrition against the Dalai Lama, which essentially means talk about what to talk until he dies. Although the Dalai Lama’s health is reported to be fine in the aftermath of his surgery, Beijing sees hope in any decline in the 73-year-old leader’s health. Another calculation may well stem from the current financial meltdown and the world community’s preoccupation with it to the exclusion of any other issue. Given China’s obvious importance to the global economy, Western countries may be particularly reluctant to muddy the water by raising Tibet. A third factor could be a tactic to push the exile community over the edge and provoke them to do something unprecedented and then use it as way to isolate it internationally.

China ought to be conscious that the United States, the only power that may have influence with Beijing, has just had its presidential election in the midst of the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression. President-elect Barack Obama will naturally be focused on the economy, two wars and a host of other domestic challenges. He is unlikely to find any time to address the Tibetan question with a country which has significantly bankrolled the United States.

The convergence of all these factors could well mean that the Nov 17-22 special meeting in Dharamsala would at the very least decide to introduce more teeth to the middle way approach, if not abandon it altogether. The Dalai Lama’s acknowledgement that his approach has not led to any solution may prompt the younger leadership within the exile community to try something more aggressive. Whatever option the exile Tibetan leadership might choose, Beijing appears to have decided to give short shrift to them.

(Mayank Chhaya is the author of the Dalai Lama’s authorised biography “Dalai Lama: Man, Monk, Mystic”. He can be contacted at chooki6@yahoo.com)

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