Growing Gulf Divides China and Dalai Lama

Tibet China Asia Dalai Lama Deng Xiaping Hu Jintao Panchen protest crackdown autonomy Olympics Sarkozy

Copyright The New York Times
March 29, 2008
SHANGHAI — Across much of the Western world, the Dalai Lama is known as the beatific spiritual leader of a humble community of Buddhists, beloved in Hollywood, Congress and the White House, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize.
Chinese leaders cast him in a different light. They call him a separatist and a terrorist, bent on killing innocent Han Chinese and “splitting the motherland.” That gap in perception, which has grown immeasurably wider in the two weeks since violent unrest rocked Tibet, is breeding pessimism that Chinese leaders are willing — or perhaps even able — to embark on a new approach to Tibet even as it threatens to cast a long shadow over their role as hosts of the Olympic Games this summer.
President Hu Jintao, whose rise to leadership of China’s Communist Party was built partly on his record as party boss in Tibet during a period of unrest in 1989, has shown no signs of making a historic gambit for peace there.
Rather, he seems to be wagering that China can hunker down, keep a tight lid on Tibet through the Olympics and wait for the Dalai Lama, who is 72, to die, analysts say.
“I would obviously like for there to be a policy debate, but I see no suggestion of one,” said Wang Lixiong, a Chinese expert on Tibet and a signer of a recent petition by Chinese lawyers and scholars urging the government to resume discussions with the Dalai Lama. “There has been a big failure, but to see the government change its path or policy right before the Olympics isn’t likely.”
The inflexibility in Beijing’s position leaves Western countries with a problem. President Bush and a roster of European and Asian leaders have called for Mr. Hu to open a dialogue with the Dalai Lama as a first step toward reducing tensions in Tibet. If Mr. Hu declines to do so, those leaders seem likely to face pressure from their own constituencies to take stronger diplomatic or political steps against Beijing at the moment it had expected to bask in the international limelight.
Already, President Nicolas Sarkozy of France has suggested that he might consider using his presidency of the European Union this summer to organize a boycott of the opening ceremonies of the Olympics. An embarrassing protest at the lighting ceremony of the Olympic torch in Greece, and the cries of monks in Lhasa who disrupted a scripted tour of the Tibetan capital for foreign reporters on Thursday, portend a steady drum roll of criticism of China.
The call for some kind of Chinese-Tibetan talks continues to mount. On Friday, the Dalai Lama, speaking in India, made his most extended comments on the violence, accusing China’s state-run media of trying to “sow the seeds of racial tension” there but calling for “meaningful dialogue” with Beijing about how to defuse tensions.
President Bush, speaking of the possibility that Mr. Hu might pursue diplomatic talks with Tibetan exiles, said “it’s in his country’s interest.” Standing by Mr. Bush’s side, Kevin Rudd, Australia’s new, Chinese-speaking prime minister, who was visiting Washington, said, “It’s absolutely clear that there are human rights abuses in Tibet.”
Mr. Hu told Mr. Bush during a phone call on Wednesday that he was willing to talk to the Dalai Lama, according to China’s official Xinhua news agency. But what was most striking about the exchange was the consistency of Beijing’s language on Tibet, which analysts say provides little reason to expect new initiatives.
Mr. Hu’s formulation, which has been used almost word for word since the time of Deng Xiaoping, in the 1980s and ’90s, was that China would resume contact with the Dalai Lama as long as he abandoned advocating Tibetan independence, stopped activities aimed at “splitting the motherland” and accepted that Tibet and Taiwan were inalienable parts of China.
The problem with Beijing’s line is that even when the Dalai Lama insists that he does not seek independence, as he and his representatives have repeatedly done, the Chinese government has merely repeated this trope, leaving little room for progress.
As it is, the Tibetan protests of the last two weeks seem to have taken Beijing by surprise, spreading quickly outside of the province officially known as the Tibetan Autonomous Region and into areas of neighboring provinces where Tibetans live in large numbers. The unrest has been the broadest in scale since sustained riots and a bloody crackdown in 1989.
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