New York Times editorial: Beijing’s Blind Spot

Despite rising calls for Tibetan independence, nearly 600 Tibetan exiles from Buddhist monasteries and the diaspora in India, Europe and America have wisely reaffirmed the Dalai Lama’s “middle way” of nonviolence toward China and autonomy for Tibet. China’s leaders are unwisely refusing to seriously pursue a compromise.

Tibetans, especially younger Tibetans, are increasingly frustrated. Eight rounds of talks since 2002 between the Dalai Lama’s representatives and Chinese officials have yielded no progress. Beijing has invested heavily to improve the quality of life in Tibet. But it continues to restrict Tibetans’ rights, while seeking to dilute their power by encouraging Han Chinese to migrate to the region.

During the latest round of talks, the Tibetans offered a memorandum that proposes to protect Tibet’s culture, religious and educational traditions within the autonomy provisions of China’s Constitution.

Beijing spurned the memorandum, and it continues to claim that the Dalai Lama’s real plan is to break Tibet away from China. The Dalai Lama has repeatedly endorsed autonomy. And the memorandum could not have been plainer: “We remain firmly committed not to seek separation or independence.”

In an interview this summer with Nicholas D. Kristof, a Times columnist, the Dalai Lama made clear his acquiescence to another of Beijing’s demands — that Tibet accept the socialist system under Communist Party rule. If China’s leaders doubt his sincerity, they should test him with good-faith negotiations.

Time is running out. Anti-Chinese riots in the Tibetan capital of Lhasa in March showed that many Tibetans already have lost all patience. According to official Chinese reports, 18 civilians and one policeman died in a rampage that burned 120 houses and looted nearly 1,400 shops. Exile groups say Chinese security forces killed scores of Tibetans in the crackdown that followed. Governments and organizations around the world protested Beijing’s brutality and obstinacy.

Beijing remains obstinate. China has now called off a summit with the European Union, scheduled for Monday, after the French president, Nicolas Sarkozy, made clear that he planned to meet with the Dalai Lama later in the week.

It is in Beijing’s clear interest to pursue serious negotiations while the revered, 73-year-old Dalai Lama is still able to persuade his followers to accept a peaceful compromise. Instead, China’s leaders seem to be betting that the problem will go away when the Dalai Lama dies. That is a cynical and dangerous gamble.

November 27, 2008

China and Tibet
To the Editor:

In “Beijing’s Blind Spot” (editorial, Nov. 27), you wonder why China’s rulers will not accept the Dalai Lama’s “middle way,” which seems so obviously “in Beijing’s clear interest,” since many Tibetans, especially among the young, would be more radical.

You would certainly be right to say the Dalai Lama’s offer is in the interests of the Chinese people as a whole. But the interests of Beijing’s rulers need to be looked at differently. If any one of them were to appear “weak” on the issue of “splitting the motherland,” he could be attacked by rivals and suffer a loss of power. Hence none are willing to.

Moreover, for the ruling group as a whole, trouble with the Dalai Lama is not entirely a bad thing. In recent years Chinese people having been protesting in increasing numbers over corruption, land seizures, environmental destruction, a growing gap between rich and poor, and other issues that specifically raise questions about the government’s performance.

For the government to be able to make an issue of the “jackal-hearted” Dalai Lama who would split the motherland not only diverts attention from these complaints but also positions the rulers as heroes of Chinese nationalism.

Eyewitnesses to the Lhasa riots last March noted a strange “hands off”’ posture of the police during the first half day of the disturbances. During those same hours, though, journalists from the government-controlled media were making videotapes of rioting “splittists,” and the tapes were then shown around the clock on television, in every corner of China, for several days to follow.

There are reasons China’s rulers do these things, but it is hard to call them a blind spot.

Perry Link
Riverside, Calif., Nov. 27, 2008

The writer is professor emeritus of Chinese studies at Princeton University and is now at the University of California at Riverside.