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'Talks with Dalai Lama's envoys are merely delaying tactics by China'

By Krishnakumar in Dharamshala
May 08, 2008 23:44 IST
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The Tibetan community in India perceives the latest talks between the Dalai Lama's envoys and the Chinese representatives as a typical Chinese damage control exercise and a ploy to buy time.

"China has merely tried to set up contact and maintain the momentum of the previous rounds. It is not that the Tibetans are not aware of it. But we allow them this much," said Chukora Tsering Asloe, a researcher at the Tibetan Center for Human Rights and Democracy.

Asloe said the situation in Tibet is still tense and that the Chinese claims of normalcy is mere eyewash. "If the situation is normal, why can't they allow the international community to enter Tibet and see for themselves? From the information we have, a crackdown is very much on and hundreds of people are still being arrested and tortured," he said.

He alleged that at least 88 Tibetans have fallen to Chinese bullets and more than 500 people have been arrested. "But this is just the validated figure of those who we have managed to identify. We are in the process of getting more details. That figure will be more than 100 killed and thousands arrested and tortured," he said.

On the resumption of talks between the two sides, Asloe, though skeptical, said it was different from the previous rounds of talks on one count. "The significance of Tuesday's talks is that despite the almost near failure of the previous rounds, the two sides could agree to meet."

"All the previous rounds of talks were secretive and not much attention was given to them. What the current round of talks has done – mainly due to the attention the March unrest generated – is prevent the Chinese from keeping the dialogue under wraps. They will have to come out in the open and behave in a responsible manner," he said.

He said that the international community would not fall for China's tactics. "Soon after  they met the Dalai Lama's representatives, they released a statement reiterating their accusation that he incited the violence."

"They called the Tibetan Youth Congress a terrorist organisation and alleged that it has ties with the Al Qaeda. The laughing matter is that the envoy they spoke to – Kasur Lodi – was the founder of TYC. Are they saying they just concluded talks with the founder of a terrorist organisation?" he asked.

Despite all this, Asloe considers the recent round of informal talks as a positive step.

"We all know that nothing came of it. But the Chinese have to be very careful now that they have committed themselves. They will have to show the world that they are responsible when they sit down for the next round. If they continue neglecting the real issues in this round, the situation may worsen in Tibet," he said.

In Asloe's opinion, the Dalai Lama's credibility is at stake in the last round of talks. "If you look at the people who are taking to the streets, you will notice that they are all from the 15 to 30 age group – a generation that has not seen the Dalai Lama, not heard him, and have nothing to do with his ideology. This is unbridled anger that has spilled on to the streets. For them, when it comes to the expression of their beliefs, the Dalai Lama is not in the picture," he said.

So, according to the researcher, if China uses the seventh round of talks as a delaying tactic, the Tibetans who are now ready to give dialogue a last chance and stand by the Dalai Lama, will lose hope in the process.

Not everybody shares Asloe's guarded optimism. Among them is Tsering Lhasang, former president of the Tibetan Youth Congress, who stepped down after criticising the Dalai Lama for his 'middle way' policy in 1990.

Asked whether there was a divide among the common Tibetans, with a section supporting the Dalai Lama's claim for autonomy and another seeking total independence, he said, "The divide is not among Tibetans as a people but Tibetans as individuals. I can tell you, every single Tibetan wants freedom. But for him, the Dalai Lama is the living Buddha. So every single Tibetan is torn between the basic necessity of freedom and the God he believes in," he said.

Lhasang said the Dalai Lama's statements and handling of the situation would not help the cause one bit. "The Dalai Lama recently said he would resign if the violence escalates. I have two questions for him. First, what does he mean when he says he will resign? He hasn't been elected as the living Buddha, he was born as one. So when he says he will quit, does he mean he will quit being himself?"

"Second, what violence is he talking about? If I see my kid brother being shot and killed by the Chinese and I pick up a stone and throw it, is it violence? The stone would probably not even reach the firing point," he said.

The Dalai Lama's stand will only enable the Chinese to buy time and bail out of the current situation before the Beijing Olympics, Lhasang said.

"Does the Dalai Lama sincerely believe that the Chinese have wandered into Tibet and will go off on their own? Does he realise how they are filling up the region with Chinese people? At this rate, very soon, there won't be any Tibet to fight for," he said.

Lhasang criticised the Dalai Lama for being soft on the Chinese. The Buddhist spiritual leader had stated that there were certain positive ramifications of the Chinese occupation, like infrastructure development in the area.

 "He said it was a positive development that the Chinese have laid rail lines to Lhasa. Are we so naïve to believe that the Chinese are really doing us a service, " said Lhasang.

"Earlier, they used to bring in bus loads of Chinese into Lhasa and take away bus loads of Tibetan resources. Now there are bringing in trainloads of Chinese and taking away trainloads of Tibetan resources!" he said.

Though they differ on whether the resumption of talks will do the Tibetan cause any good, both Alsoe and Lhasang agreed that time is running out for Tibet and it might be a case of now or never.

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Krishnakumar in Dharamshala