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China’s Tibet Policy Remains Unworkable – Analysis


By Bhaskar Roy

The Chinese leaders must understand that turmoil in Tibet is in nobody’s interest. India has made it clear innumerable times that it will not get involved in this issue as it is China’s internal affair. In its latest policy India, by not repeating ad nauseum the Chinese line on Tibet and Taiwan in every bilateral declaration, has sent a message to Beijing to “keep us out of your internal problems”. India has all along refrained from commenting on China’s dismal human rights, religious rights, and minority issues.

For the Dalai Lama and his establishment in-exile, turmoil only brings greater pain on the Tibetans in Tibet. Having failed to persuade the Chinese to agree to the minimum demands of autonomy for the Tibetan people, perhaps even less than what the Chinese central government had agreed to in the 17-point agreement of 1951, be decided earlier this year to step down from political responsibilities.


The Europeans cannot keep their opinions out even though they have significant economic exchanges with China. The issue of human rights and religious freedom form the basic platform of European ideology, and the European people will not allow their governments to ignore such issues.

The United States has a significant constituency focussed on human rights and religious freedom, and view the Dalai L:ama as a symbol of these issues. The US congress is particularly concerned and will not allow the government of the day to drift too far from these issues. And on these, they spare no country.

In many countries where the governments do not take up these issues with China, the people generally are concerned. The Dalai Lama and his policy have huge popular support. For example in Russia, in the Republic of Kalmyka where the people follow Buddhism and their president is a disciple of the Dalai Lama, he enjoys huge adulation.

Yet, no country supports independence of Tibet. But this is something the Chinese leaders refuse to believe. For how long can they keep ignoring international opinion, especially when China is an important member of the global village?

Most importantly, the Chinese leaders are also not willing to hear the views and opinions of their own people, the Han Chinese, on the Tibet issue, A Chinese NGO, the Gongmen Law Research Centre, Beijing, did an extensive field study in Tibet, going down to far flung villages. Their objective was to bring to the notice of the government that the money being spent in Tibet was not going to the Tibetans the intended recipients, but to the Han settlers. The report published in 2008 not only led to the closure of the NGO, but its report was also banned.

There are talks among Chinese intellectuals who are increasingly dismayed by the CCP’s and the government’s Tibet policy. As China’s prodemocracy movement spreads, such views will be heard more.

The even harder approach to the Tibet issue was first voiced after the March 2008 uprising in Lhasa, but also from the Tibet Communist Party Secretary Zhang Qingli during the March National People’s Congress (NPC) in Beijing. He promised no quarters would be given to any protests by Tibetans.

It is an established fact that the Dalai Lama’s move to step down from the political scenario and make way for an elected Prime Minister and cabinet which will run the political affairs of the Tibetan government-in-exile, disturbed the established Chinese strategy. China, of course, could not accept the new Prime Minister or Kalon Tripa and his government to interlocute as that would accord recognition of the movement. The question was would the talks between the Dalai Lama’s representatives and the Chinese authorities be resumed, and when and under what conditions?

The answer has come now. In an interview with the latest issue of the China’s Tibet magazine, Zhu Weiqun, vice-minister of the CCP’s United Front Work Department (UFWD) declared that any talks (with Tibetans-in-exile) should be restricted to the political status of the Dalai Lama and conducted between Beijing and the Dalai Lama’s personal emissaries.

Zhu Weiqun clarified that the CCP had “two basic points in regard to the negotiation” adding “The first is that the identity of the other party only be the personal representatives of the Dalai Lama. The second is (that) the subject is limited to the Dalai Lama’s personal future, or at most it would also include (the future) of a few of his personal aides”. He also warned that Beijing could launch a military crackdown if there were any violent upheavals by Tibetans.

For the record, Zhu blamed the Dalai Lama as the main source of social unrest in Tibet, and called him the “royal tool of international anti-China forces”. His observations came on the eve of the 60th anniversary of China’s takeover of Tibet.

Zhu Weiqun’s views are the consensus view of the CCP politburo and its 9-member Standing Committee, headed by Party General Secretary and president Hu Jintao, who heads the party’s group on Tibet, and who was Tibet’s Party Secretary during the protest by monks and nuns in Lhasa in 1987.

It is clear that they want the Dalai Lama to resume his political role. At the same time they have severely limited the ambit of the discussions – no talk on the future status of Tibet. From the CCP’s point of view, that has been settled.

What the Chinese want to discuss with the Dalai Lama’s representatives is how to come to an amicable agreement in the process of recognizing the 15th Dalai Lama in due course, and rehabilitation of his emissaries in China but not necessarily in Lhasa, in institutions like the NPC and Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), a body that includes representatives from non-party members but is led by the CCP.

One cannot say for certain if what Zhu Weiqun said is the complete Chinese offer of the talks. If it is, it could be difficult for the Dalai Lama to accept the offer, because he would remain deprived of his basic minimum dream for the Tibetan people. He has made significant concessions to the Chinese already. Accepting would amount to sacrificing whatever of the Tibet cause that is left. And it is unlike of the Dalai Lama to let down his people.

The stepped up coercive policy towards Tibetans became visible in late March in dealing with the monks in the Kirti monastery in Ngba county. The monks protested against an attempt by the authorities to take groups from among them for political (re)education. The problems there continue with several arrests having been made and many monks severely beaten up by security forces. And, Tibetans inside China have been warned about harder times to come.

The Chinese statements and actions do not display confidence. On the contrary, they reflect confusion and high concern among China’s leadership on how to deal with the entire Tibet question.

The Chinese leadership appear to be digging themselves into a hole. Earlier this month, they dispersed a gathering of house churches. According to official statistics there are 160 million Christians in China. Pro-democracy voices are being locked up in jails in increasing numbers, the latest being the well known artist Ai Weiwei

It would be advisable for the Chinese authorities to re-evaluate their internal policies if they want to save the communist party as the sole ruling party of China. Satisfy the basic aspirations of the people like a benevolent emperor in Confucian tradition, allow the people to speak, learn from them and correct mistakes. Very few in the country want a multi party political system. But using a hammer to kill a fly may result in so many flies accumulating under the proverbial carpet that they may one day fly away with the carpet. It will not happen today, tomorrow or the day after. But it will happen eventually. Man is born free!

(The author is an eminent China analyst with many years of experience. He can be reached at [email protected])


SAAG is the South Asia Analysis Group, a non-profit, non-commercial think tank. The objective of SAAG is to advance strategic analysis and contribute to the expansion of knowledge of Indian and International security and promote public understanding.

4 thoughts on “China’s Tibet Policy Remains Unworkable – Analysis

  • May 17, 2011 at 10:02 am

    China’s policy towards talks with the Dalai Lama has been consistent all along. This is not the first time Zhu states the conditions of talks. Zhu sounds very hard line and venomous…but he is precise and leaves nothing open for interpretation.

    Has anyone read through the proposal from the Dalai Lama’s side during the last talk? I have and I think the proposal is unrealistic.

    The Dalai Lama is either a loose cannon or an incompetent politician or both. On one hand he wants to negotiate with China but on the other hand he describes himself as a “son of India” and says something like “India has a reason to have a claim on Tibet more than China” (Ref: The Times of India published on Thursday, February 10, 2011). How can China trust him?

    “It is clear that they want the Dalai Lama to resume his political role.” I disagree. I think it is clear that they do not think this resignation is significant or relevant at all. The have obviously counted out the loyalty of the Tibetans in exile…and they do not have high hopes to reach a negotiated settlement with the Dalai Lama. I think they are just being realistic.

  • May 23, 2011 at 7:19 am

    His Holiness the Dalai Lama has been consistent in his Middle Way stand which seeks genuine autonomy for the Tibetan people living within the People’s Republic of China. In reality, the 17-Point Agreement that China claims gives it legitimacy to rule over Tibet has been consistently violated by Beijing for the last 60 years. The Agreement although recognizes Chinese sovereignty over Tibet, also guarantees high degree of autonomy to Tibetan people in controlling their own affairs apart from foreign affairs and defence. [See full text of the agreement here: Today, everything is controlled by China; in fact autonomy is just a farce because Beijing exercises direct rule over Tibet by appointing its own choice of leaders.
    I have read the proposal presented to China by the Tibetan representatives and I believe this could be the key to a sustainable, win-win solution to both sides to resolve the Tibet issue. Read the full text of the proposal here:
    Dalai Lama plays the kind of politics that transcends petty, everyday, confrontational games. He is a visionary, a far-sighted statesman, and a giant moral force in a world endangered by so-called superpowers flexing their muscles and bribes. It is only due to his genuinely-felt gratitude to India as a host to Tibetan exiles that he made that remark. The fact that certain newspapers construe those quotes according to their own POV is entirely their discretion although it is unprofessional. So, one should do some homework before helping spread these reports to mislead others.
    China has always played the farce of negotiating with the representatives of the Dalai lama to fend off criticisms from other countries. It has never been sincere in its dealings with the Tibetan interlocutors. Once they said the Tibetan representatives were in China to meet their relatives. (Well, do you need to announce something as personal as that on Xinhua?) On the other hand, Dalai Lama has always called for a negotiated solution to the Tibetan problem. I think it is China who is confused. When something wrong happens in Tibet, they are quick to blame Dalai Lama and Tibetan exiles, never taking the blame themselves for their decades of wrong and repressive policies. Then they say let’s talk and when that happens, they say, no, we are not interested because Tibetans have to drop independence from their demands. Now, even a high school Tibetan student in India knows that Dalai Lama has long abandoned this demand. But China needs excuses to avoid addressing the root of the problem.

  • May 27, 2011 at 8:24 am

    I beg to differ. China Tibet’s policy is on the right track. All they need to do is to fine tune it from time to time. Beijing may be a bit paranoid and hard-nosed when dealing with their own dissidents, activists and non-conformists, but their preference is to nip it on the bud before it potentially spiral out of control.

    The early half of communist ruled may be laden with many terrible tarnishes and mistakes, but the latter half speaks volume of the good works of the same dreadful communist party that we were all are bias against. I hated the communists but I had to take my hat off to them for what they have achieved for its country and peoples, which is unprecedented in the history of mankind. But they are only half way there. There are still a lot of room to improve, and massive internal problems to overcome before they surpassed the rest if they continued its course at the same pace. But to achieve that China needs a strong government, peace and stability. Western full democracy or liberalism is the surest way to halt its path. Moreover, the majority of chinese support their government, and are truly aware that a strong government is required to ruled a vast China. Their main angers and grievances are mostly directed at corruption, abused of power and nepotism. Beijing is rightfully more concerned than any of us.

    It is good to have human, animal, and environmental rights among other NGOs to act as the world watchdogs and pressure groups. But far too often these organizations get themselves mired in double-standards hypocrisies, political controversies and conspiracies.

    Why is the world so impatient with China, and why is the West forever painting the Chinese as the evil empire or arch enemy? Did the chinese ever colonized the world as the West and Japan once did with their superior technology and skills? On the contrary China has been bully and looted by foreigner invaders for many years. Guessed who were the main culprits? And yet, we have the very same culprits crying wolfs incessantly. Is this fair and proper?

    The world must allowed the current government to nurture and shape China further despite all the shortcomings. Look at the history of Europe and US to check how long it took them to develop their social, economic and political landscapes, particularly its democratic institutions and industrial revolutions. The Blacks or Negroes were only given full civil rights less than half a decade ago. Today, racism is still felt strongly and widely across Europe and the US.

    China has every right to feel victimized. The country lost a sizable of its territories by force when the country was very weak and poor. Foreign powers have had carved piece by piece away from the motherland. They got back Hong Kong and Macau not too long ago. But Taiwan remains elusive due to the US mighty arms. But then who try to tear away Tibet from them. After all Tibet has been connected with China one way or the other for centuries, whereas it is absolutely not the case for the New World that have been colonized by the whites. Yet, the very same shameless guilty culprits are all endlessly pointing their guns at China. The West has attempted to break up China in the past, and is still continuing to this very day by supporting activities by hooked or by crooked that are against the chinese core interests. Thus, we can’t blame Beijing for its stance and attitude against these outside antagonists.

    I was once a profound believer of the Dalai Lama, but I gave up after experiencing its never ending political juggernauts and sparrings in India and outside of India. Monks should concentrate on the spiritual path, and nothing else. I truly pity him as he is always walking on a tightrope which required extreme delicated and dedicated body, speech and mind. But he has failed too many times when putting on his political hat. On the surface, he has to please his Indian hosts, his American financiers, his foreign believers, as well as keep the light burning for his exiles. On the other, he has to keep many cards or truths close to his heart. One thing for sure, the stalemate between the exiles and the chinese will never be reconciled within his life time if he continues his splittist way. On this issue, the chinese has all the time in the world. The only good thing coming out from him and his group was to pressure the chinese to pay special attention to Tibet overall development and well being.

    Beijing had fought well by unveiling the dark sides of the theocratic ruled before liberation 60 years ago to expose the false Western romanticized version which many have had been led to believe. It has also been effective in quick rebuttals of the lies and distortions of the Dalai Lama, his supporters, activists, critics and western medias. Furthermore, the released of the extend of CIA involvement casts a bad light on the Dalai Lama and his Tibetan clergy in exiled, which broke the Buddhist teachings and tenets.

    Using Tibet and Taiwan as political tools against China are fast waning. It is also difficult to trust the western medias to provide accurate accounts when covering Tibet issues. It is the same case for India. Most are anti-chinese. This is the sad truth. India has even more problems and poverty to deal with. It is best they spend more energy, time and resources in catching up with China instead of wasting time on trivial reviews.

  • June 14, 2011 at 3:41 am

    The 17-Point Agreement was trashed not by China, but by the Dalai Lama himself in 1959. (With his help, Nehru). China has been very magnanimous to reserve the Dalai Lama’ status as head of the region until 1965, in accordance with a separate secret Agreement signed in 1951. After that, there is no return. The Dalai Lama has to beg to return to China, and to Tibet. And this policy will remain until the last of days.

    No one in China believes that the Dalai Lama is simply asking for autonomy. You can repeat it 9999 times. But his actions speak louder than words. So, forget about the “status” of Tibet. It is non-negotiable. Not a single country recognizes Tibet as independent nation, not even one, for the past 650 years. No such discussion will ever be entertained, however difficult – which is greatly exaggerated – the situation may become.

    “greatly exaggerated” – jusy reflect on the independence movements all over Asia. China has done very very well in comparison!!!

    So, the talks about the “status” of Tibet is forever closed !!!

    THE DALAI LAMA IS BECOMING IRRELEVANT FOR TIBET, except for a few hundred restless monks. But China does not need him!

    “the 17-Point Agreement that China claims gives it legitimacy to rule over Tibet”

    This is absolute nonsense. The Agreement is only ONE Of the many instruments of claims. The legitimacy of Chinese rule is rooted in the fact that Tibet has always been part of China – an independent Tibet-nation never existed, except in the heads of the Dalai Lama clique and his British/Indian supporters in India. The Dalai Lama clique ruled over the region as an autonomous part of China. Only.


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