Obama Administration Turns Focus On Tibet


The administration of President Barack Obama has called for a substantive dialogue without pre-conditions between His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Beijing on the Tibetan issue  and called upon the Government of Nepal to honour its past commitment to allow the Tibetans the freedom of travel to India through Nepal.

Its annual report on Tibet submitted to the Congress on August 19 says inter alia: “Encouraging substantive dialogue between Beijing and the Dalai Lana is an important foreign policy objective of the United States. We continue to encourage representatives of the PRC and the Dalai Lama to hold direct and substantive discussions aimed at the resolution of difference, without precondition….. The US government believes that the Dalai Lama can be a constructive partner for China as it deals with the difficult challenge of continuing tensions in Tibetan areas. His views are widely reflected within Tibetan society, and he commands the respect of the vast majority of Tibetans. His consistent advocacy on non-violence is an important principle for making progress toward a lasting solution….China’s engagement with the Dalai Lama or his representatives to resolve problems facing Tibetans is in the interests of both the Chinese government and the Tibetan people. Failure to address these problems will lead to greater tensions inside China and will be an impediment to China’s social and economic development.”

The report has been submitted under the Tibet Policy Act 2002, enacted by the Congress during the George Bush Administration. The Act calls upon the Government to submit an annual report to the Congress on the negotiations between His Holiness and the Chinese authorities on the future of Tibet. The report should have been submitted in March last, but the Obama Administration delayed its submission, possibly because of  its expectation that China would support strong action against North Korea for sinking a South Korean naval ship in March. The Obama Administration’s unhappiness with Beijing’s reluctance to support action against North Korea was earlier reflected in its decision to come out openly against the Chinese assertiveness in the South China Sea and is now manifested in its decision to submit its delayed report on Tibet to the Congress and to use strong language in the report.

The report expresses Washington’s disappointment with the lack of progress in the talks and adds: “We hope that another round will be scheduled soon and will include discussion that will lead to solutions to the problems that Tibet and its people face. We continue to urge both sides to engage in substantive dialogue and hope to see a tenth round of dialogue that will lead to positive movement on questions related to Tibetans’ lives and livelihood.”

Beijing has been consistently refusing to discuss with the emissaries of His Holiness deputed for these talks the future of Tibet and other Tibetan-inhabited regions. It has been insisting that these talks should be restricted to discussing the future of His Holiness to which His Holiness is not agreeable.

The Nepalese media reported on August 19 that during a meeting with the Nepalese Home Minister, Mr. Bhim Rawal, the previous day at Kathmandu, Mr. Atul Keshap, US acting Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs, who was on a visit to Nepal, called upon the Nepal Government to honour its commitment of 1989 under an informal agreement  to allow free passage for Tibetan refugees wanting  to travel to India. The 1989 agreement, which was brokered by the UN, allows fleeing Tibetans free passage to  Dharamsala in India  through Nepal. Under Chinese pressure, the Government of Nepal has set up new security posts along the border with Tibet to prevent Tibetan refugees from crossing over into Nepal for going to Dharamsala. In June, the Nepalese border security authorities were reported to have handed over to the Chinese authorities three Tibetans who had crossed over into Nepal from Tibet. China has reportedly been funding the expenditure on the new border posts and has been pressing the Government to suppress anti-Chinese activities by the Tibetan refugees living in Nepal.

The Chinese have not yet reacted to these actions by the Obama Administration.  During the forthcoming visit of President Obama to India in November, an exchange of views on the progress of the talks between His Holiness and Beijing should be on the agenda. The Government of India should take the initiative in proposing the inclusion of this item on the agenda. His Holiness should also be invited to any reception hosted by our President in honour of President Obama.

B. Raman

B. Raman (August 14, 1936 – June 16, 2013) was Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai and Associate, Chennai Centre For China Studies.

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