Dalai Lama pins hopes on exiled Chinese
By Saransh Sehgal
DHARAMSALA, India - Years of fruitless negotiations with Beijing and the
undying hope of returning to Tibet one day appear to have prompted the Dalai
Lama to change his strategy, judging by a recent move likely to make the
Chinese authorities unhappy. In a visit to the United States, the Tibetan
spiritual leader in exile met with prominent exiled Chinese dissidents who are
viewed by Beijing as hostile elements.
On May 5, the Dalai Lama met with over 120 pro-democracy activists, scholars
and dissidents at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York. He spoke about the
misunderstandings between the Han Chinese and Tibetans caused by Beijing's
"false propaganda". He asked overseas Chinese intellectuals and media
to travel to Tibet to view the real situation and spread the news.
While the Dalai Lama's effort to build a viable relationship with the Han
Chinese people has been consistent, the high-profile meeting with Chinese
dissidents somehow signals a change in tactics relating to his pursuit of a
Over past two decades, the Dalai Lama has placed almost all of his hope for
autonomy in Tibet on negotiations with Beijing. Frustrated by the fruitlessness
of such efforts, he is now trying to appeal to as many Han Chinese as possible
to help the Tibet cause.
By meeting the Chinese dissidents, the Dalai Lama apparently hoped they could
help make his position on Tibet better known to the Han Chinese. But the
meeting surely will upset Beijing and increase its suspicion of the Dalai
Lama's motivation as Beijing sees the dissidents as political enemies.
Particularly as the Dalai Lama said such words in the meeting as "the Communist
Party has reigned long enough. Now it is time for their retirement."
The most recent round of talks between Beijing and the Dalai Lama's
representatives ended last November. The Dalai Lama's meeting with Chinese
dissidents will likely cast more shadows on future talks. But the Dalai Lama's
secretary Tenzin Taklha plays down the impact of the meeting on talks with
"This is nothing new," he said at his office in Dharamsala. "The core issue
[for Beijing] is not to separate Tibet from China. For genuine stability in
Tibet, we must talk with Beijing. The issue of Tibet must be resolved between
Tibetans and Chinese, so the Dalai Lama's meeting with Chinese persons is
essential. Negotiations on resuming talks have gone nowhere. We are willing to
talk but since last November Beijing has taken a more hard line stance."
At the meeting in New York, the Dalai Lama said he shared the pursuit of the
Chinese dissidents in exile for democracy and rule of law in China. The latter
showed their sympathy toward the Tibetan spiritual leader and his cause.
However, whether the two sides have agreed on forming some sort of a "united
front" remains unclear.
Asked to comment on this issue, Taklha said, "We and Chinese dissidents are
committed to talks in the future. Meeting Chinese people is a very good and
positive step to make progress in our cause. More and more Chinese have
expressed their support for our Tibet cause."
Chinese dissidents, who fundamentally are pro-democracy and human-rights
activists against communist rule, have traditionally shown strong support for
the Dalai Lama. After the crackdown following riots in the Tibetan capital
Lhasa a year ago, the dissidents have consistently demanded a resolution to the
Tibet issue, which has built up a bond between them and the Tibetan exiles.
Leading Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo, believed to still be under detention in
Beijing, and other Chinese dissidents in China and overseas have urged Beijing
to invite United Nations investigators to Tibet and also appealed to Chinese
leaders to engage in dialogue with the Dalai Lama.
The meeting with a large group of Chinese dissidents in exile could be seen as
a successful first step in the Dalai Lama's new strategy of engaging as many
Han Chinese people as possible to facilitate a solution for the Tibet issue.
But to what extent the majority of Han Chinese will be convinced and whether or
not the meeting will help reduce exiled Tibetans' suspicion of them still
remains to be seen. Some analysts also doubt if the Chinese dissidents in exile
are capable of conveying the Dalai Lama's message to the masses in China.
In the exiled Tibetan community in Dharamsala, some Tibet independence
activists - especially young radicals - say the Dalai-dissidents meeting won't
change their determination to fight for an independent Tibet.
"This may be a good platform to convey the Dalai Lama's message," said Tsewang
Rigzin, president of the Tibetan Youth Congress (TYC). "But his policy of the
'Middle Way' has been there for many years. We don't see anything new in this.
For us, this is a struggle for a nation not for a family, which cannot be
achieved overnight and we're prepared for it."
He said the fate of the six million Tibetans living in Tibet is more important
than that of those in exile. Commenting on the Chinese government, he said,
"They do not have the respect for human rights and with so much suppression
such a power will not last long."
Another reason the Dalai Lama turned to Chinese dissidents in exile in the US
is perhaps to seek greater publicity for his cause, as Beijing has stepped up
pressure on foreign governments that receive visits from the Tibetan spiritual
To the disappointment of many Tibetans in exile here, unlike during previous
trips to the US, this time the Dalai Lama did not meet with President Barack
Obama, or any other senior US government officials. It is believed Washington
does not want to offend Beijing in the face of the global financial crisis.
Before the Dalai Lama kicked off his latest US trip, Chinese Foreign Ministry
spokesman Jiang Yu warned, "We firmly oppose the Dalai's engagement in
separatist activities in any country under whatever capacity and under whatever
Despite this, during the Dalai Lama's US trip an aide of Obama made a public
appeal for Beijing to talk with the spiritual leader.
"I hope that you will use that credibility and those relationships to help
persuade Chinese officials that the Dalai Lama is not part of their problem but
rather part of the solution to the situation in Tibet," Jeff Bader, a senior
director for Asia on the White House's National Security Council, told a group
of prominent Chinese-Americans.
The Dalai Lama plans to visit the United States again in October. Will Obama
meet him then? "I don't know," said the Dalai Lama with a big smile at the
Dharamsala airport when he returned from his US tour.
"Nothing is sure. We are always ready for such a meeting. But Beijing is
putting on pressure. If it doesn't create any inconvenience for President
Obama, we expect this to happen," said the private office of the Dalai Lama.
Many Tibetans in exile keenly hope Obama will meet their god-king, seeing such
an event as strong support for their cause.
"I think it will happen. All previous US presidents met the Dalai Lama. But
it's not up to me, nor to His Holiness, but to President Obama," said TYC
president Tsewang Rigzin.
An Obama-Dalai Lama meeting would surely sour Sino-US relations. Nevertheless,
the Dalai Lama will not give up hope for a solution of the Tibet issue through
negotiations with Beijing.
"We have to talk with the Chinese. Shout vs shout won't help," said Taklha.
Saransh Sehgal is a contributor based in Dharamsala, India, who can be
reached at[email protected]