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    Greater China
     May 21, 2009
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 free Tibet.

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 Beijing.

"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 leader.

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 name."

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 info@mcllo.com

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