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    Greater China
     Sep 10, 2010
Tibetan hope for Obama's India visit
By Saransh Sehgal

DHARAMSALA, India - The latest United States government report on Tibet negotiations has sparked off speculation and hope among the exiled Tibetan community that the Tibet issue might be on US President Barack Obama's agenda during his maiden visit to India in November.

In its annual report on Tibet negotiations, submitted to US Congress on August 18, the State Department called for better dialogue between Beijing and the Dalai Lama, the Tibetan spiritual leader in exile.

"Encouraging substantive dialogue between Beijing and the Dalai Lama is an important foreign policy objective of the United States. We continue to encourage representatives of the PRC [People's Republic of China] and the Dalai Lama to hold direct and


substantive discussions aimed at the resolution of differences, without precondition," said the report.

"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 US government also recently called on Nepal to honor a past commitment to allow Tibetan refugees the freedom of travel to India through Nepal. In a meeting with Nepal's Home Minister Bhim Rawal on August 18, visiting US Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs Atul Keshap expressed concern over the "violation of a gentlemen's agreement", the Kathmandu Post reported. Keshap reminded Rawal of a United Nations-brokered deal to allow fleeing Tibetans free passage to India's Dharamsala - the de facto capital of Tibetan exiles - through Nepal, government officials were quoted as saying.

The US government's recent double-take on Tibet - publicizing the report on Tibet negotiations and putting pressure on the Nepalese government to give Tibetan refugees the right to travel - suggests Washington is ready to show support for the Dalai Lama and his followers, who have been struggling for more than half a century for a free Tibet. It has also added to speculation that Tibet may be among the issues Obama would discuss with Indian leaders during his visit to India from November 7 to 10.

The Tibet issue again caused a ripple in India-China relations on August 11 when Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh met the Dalai Lama. Beijing protested and conveyed its opposition to any foreign leaders meeting Tibetan spiritual leader, though Indian External Affairs Minister S M Krishna later clarified that New Delhi regards the Tibetan spiritual leader as an "honored guest" but does not "encourage" him to engage in political activities.

The meeting with Manmohan came just a month after India's Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao held talks with the Dalai Lama in the northern Indian hill station of Dharamsala.

The Tibetan government in exile has welcomed the State Department’s “Report on Tibet Negotiations: March 2009 - February 2010”. “It shows details of all the steps taken by the Obama administration and encourages China and Dharamsala to resolve the issue through dialogue, which the Tibetan side really wants," said Samphel Thupten, the spokesman of the Tibetan government in exile.

However, the report, which was due in March, was submitted to congress only on August 18, a significant delay that the Indian press has suggested implies a downplaying of Tibet by Obama administration.

China so far has kept silent on the US report, which does reiterate that the Tibet Autonomous Region is part of China. Tibetans in the exile community believe the US has a key role to play on the Tibet issue, and hope Obama will discuss the issue during his visit. This, they believe, would increase pressures on Beijing for a new round of talks with the Dalai Lama's representative. The US’s Tibet policy is based on the Tibet Policy Act 2002, which supports, among other things, negotiations between the Dalai Lama and Beijing and respect for Tibetans' religious, linguistic and cultural heritage and human rights.

Under the act, the US government is required to submit its annual report on the negotiations between Beijing and Dalai Lama. There have been nine rounds of talks held since 2002 but they have not produced any major results. The talks had not been held for almost 15 months until a ninth round was held in January 2010 in Beijing.

Some Indian experts also believe that the Tibet issue should be on the agenda.

"An exchange of views on the progress of the talks between Dalai Lama 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 honor of President Obama," said B Raman, director of the Institute for Topical Studies and an associate of the Chennai Center for China Studies.

However, anything offered to Dalai Lama during that time could lead to severe criticism from Beijing and further sour Indian relations with China following Manmohan's meeting with the Dalai Lama.

Saransh Sehgal is a contributor based in Dharamsala, India, who can be reached at info@mcllo.com.

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