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
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
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 [email protected]