A cloud of debate hangs high in the Tibetan Plateau of the Himalayas. On one side, the Tibetans and their supporters have, for the past 50 years, fought for independence and genuine autonomy. Sympathy lies with the exiled Tibetan leader, the Dalai Lama. Further, countless human rights violations against the Tibetans are claimed to have occurred at the hands of the Chinese government. On the other side, Beijing has retained an iron grip on the political and cultural aspects of the region it claims as Southern China.
The controversial saga between China and Tibet was revisited Tuesday, thawing the silence since the last talks ended in November 2008. Chinese President Hu Jintao, Premier Wen Jiabao and Vice President Xi Jinping attended the meeting with the Dalai Lama’s envoys at the other end of the table. Some scholars believe this surprising ninth round of talks may indicate that China is offering an olive branch of sorts to its neighbor.
The Chinese government-backed Xinhua News Agency reported that diplomats at the meeting discussed improving the living standards of the Tibetan people to national levels by 2020. Indeed, the Chinese government has taken strides to develop Tibet economically by providing incentives for Han Chinese to migrate there, creating jobs and infrastructure in the process.
But while increased standards of living are nice, the people of Tibet are probably more concerned with their political status. The Dalai Lama’s government-in-exile is bent on achieving genuine autonomy and holding the religion, culture and well-being of his people as the top priority.
Early in the talks, the Chinese government refused to remove its military presence in the densely populated regions of Tibet — judging from this result, progress may be harder to achieve than expected. Perhaps this round of talks is just another demonstration by China to push its consistent hard-line approach on Tibet.
Admittedly, I am certainly not in the Chinese camp on this issue. After fatefully discovering the tenuous China-Tibet issue during my junior year of high school, I was convinced that the Chinese government was purposefully exploiting and eliminating the rich Tibetan culture. Accounts by imprisoned nuns and dissidents only inflamed my reaction. Reading up on the International Campaign for Tibet, it seemed obvious at the time that China was, simply, the bad guy.
Today, I can’t say with certainty that I’ve completely abandoned that thought. I’d like to think that some of my idealistic naïveté has ebbed and China’s reasons for claiming Tibet are not completely unfounded. After all, it’s difficult to give up such valuables as mineral resources and an opportunity to display its clout and potential to develop Tibet as a Chinese cosmopolitan region. Additionally, the issue probably contains more complexities than are apparent. Nonetheless, China’s global reputation is hazy, and this round of stagnant talks doesn’t do much to change that opinion.
Needless to say, China is a great country with an even greater potential to rival the United States. The National Bureau of Statistics of China is reporting very optimistic statistics for its economy — gross domestic product growth of about 9 percent and a stable unemployment rate less than 5 percent. The rise of the Chinese dragon, as they call it, is happening as we speak. Yet, its rise may not be met with much sustained success if its reputation isn’t detoxified.
From the most recent reports of the eviction of thousands of Chinese residents for building development, to the alleged hacking attacks on Google, China’s international character is not getting a good rap nowadays. Don’t forget its controversial tussle with the Uighurs in 2009, which resulted in 200 deaths and a messy affair for Beijing to clean up.
If China wants to play the game and compete with the rest of the world, perhaps it ought to play by the rules. For China, arriving at stalemate after stalemate with the Dalai Lama only creates a more tense relationship and doesn’t achieve much else. The Danish Foreign minister Per Stig Møller called on both parties to ultimately allow for the Tibetans to “attain genuine self-rule, with cultural and religious freedom and respect for human rights within the framework of the Chinese constitution.”
The United Kingdom’s junior Foreign Office Minister Ivan Lewis added, “Peaceful dialogue between the Chinese government and the Dalai Lama’s representatives is the only way to bring about a lasting and peaceful solution to the problems in Tibet.”
Though open-mindedness can’t hurt the relationship, it certainly isn’t enough. China has failed not only to hold peaceful dialogues, it has also—more importantly — manifested its anti-Dalai Lama and anti-autonomy notions through its actions. It is time China matches the thrust of its global and political influence with behavior that is supported by a clear conscience, and this round of talks is the perfect opportunity to do so.
Nadine Tan is a sophomore majoring in business administration. Her column “World Rapport” runs Fridays.