By the editorial board of The Tibetan Political Review
A debate between two Taiwanese leaders is once again bringing up the issue of Tibet, in a way that raises an important question about the Tibetan Government-in-Exile’s current policy of giving up Tibetan sovereignty to negotiate an autonomy deal with the Chinese leadership.
According to an article in the Taipei Times entitled "Tibetan Diplomat Disputes Ma’s Peace Deal Claims", Taiwan’s pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party criticized a new agreement between Taiwan and China, comparing it to the 17 Point Agreement that China forced on Tibet in 1951. Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou responded that the comparison was flawed because Tibet was a “local government” without sovereignty, unlike Taiwan. (This article was published in October 2011, but seems to have escaped notice in most Tibetan circles.)
The article went on to quote a reply by Dawa Tsering, Dharamsala’s de facto ambassador (Donchoe) and Representative of His Holiness the Dalai Lama to Taiwan. After describing the coercion and fraud used to force the Tibetan delegation to sign the 17 Point Agreement, Tsering said something very interesting:
Dawa said that what happened to Tibet afterwards, despite the “beautiful promises” by China, “should teach anyone or any country in the world that tries to make a deal with China a lesson.”
We agree with Tsering’s assessment that the Chinese leadership is insincere and dishonest. We also agree that the lesson should be: When dealing with the Chinese Communist Party, it is unwise to expect Beijing to negotiate in good faith or to honor the terms of an agreement.
Given this clear-headed assessment by a senior Tibetan diplomat, stationed at the front lines (as it were) of China’s militant expansionism, it becomes harder to comprehend why the exiled Tibetan government has recently re-doubled its attempt to negotiate some sort of autonomy deal with Beijing. By introducing concepts like “win-win arrangement” and an unfortunate misreading of Article 31 of the Chinese Constitution, Dharamsala is treating Beijing as if it were a good faith negotiating partner. If one agrees with Tsering’s assessment, it is clear that Beijing is anything but.
The current Chinese leadership is risk-averse. The dynamics of the Politburo Standing Committee under Hu Jintao creates a consensus-based approach that favors hard-line, status quo-preserving solutions. Bold reform initiatives are all but impossible when major vested interests (like the “anti-splittist” bureaucracy, noted by Wang Lixiong) are involved. This is further made clear in a 4,600-character communiqué after the fifth party congress in October 2010, which affirmed the ‘political advantages of China’s socialist system’.
The next generation led by Xi Jinping is likely to be even less able to push through major changes. Xi, whose political views are still opaque, seems to be a consensus candidate as he is bland enough not to have made serious enemies. He lacks a strong power base, and is likely to be weaker still because he will have to balance increasingly fractious internal tensions while being thusly handicapped. These problems will be further compounded for Xi since he is the first modern Chinese leader not to have been personally anointed by Mao or Deng, two Chinese leaders who virtually shaped modern China. This all encourages the status quo rather than bold reform.
In our view, it has become increasingly clear that the current Tibetan approach to Beijing is not working, and is even less likely to work as China’s leadership becomes more internally constrained. The Tibetan side certainly cannot be blamed for the impasse. A policy of seeking dialogue based on reasonable compromise has been tried since the late 1980s, to the eternal credit of His Holiness and the Tibetan people. This almost quarter-century effort has proven that the Tibetan people have done their utmost, and this proof would justify whatever path the Tibetan people might choose next.
Now, the Tibetan people have the responsibility to look at the evidence on its face. If the Tibetan people determine that the Chinese government is incapable of making or upholding an honest deal - and if they also determine that Beijing is facing increasingly challenging internal tensions in China itself - then these conclusions might shape a new policy to restore the Tibetan nation to its people.
Addendum, 3/15/12: In response to yesterday's fall of Bo Xilai: "This proves that the Communist Party has accomplished dominance by a bureaucratic clique, rather than dominance by a strongman,” said Wang Lixiong, an activist for democracy and minority rights in Beijing. Such unity, Wang said, means the party will continue to protect its power and not undertake meaningful democratic changes. “The Communist Party is more stable, so reform becomes more hopeless.”
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