Tibet: Seek a way out of impasse
Beijing, stung by rioting in Tibet, hardened it stance against the Dalai Lama last year, convincing United States President Barack Obama and other Western leaders not to meet the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader.
Talks between Beijing and the Dalai Lama's envoys haven’t taken place since November 2008, with each blaming the other for the deadlock after riots in Lhasa, the capital of the Tibet Autonomous Region, eight months earlier. Stepping up their rhetoric, Chinese officials called the Dalai Lama "a wolf in sheep's skin".
The Tibetan government in exile now says it will sidestep the blame game and seek the earliest resumption of talks.
"The Tibet issue needs to be resolved through dialogue and negotiation between the Tibetan and People's Republic of China leadership," Samdhong Rinpoche, prime minister of the Tibetan government in exile, told Asia Times Online. "I wish Tibetans' hopes will become a reality."
The Dalai Lama, leader of the Tibetan government in exile who fled the country in 1959 after a failed uprising against invasion by the People's Republic of China of Tibet, insists on greater autonomy for Tibet proper and neighboring areas with Tibetan inhabitants. Beijing has accused him of seeking semi-independence for a quarter of China's total territory.
"Everybody has the right to hope for better a relationship between Dharamsala and Beijing because the Tibet issue needs to be resolved through dialogue and negotiation between the Tibetan and People's Republic of China leadership," Rinpoche said.
He declined to say whether his government would take any initiative to resume talks with Beijing, but conceded that envoys of the Dalai Lama "are in regular contact with their counterparts in Beijing" as this "falls within their responsibilities".
He didn't say whether any concessions would be offered to make talks possible with Beijing.
The Dalai Lama, as leader of the government in exile, continues to campaign for greater autonomy for Tibet from his base in the northern Indian town of Dharamsala.
Rinpoche has said the government in exile's priority in 2010 was to resume talks. He is optimistic that some progress can be made.
"The dialogue process may hopefully take a new shape this year," Rinpoche said this month. "I will not say that I have great expectations, but I would say that we have hope that some improvement will come in the process. We only demand people's support and unity regarding this issue and hope it will be resolved.
"I do not need to say anything else, whatever is in progress is going good, and things will be resolved," he said.
Chinese President Hu Jintao chaired a politburo meeting on January 8 on how to maintain "long-term stability" in Tibet. It remains unknown whether the top policy-making body has considered opening talks with the Dalai Lama as a measure to achieve that goal.
With the Tibetan people revering the Dalai Lama as the "Living Buddha", Beijing's portrayal of him as an enemy will hardly help keep the Himalayan region stable. China shows signs of a softer stance, with unconfirmed reports claiming the authorities in some Tibetan areas have turned a blind eye to residents displaying pictures their spiritual leader.
Talking to Asia Times Online, Thubten Samphel, a spokesperson for the Tibetan government in exile, said it was high time for Chinese leaders to talk with the Dalai Lama's envoys. The government in exile will adopt a new approach to gain the support of as many Chinese people as possible for its cause.
Asia Times Online: Do Tibetan exiles hope for better relations with China in 2010?
Thubten Samphel: This is what we sincerely want - better relations, we have no option other than that. While there is very little improvement yet, we hope for better in future.
ATol: What new efforts will the exiled government make to achieve the resumption of talks with Beijing?
TS: We will maintain what we have been doing. One new effort is to approach as many Chinese people as possible to spread our message. Our struggle is not anti-China or anti-Chinese. It is for the interests of us Tibetan people. If we can persuade one Chinese person, this will have a multiplying effect in the Chinese community, so that they could have a better understanding of our cause and become more sympathetic.
Many Tibetans in exile living in Dharamsala seem to support their government's renewed efforts to seek an early resumption of talks with Beijing.
"I think the majority of the Tibetan people sincerely hope that the Chinese leaders will understand and realize the crucial importance of resolving the issue of Tibet by discussing the overall issue, the important issues with the envoys of his Holiness the Dalai Lama." said Tenzin Pema.
"We sincerely hope that His Holiness the Dalai Lama will live 100 more years [he is 75] and that he will continue to work for the welfare of Tibetan people and we continue to pray that Tibet will be free soon and that peace will once again reign in the land of snows," said Pema.
The March 14, 2008, riots in Lhasa followed street demonstrations on the March 10 Tibetan uprising anniversary. Asked how the Tibetan government in exile planned to mark the uprising this year, Samphel said it would be much the same as before, with the Dalai Lama delivering an address.
Some non-governmental organizations and groups supporting Free Tibet were expected to make the day as big as they could, but the exiled government would not encourage anything radical or violent, Samphel said.
Keeping a distance from radical groups, Samphel said the riots in Lhasa two years ago were a sad story but "we have behaved ourselves better than other refugee communities".
Defying the Dalai Lama's "Middle Way", a number of radical exiled Tibetan groups - such as Tibetan Youth Congress, the Tibetan Uprising Organization, the National Democratic Party of Tibet and the Students for a Free Tibet - plan to take every opportunity to lodge protests against Chinese rule in Tibet.
Besides the March 10 Tibetan uprising day, the Dalai Lama's birthday on July 6, the September 2 Tibetan Democracy Day and the December 10 International Human Rights Day are ripe for protests.
In Dharamsala, the Tibetan Youth Congress (TYC), one of the largest groups advocating full independence of Tibet, says it will launch protests in India and other places across the world.
"We do not feel any frustration, it's a fight for a nation and we are strengthened, the Free Tibet movement will continue to inspire the younger generations," TYC president Tsewang Rigzin said. As to whether protests would occur inside Tibet, Rigzin said, "Who knows?" What happened in Lhasa two years ago was now history to inspire generations to come, he said.
Other demonstrations urging Beijing to resume talks with the Dalai Lama include the Together for Tibet, planned for Brussels on October 10, when Tibetan exiles and support groups will gather to support Free Tibet.
Lobsang Wangyal, the event’s director, said it aimed to tell the world that Tibet was not forgotten. It would not be an anti-China demonstration, but a platform to tell the Chinese government it should listen to the Tibetans and respect their feelings and aspirations, Wangyal told Asia Times Online.
"The Tibetan issue is like a pebble in the Chinese government's shoe, the longer they ignore it the more it will irritate," Wangyal said.
Phuntsok Wangchuk, general secretary of GuChuSum - a group of ex-political prisoners inside Tibet and new Tibetan exiles - said, "We are planning a meeting with other non-governmental organizations in the region on what direction the new protests should take." They definitely would continue to include hunger strikes until "Beijing resumes talks," Wangchuk said.
Exiles believe the time right to think out of the box with new strategies to break the political stalemate and eventually come to a common ground through talks and dialogue.
"I am optimistic," the Dalai Lama said earlier when asked about achieving autonomy for Tibet through negotiations with Beijing.