Reflecting on a year of mixed signals from Beijing that included a high-level exchange and high-profile political prisoner releases but also brought crackdowns on popular Tibetan lamas and a high-profile execution, the Dalai Lama chose a cautiously optimistic tone for his address to the Tibetan people.
“I was pleased that the Chinese government made it possible for my envoys to visit Beijing to reestablish direct contact with the Chinese leadership and to also visit Tibet to interact with the leading local Tibetan officials,” the Dalai Lama said.
In September 2002, the Chinese leadership agreed to meet with the Dalai Lama’s envoys in Beijing after a 20-year impasse and to allow them to visit Lhasa. The trip has been seen as an important first step by many western governments that have been pressing Beijing to enter into meaningful dialogue with the Dalai Lama or his representatives.
The Dalai Lama said that he was “encouraged that the exchanges of views were friendly and meaningful” and that he had instructed his envoys to “make every effort to pursue a course of dialogue with the leadership in Beijing and to seize every opportunity to dispel existing misunderstandings and misconceptions in Beijing about our views and positions.”
“It will not be an easy task,” he continued. “However, it provides the Tibetan and Chinese peoples a unique and crucial opportunity to put behind them decades of bitterness, distrust and resentment and to form a new relationship based on equality, friendship and mutual benefit.”
For his part, the Dalai Lama reaffirmed elements of his “Middle Way Approach” of fundamental negotiating positions for a future Tibet, including:
- A framework that “does not call for independence and separation of Tibet”;
- “Genuine autonomy for the six million men and women who consider themselves Tibetans” (in other words, for all Tibetans regardless of whether they reside in the Tibet Autonomous Region or contiguous Tibetan autonomous areas); and
- “A secular and democratic system of governance.”
“The International Campaign for Tibet shares the Dalai Lama’s view that dialogue is ‘the only sensible, intelligent and human way to resolve differences and establish understanding,'” said John Ackerly, President of the International Campaign for Tibet (ICT).
“With offices in Washington, Amsterdam and now in Berlin, ICT is in position and eager to redouble grassroots and government support for the dialogue process,” Ackerly continued.
In a year full of indications of progress on the Tibet issue, there have also been a few noteworthy “setbacks,” as U.S. Secretary of State Powell recently characterized the January 26 execution of Tibetan Lobsang Dhondup, about which the EU also repeatedly expressed serious concerns. The last year saw significant crackdowns on popular Tibetan Buddhist leaders such as Tenzin Delek Rinpoche, who was also sentenced to death after the closed trial that lead to Dhondup’s execution.
“China’s confused approach to Tibet reflects the illegitimacy of its occupation there,” said Ackerly. “Self-rule as envisaged by the Dalai Lama would ensure that Tibetans resolve Tibetan issues.”
The Dalai Lama condemned the brutally repressive tactics from Chinese authorities, saying that they “cannot resolve the problem and therefore must be changed,” but he remained optimistic, noting his “sincere hope that the Chinese leadership will find the courage, vision and wisdom for new openings to solve the Tibetan issue through dialogue.”
He also stressed that dialogue is “in the interest of the People’s Republic of China” and would “contribute to the overall stability and unity” of the PRC.
“A new, creative initiative to resolve the issue of Tibet would serve as a very convincing sign that China is changing, maturing and becoming more receptive to assuming a greater role on the global stage as a reliable and forward-looking power,” he continued.
In stressing that his proposals were pro-dialogue and not anti-China, the Dalai Lama stressed that “our struggle is based on truth, justice and non-violence and is not directed against China.”
“I remain committed to the realistic and pragmatic approach and will continue to make every effort to reach a mutually acceptable solution,” the Dalai Lama said before concluding with his prayer “for an early end to the suffering of our people.”
Tibetan Uprising Day is recognized annually across the world and marks the anniversary of March 10, 1959, when the Tibetan people rose up against China’s occupying forces. Outnumbered by the People’s Liberation Army, thousands of Tibetan civilians and soldiers lost their lives in defending their country and their leader, the Dalai Lama, who fled in to exile shortly thereafter.