With little direct information coming from inside Tibet and China, the media and others are left with few solid facts to interpret the nature or significance of the visit to Tibet by the Dalai Lama’s envoys.
In a September 11 article, Washington Post Beijing bureau chief John Pomfret notes: “The trip marks the first time senior representatives of the Tibetan leader have publicly traveled to China since 1984, when Gyari also visited Lhasa and Beijing.”
Pomfret continues: “China’s move comes as Beijing attempts to project a kinder, gentler image of its rule in Tibet. Over the past few months, the government has released six political prisoners before they had served their full sentences, including one Tibetan, Tanak Jigme Sangpo, who had spent decades behind bars. Groups of Western journalists have been taken to the region — more than at any time in recent memory.
“Chinese have also begun to think about Tibet in different ways,” says Pomfret.
“Since all official contacts ceased in 1993, Beijing’s policy has been to ignore the government in exile and wait for the Dalai Lama, 67, to die. But two years ago, Wang Lixiong, an influential independent writer, circulated a pamphlet in Beijing titled ‘The Dalai Lama is the key to the future,’ in which he argued that a fragmented Tibetan exile movement without a leader would make it more difficult for Beijing to close a deal on Tibet. Wang argued that now was the time to work toward a solution. Some government officials agreed.”
In a September 10 story, Pomfret noted that “Huang Hao, a Chinese expert on Tibetan issues, said he did not expect Gyari to meet with any senior Chinese leaders because the Dalai Lama ‘has not changed his attitude.’ Huang was referring to China’s claims that the Dalai Lama wants Tibet to be independent from China. In reality, the Dalai Lama has said he has abandoned any ambitions of Tibetan independence but wants Tibet to have greater autonomy within China.
“‘I personally want China and the Dalai Lama to have a dialogue, but I do not think anything will happen before the 16th party congress,’ set for Nov. 8, said Jamphel Gyatso, a Tibetan scholar in China. Gyatso, considered relatively independent, said he was concerned that China was taking this step because of international pressure but that there had been no fundamental change in its position.”
In a September 11 Los Angeles Times article, Henry Chu writes: “Communication between the two sides has continued through back channels, behind the wall of official mutual avoidance.
“There has also been growing pressure from outside the country, and some say within it, for progress in the stalemate between Beijing and Dharamsala.
“Much of the external pressure has come from the U.S. government. Chinese President Jiang Zemin is due to visit President Bush in Texas next month, for a one-day summit that Jiang is eager to see go smoothly. It may be his last major diplomatic trip as China’s No. 1 before a leadership reshuffle this fall.
Chu noted that “Gyari, who is based for the most part in Washington, is affiliated with the International Campaign for Tibet, an organization in the U.S. capital that has not been shy in lambasting the policies of the Chinese government.”
In a September 11 article, New York Times Beijing correspondent Erik Eckholm described that, as in the past, these talks are being played down in the Chinese media: “While sporadic talks have occurred for four decades, Chinese leaders have refused to allow the Dalai Lama himself to return, and most talks with intermediaries have not been publicized.
“Officials of the Tibetan government in exile, in Dharamsala, India, said they expected the envoys to hold talks with Chinese officials during the trip, but they did not give any details of scheduled meetings or topics on the table.
“At a regularly scheduled briefing today, Kong Quan, spokesman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry, confirmed that ‘a group of Tibetan expatriates were allowed to come back to China in a private capacity.’
‘They have come for sightseeing and visiting relatives and friends in Tibet,’ he said, adding that the Beijing government wanted the visitors to see ‘the lives and religious freedom the Tibetan people now enjoy.’
‘I believe that they will have a chance to meet with people at all levels and exchange views,’ Mr. Kong said, in a possible hint that official, if informal, meetings might occur.”
An Associated Press Online article from September 9 described the official U.S. reaction after news of the trip first surfaced:
“The United States praised China for welcoming a visit by a special envoy of Tibet’s spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, and said it hoped mutual understanding would develop.
“‘We’re pleased to learn that the Dalai Lama’s special envoy, Mr. Lodi Gyari, was received in Beijing Sept. 9 and that he will also visit Lhasa,’ the Tibetan capital, said State Department spokesman Richard Boucher. Boucher said President Bush and other U.S. officials have discussed with Chinese leaders the need for dialogue with the Dalai Lama or his representatives.
“‘We believe that a process of dialogue can resolve long-standing differences and result in greater freedom, including religious freedom for the Tibetan people,’ Boucher said.
“He said Paula Dobriansky, the department’s special coordinator for Tibetan issues, was encouraged by Gyari’s visit and sees it as an ‘opportunity to foster mutual understanding, an important first step.'”
The significance of the Envoys’ visit was the subject of NPR’s September 18 broadcast of “The Connection.” The topic was discussed by China scholar Orville Schell, John Pomfret, the Beijing correspondent for the Washington Post, and Dr. Michael van Walt, Legal Advisor to the Office of the Dalai Lama and to the Tibetan Government-in-Exile.