The English-language monthly Tibetan Review has expressed misgivings about Chinese intentions in the current Sino-Tibetan contact saying China may be using it to merely blunt international criticism. It said it has seen no sign of Chinese sincerity despite the optimism of the Dalai Lama’s envoys.

In an editorial in its July 2003 issue, Tibetan Review (published from New Delhi) said “pretending to be interested to resolve the Tibetan issue through negotiations without actually conceding anything could be a smart stopgap move by the Chinese leadership to blunt international criticisms” on Tibet. The magazine said that if there was no concrete indications from the Chinese side then even if a third visit of the envoys take place it might be more of a charade.

The editorial said while China may be in physical control of Tibetan territory it lacks a fundamental feature, namely legitimacy of its rule over Tibet.

Following is the full text of the Tibetan Review editorial.

The issue is legitimacy


Tibetan Review, July 2003

The exile Tibetan delegation that made its second visit to China from May 25 to Jun 8 has come out with a clarification, in so many words, that it was only a Task Force to clear a path towards the start of negotiations, not a negotiating team. Although this was clearly presented as the purpose of the delegation’s first visit in September last year, as was made clear by its statement at that time, the secrecy surrounding the second visit raised hopes in many that some kind of progress, no matter how very little, from the creation of good atmosphere in the first round to the start, howsoever tentative, of negotiations in the second might be reported. Now we have been given to understand that the delegation itself has all along been about preparations for the beginning of everything.

Public relations is China’s pastime. It is no one’s complaint that Beijing lacks generosity when it comes to offering words of friendship, giving assurances of trustworthiness and exemplary conduct and putting up facades of ecstatic bonhomie. This has been obvious most recently during the Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee’s visit to Beijing. In fact, Beijing has accumulated a rich vocabulary in the diplomacy of friendship, coexistence and cooperation between it and other countries, beginning with the Panchsheel agreement it signed with

India in 1954. The grievance of most of those who had any dealings with it is that the communist leadership just cannot be trusted to keep its words. Examples teem in the annals of China studies everywhere and across the pages of the world media.

In this milieu, pretending to be interested to resolve the Tibetan issue through negotiations without actually conceding anything could be a smart stopgap move by the Chinese leadership to blunt international criticisms of the plethora of sins it is now widely known to commit on the Tibetan Plateau. Of course, if the Chinese leadership’s intentions are genuine, no cause for complaint arises. But the true test of intention must be seen in actual conduct in some way. The present course of Sino-Tibetan dealing has so far been a lot of alleged telltale smoke but no sign of the fire from which it supposedly comes. The delegation’s first report was profuse on airs of optimism but niggardly on substantive achievements. The second report was more of the same thing. It did not show any progress. It would be hard to deny that a charade was being staged if a third visit, if it takes places, does not show some verifiable result.

The question then arises: have the Chinese merely thrown a bone at us to chew on for as long as we have the stamina to hang on to it, or are we going to see some meat of the start of negotiations in the very near future? Special Envoy and delegation head Lodi Gyari’s Jun 11 statement and subsequent comments to the media make it clear that the start of actual negotiations is a long way off. So how are we to be sure that, apart from the mere words of enormous cause for encouragement emanating from the delegation and the top exile government leaders who are privy to what actually goes on, the Chinese aren’t merely playing games with us? That they are using the delegation visits to actually defeat what the Tibetans actually seek to achieve by it?

The question is partly answered if we realise that everything about the situation in Tibet and the Chinese policy there need not turn on the start of negotiations. The sufferings of the Tibetan people marked by gross human rights abuses, socio-economic disparities, ethnic imbalance in the towns and cities, Han chauvinist policies on education and development and their implementation, absence of religious freedom, and a whole lot of other micro-level issues can easily be attended to not just as a matter of reassuring the exile Tibetans and the outside world but also of humanising the governance in Tibet. China surely has nothing to lose by adopting such indicators of progress in resolving the Tibetan issue. Otherwise Beijing could keep the keep the charade of delegation visits going for years and years.

The delegation has not yet stated what the persisting differences are between the two sides that make the start of actual negotiations a long way off. But given our position that the three provinces of U-Tsang, Kham (Dotoe) and Amdo (Domey) should be united and that a truly autonomous Tibet made up of them should be democratic, we do have hint of what an aspect of them might be. But it would be premature to cite these as two of the difficulties between the two sides. Indeed it might even be that such substantive issues haven’t even cropped up in the discussions.

The most serious reason why we doubt the Chinese intentions is tha resolving the Tibet issue along the terms the exile government demands is totally out of tune with the nature and character of the communist Chinese leadership and its perception of the Chinese state. The unitary character of the administration and direct control by the party are the twin, absolute bedrocks on which the People’s Republic of China stands. To concede the Tibetan demand requires a democratic, pluralist revolution to take place in the minds of the communist Chinese leaders who right now swear by the power of brute force to overcome all potential dangers to the unity, integrity and stability of China.

Some people complain that we have no bargaining chips to place on the negotiating table and so have nothing to lose from talking. They are wrong. China may right now control most of everything physical there is to be controlled within Tibet. But they lack one thing that is the basis of it all: legitimacy. That Tibet’s political status is such a big issue during Mr. Vajpayee’s ongoing China visit says it all. Even India rejected a Chinese draft that required it to recognise Tibet as an “inalienable” part of China. Should we Tibetans confer that legitimacy? If “yes,” at what price? Remember that this is Tibet’s passport to freedom in the long run.