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by Antoaneta Bezlova

China's Talks With Dalai Lama's Envoys Leading Nowhere

(IPS) BEIJING -- Eight months after Tibet's capital of Lhasa was rocked by violent anti-Chinese protests positions have hardened, casting gloom on prospects for progress on the Tibetan stalemate.

More than 500 Tibetan exile leaders have gathered in Dharamsala, India, for emergency talks over their future strategy on China.

The Dalai Lama's admission of failure in his "middle way" approach -- a policy of compromise and peaceful dialogue that he has pursued for years with Beijing -- has led to calls by some radical followers to push for outright independence for Tibet.

The prime minister of Tibet's government-in-exile said the talks this week could lead to a dramatic new path for the Tibetan movement if the congress decided to drop the Dalai Lama's moderate path of compromise.

"If the outcome of the present meeting is we should switch over from the ‘middle way' to independence, we will gladly follow that," Samdhong Rinpoche said. He added the exile parliament would have the final say over any decisions made this week.

Beijing responded with a harsh warning, saying any attempt to split the Himalayan region from China were "doomed."

"The so-called Tibet government-in-exile is not recognized by any government in the world," China's foreign ministry spokesman Qin Gang said at a press briefing Tuesday. "Any attempt to separate Tibet from Chinese territory will be doomed."

China's warning came on the heels of the British government's withdrawal of its formal recognition of the relationship between Tibet and China. As the only remaining nation to accord Tibet a "special position," which recognized China's "suserainty" but not its "sovereignty" over Tibet, Britain was accused by critics of undermining Tibet's bargaining position with Beijing.

China insists Tibet has been part of its territory for 700 years. But while the Manchu dynasty -- from the early 18th century on till 1912 -- acted as a sort of feudal overlord, providing military backing to protect the Dalai Lama whenever necessary, the remote Himalayan region was left to govern itself.

In 1949, enforcing the Manchu claim to the territory, communist China invaded and occupied Tibet. An uprising against Chinese rule in March 1959 was brutally suppressed and the current Dalai Lama together with some 80,000 of his followers fled to India where they set up a government-in-exile.

The Dalai Lama -- revered by the Tibetans as a spiritual and temporal leader-- won the 1989 Nobel Peace Prize for his determined commitment to non-violence in pursuing the Tibetan cause.

He has repeatedly said he is not asking for a sovereign, independent Tibet, but for genuine autonomy, pledged to his people by Chinese communist leaders in 1951 but never delivered. Touring world capitals, he has emphasized that without a greater respect for the religious and cultural identity of all Tibetans living inside China, his homeland is doomed.

"Inside Tibet, the situation [has] become much worse," he told reporters recently during a visit to Tokyo. "This old nation, with ancient culture and heritage is now dying."

There exists a gulf of mistrust and irreconcilable visions for Tibet between China and Dharamsala. Representatives of the Dalai Lama have held eight rounds of talks with Chinese negotiators since 2002 without any visible progress in breaching the differences.

The two sides cannot even agree which Tibet they are talking about. The Dalai Lama believes he represents all seven million Tibetans, while the Chinese mean the 2.8 million that live in the Tibet Autonomous Region. Most Tibetans live in Sichuan, Yunnan, Gansu and Qinghai provinces as a result of borders drawn by the Chinese communist leaders in the 1950s.

Beijing says the so-called ‘Greater Tibet' put forward by the Dalai Lama would take up a quarter of China's territory and denies it ever existed. It also accuses the Tibetan spiritual leader of using the pursuit of "genuine autonomy" as a disguise for seeking "covert independence." Chinese officials have dismissed the current talks in Dharamsala as meaningless, contending the exiled community does not represent the views of most Tibetans.

But a secret poll conducted among Tibetans on the mainland claimed most people would follow any decision by the Dalai Lama, a spokesman for the exile Tibetan parliament said this week.

The number of those who wanted full independence was twice as many as those who supported the current "middle way" approach, Karma Chophel said, without revealing specifics as to how the poll was carried out.

The "middle way" has come under fire by some Tibetan exiles for not making headway in pushing forward the Tibetan cause. In March, a violent uprising by ethnic Tibetans in Lhasa and across swaths of western China was aggressively put down by Beijing. The riots threw a shadow over China's preparations for the Beijing Olympics and provoked a string of international protests.

Beijing blamed the Dalai Lama and his followers for the riots. During the last round of talks held in the Chinese capital this month, Chinese officials accused the Tibetan envoys of "lacking sincerity" by demanding "high degree of autonomy" repeatedly.

Zhu Weiqun, a senior official in charge of Tibetan talks, said Beijing told the Dalai Lama in the 1980s that a "high degree of autonomy" was impossible. "However, more than two decades have passed, and they still use this trick to talk in a round-about way with the central government, which shows that they lack sincerity," Zhu told the media at a specially convened briefing earlier this month.

China has offered a wide degree of autonomy to the former colonies of Hong Kong and Macao, but has said the same would not apply to non-Han Chinese territories.

"It is a fundamental political system of China… It does not allow the promotion of ethnic separatism under the banner of ‘genuine ethnic self-governance,'" Du Qinglin, head of a government department in charge of the negotiations, said after the breakup of the latest talks in Beijing.

"We will never allow someone to hold a banner of ‘real autonomy' and damage the national unity," Du added.

But while Beijing sees the Tibetan impasse as an issue of sovereignty, the exiled Tibetan community says it is an issue of human rights.

"This meeting is not about taking Tibet away from China," Thupten Samphel, spokesman for the government-in-exile, said Tuesday referring to the current talks in Dharamsala. "It is about restoring the human rights of Tibetan people in Tibet."

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Albion Monitor   November 19, 2008   (

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