Tibet: Dalai Lama Firm on Obama Meeting
The Dalai Lama's envoys in Beijing have refused to bow to pressure from China to steer the Tibetan spiritual leader away from meeting US President Barack Obama.
In talks this week, Chinese and Tibetan government-in-exile officials failed to narrow their differences over Beijing's rule of Tibet as an autonomous region, Kelsang Gyaltsen, one of Dalai Lama's two envoys told Asia Times Online. Beijing raised the issue of his planned visit to the US later this month.
"Our reply was that the since 1991 every American president has met with His Holiness the Dalai Lama whenever he is in Washington DC, which is the reflection of the strong sympathy ... for the Tibetan people," Gyaltsen said in the interview on his return to Dharamsala, where the exiled leader has been based since 1959.
After the riots in Lhasa, Tibet's capital, two years ago Beijing has repeatedly warned leaders of foreign countries with diplomatic ties with China not to meet the Dalai Lama, saying this would hurt their relations. The possible Obama-Dalai meeting adds to the issues troubling US-Sino relations, together with US latest arms sales to Taiwan and Google's planned withdrawal from China over allegations of state support for hacking accounts - which Beijing denies.
The talks held this week in Beijing were the first for 15 months after riots on March 14, 2008, and a security clampdown of Tibetans in the run-up to the Beijing Summer Olympic Games later that year soured relations. A good sign is that this time both sides have left the door open for future negotiations.
Gyaltsen brushed aside the view that Beijing agreed to resume talks with a purpose to prevent an Obama-Dalai meeting: "I don't think so because I think the American administration has always been very clear that President Obama will be going to meet with His Holiness."
At a press conference in Beijing after the conclusion of talks with the Dalai Lama's envoys, Chinese negotiator Zhu Weiqun, executive vice minister of the Communist Party's Central Department of United Front Work, warned of serious damage to Sino-US relations if the US leader were to meet the Dalai Lama, saying the move would "harm others but bring no profit to itself either". A meeting would be irrational and harmful, he said. "If a country decides to do so, we will take necessary measures to help them realize this."
Washington brushed the warning aside. ''The president told ... China's leaders during his trip last year that he would meet with the Dalai Lama, and he intends to do so," White House spokesman Bill Burton said on Tuesday. "The Dalai Lama is an internationally respected religious and cultural leader, and the president will meet with him in that capacity.''
No date has been set for the meeting, Burton said. The Dalai Lama is scheduled give talks in California and Florida from February 21 to 24. It would be possible for him to meet Obama after then. He is due to return to Dharamsala for a lecture on February 28,
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Ma Zhaoxu repeated on Wednesday that "China resolutely opposes the visit by the Dalai Lama to the United States, and resolutely opposes the US leader having contact with the Dalai Lama in any name or any form".
Apart from this, Beijing and the Dalai Lama failed to narrow their differences on their positions on the Tibet issue.
At the press conference in Beijing, Zhu said Beijing and the Dalai Lama had "sharply divided" views in the latest talks. "We have been accustomed to such a confrontation as views had been divided in previous talks," he was quoted by the Xinhua News Agency.
The talks "had some upside" as they let both sides know exactly their differences and how wide these were, Zhu said. "It helps the Dalai Lama realize the position he has been in," he said, adding that the talks were not fruitless, as the central government arranged trips for the envoys to visit central Hunan province to better understand the country and the regional ethnic autonomy policy.
The biggest difference lies in their interpretations of "Genuine autonomy for all Tibetans". Zhu said that during previous round of talks, Lodi Gyari - another envoy of the Dalai Lama - had presented a "Memorandum from All Tibetans to Enjoy Genuine Autonomy", intentionally using obscure words to explain the meaning of Greater Tibet and "a high degree of autonomy". When the memorandum was rejected by the central government, Gyari said he would not want new talks, Zhu said at the press conference.
In the interview with Asia Times Online, however, Gyaltsen said: "We are not talking about greater Tibet, what we are talking about is that Tibetans living on the Tibetan plateau should not be divided in many parts but should be administrated under [a] single administration.
"Our demand is clear and simple - the provision must be enshrined in the Chinese constitution as well as in the Chinese laws governing regional autonomy be implemented for the Tibetan people."
Zhu said that Beijing always kept its door open to talks with the Dalai Lama, while Gyaltsen said, "having talks is better than having no talks".
The following is an interview Asia Times Online conducted with Gyaltsen in Dharamsala on Wednesday.
Asia Times Online: What were your first impressions of the ninth round of talks with Beijing?
Kelsang Gyaltsen: There was no real big change from our previous visits. We visited Hunan province - the birthplace of Chairman Mao Zedong, where, as on our previous visits, we were received very well. The atmosphere of talks in Beijing was similar to the previous meetings. So actually I did not really notice any big change in the atmosphere as well as in the treatment from the Chinese government.
ATol: What were the main things discussed in the latest talks? What has been agreed and what differences still remain? In your view, has any progress been achieved this time?
KG: We once again emphasized the fact that the call for genuine autonomy for the Tibetan people within the framework of People Republic of China (PRC) is a legitimate demand and also consistent with the principles of the constitution of the PRC. We also emphasized the fact that His Holiness the Dalai Lama has no personal request to make to the Chinese government concerning his personal status or privileges. The core issue of the Tibet issue is the basic rights and freedom, welfare and future of the Tibetan people. We stressed this fact and also we made the proposal that one of the major differences in the position between the Chinese government and our side is the view on the current situation inside Tibet.
The Chinese side said the majority of the Tibetan people inside Tibet are happy, there are no problems but we have totally different reports ... that the Tibetans inside Tibet have genuine grievances, that there are severe restrictions on the exercise of Tibetan religion, culture and concerning preservation of Tibetan language. Therefore, in order to find out the truth about the current situation we propose a joint effort to study the reality in the field so that we can come to a common view. If the majority of the Tibetans inside Tibet are really happy then we have no quarrel with the Chinese government. On the other hand, if the outcome is that there are problems inside Tibet, that the majority of the Tibetans are not happy with the present conditions, then the Chinese government must recognize this and make joint efforts to address the problems.
There was no concrete agreement during the latest talks except that both sides expressed an interest in maintaining contact and continuing the dialogue process. There was no real agreement on the issues we discussed during the many hours of talks.