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The New Face of Tibet

posted Jun 17, 2011, 6:58 AM by The Tibetan Political Review

By Sunanda K Datta-Ray
The Pioneer (India)
June 17, 2011

Lobsang Sangay, the new Prime Minister or Kalon Tripa of Tibet in exile, is an astute lawyer who can use Chinese law to the advantage of Tibetans.

When the Chinese rejected the offer of talks “any time, anywhere,” by Mr Lobsang Sangay, Tibet’s new Prime Minister or Kalon Tripa in exile, they fell back on the legality that only the Dalai Lama can speak for Tibetans. Of course, they placed restrictions on what even he can negotiate, but the very fact that they recognise his authority, vestigial though it might be, is a pointer to China’s sense of insecurity even in the artificially truncated Tibet Autonomous Region.

Beijing’s policymakers must recall with chagrin the scolding Nikita Khrushchev gave Mao Tse-tung at their last meeting on October 3, 1959. “You ruled in Tibet, you should have had your intelligence there and should have known about the plans and intentions of the Dalai Lama,” he stormed, brushing aside Mao’s attempts to blame India and Jawaharlal Nehru. With memories of butchering the Romanovs 40 years earlier, the Soviet leader said, “If we had been in your place, we would not have let him escape. It would be better if he was in a coffin.” Mao must have sounded naïve pleading China could not “arrest” the Dalai Lama or “bar him from leaving” and that the border was so extended “he could cross it at any point”. Khruschchev’s reply gives an insight into the Marxist-Leninist state’s methods. “It’s not a matter of arrest; I am just saying that you were wrong to let him go.”

The Soviets would not have bothered arresting the Dalai Lama. He would have been liquidated like Trotsky in faraway Mexico. The Chinese probably hoped that a Dalai Lama out of sight would be out of Tibet’s mind. Mao’s Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution killed millions of Chinese and Mao is suspected of engineering the September 1971 plane crash that killed Lin Biao, his designated successor. But Stalin’s Russia had more experience of solving political problems with selective murder. The Soviet state did not negotiate with the Cossacks: At least 1.5 million were massacred while others were transported to the Russian Gulags.

But as Mr Lodi Gyaltsen Gyari, the Dalai Lama’s special envoy, reminded a Singapore audience last November, in 1979 Deng Xiaoping sent a message to the Dalai Lama through his elder brother, Mr Gyalo Thondup, saying that “except for the issue of Tibetan independence, all other issues could be discussed and resolved”. Mr Lodi Gyaltsen Gyari has led the Tibetan team in all the negotiations since then, the last being in January 2010.

The parleys have not produced the desired effect but it’s interesting that the emphasis on legality has been maintained. During the eighth round in November 2008, for instance, the Tibetans formally presented a Memorandum on Genuine Autonomy for the Tibetan People outlining 11 basic needs which are provided for in China’s Constitution and Law of Regional National Autonomy. As Mr Lodi Gyaltsen Gyari says, the document set out how genuine autonomy and “the specific needs of the Tibetan nationality for autonomy and self-government can be met through application of the principles on autonomy of the Constitution of the People’s Republic of China, as we understood them”. The Chinese could have refused to accept the document which had the potential of hoisting them with their own petard. But they didn’t. They studied and rejected the Memorandum on the basis of contents, whereupon the Tibetans gave them a Note addressing their concerns and clarifying Tibet’s minimum expectations.

No one can grasp the implications of these exchanges better than the new Kalon Tripa. Mr Lobsang Sangay is a law graduate of Delhi University and of Harvard Law School where he was a Senior Fellow at the East Asian Legal Studies Programme. As he told an interviewer, he is “in agreement with Tibet supporters that one tactic is to conduct a thorough examination of existing Chinese laws and use them to alleviate challenges facing Tibetans in Tibet”. He quoted Vaclav Havel, the Czech Republic’s former President, saying in The Power of the Powerless that when a state mistreats people, it uses law as a justification.

“Therefore, the power of the oppressed is to utilise the same law to seek redress. It is a win-win proposition, because you can prove either that China does not abide by its own laws if they do not implement their laws or if they do implement, then we can gain our rights.” Mr Nelson Mandela, Mahatma Gandhi and Nehru were all lawyers who used their oppressors’ laws to gain rights for their people. “I humbly feel my years of having studied Chinese politics, Chinese laws and monitoring the legal situation in China will come to good use in our movement.”

History is on his side. One of the “10 Major Programmes” that the Chinese Communist Party announced at its second national congress in 1922 and reiterated at the sixth congress in 1928 read, “We would be truly Communists only if we acknowledged the right to independence of ethnic minorities; in other words, acknowledged the rights of all minority groups to separate themselves from China and establish their own country.” Deng announced in 1931 that Article 14 of the new China Soviet Republic’s Constitution “recognise(d) the rights of ethnic minorities to self-determination, including their right to separate from China and set up their own nation” which Mao, as chairman, confirmed. It was not until June 15, 1949, shortly before the PRC was proclaimed, that the CCP changed its mind in favour of a “unified multilateral state” whose minorities would enjoy autonomy but not the right to independence.

Now, the Chinese object to the Dalai Lama taking up the cause of Tibetans outside the Tibet Autonomous Region. A junior Minister, Mr Zhu Weiqun, says he can discuss only his future and “that of a few of his personal aides”. These might be bargaining positions. Or, China may be using the dialogue process as a sop to the international community. An astute lawyer can sift the chaff from the grain. As for China talking only to “the Dalai Lama’s private representatives”, Mr Lobsang Sangay can be that as much as Mr Lodi Gyaltsen Gyari. If China doesn’t recognise him as Tibetan Prime Minister, neither does India. Neither refusal affects his credentials as representative of the Tibetan people. He can succeed if the atmosphere in Tibet and international pressure persuade Beijing of the need for a negotiated solution.

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