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New York Times on Lodi Gyari's Article

posted Mar 31, 2011, 5:25 PM by The Tibetan Political Review   [ updated Mar 31, 2011, 5:29 PM ]
Editor's note: Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times published this online op-ed, below.  Readers can submit their own comments here.

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Lodi Gyari, the Dalai Lama’s representative in Washington, has a good op-ed in the South China Morning Post (by subscription only). In particular, he makes two points that I think Beijing just doesn’t “get.” First:

The third mindset is that China should wait until the passing away of the present Dalai Lama, when the Tibetan issue will naturally disappear. This thinking is based on the belief that a leaderless and disoriented movement would fragment into pieces and eventually become irrelevant. This is a misplaced mindset for many reasons, and very counterproductive to China’s own future. Those who subscribe to this view do not understand that fragmentation today no longer means irrelevance; it means radical unpredictability and vastly greater risk. Far from fading away, the Tibetan political movement will reinvent itself in the absence of the current, Fourteenth Dalai Lama, and become something far more complex and unmanageable in the process.

That’s exactly right. China is waiting for the Dalai Lama to die, so that Tibetans will lose their leader and cohesion. But the result is not that Tibet will be easier to dominate; rather, it is likely to become more violent. There already are many, many young Tibetans who think the Dalai Lama has been too patient, too conciliatory, too pacifist. This is particularly true of the exiles; Tibetans actually in China tend to be more pragmatic and willing to work things out. But overall, my hunch is that we’ll see more violent resistance after the Dalai Lama goes.

Many Chinese, outraged by the violence against ethnic Han in Lhasa during the last protests, blame the Dalai Lama — and it’s true that he was too slow to condemn the violence. But overall there is no  question about it: His Holiness has been a huge restraining force, working against violence.

So my hunch is that after the Dalai Lama dies, Tibet will come to look more like Xinjiang. Human rights abuses will get less attention, because the Dalai Lama isn’t there to call attention to them. But protests will be more violent and more common, and there’ll be some genuine terrorists bringing in weapons from abroad.

The other problem with the Dalai Lama dying is that any kind of a solution to the Tibetan issue is going to require painful concessions on both sides. It’s not clear that the Dalai Lama is willing to make the kind of concessions necessary, but if he is he could probably carry the Tibetan people behind him. In contrast, after he is gone, there is simply no one who could unite Tibetans and persuade them to accept the necessary concessions. The chance of a peaceful political solution will die with the Dalai Lama.

I outlined what a deal would look like in this 2008 column. Essentially, Tibetans would accept unequivocal Chinese rule in exchange for real autonomy, greater linguistic, cultural and religious freedom, and brakes on Chinese migration into ethnic Tibetan areas.

Lodi Gyari’s second important point is this:

It is disheartening to see just how far China’s leaders have drifted from the early days of bold reform. The leaders I came to know in the early 1980s shared a conviction about their historic role in bringing about the difficult transition that was needed in post-Mao China. Leaders like Hu Yaobang understood that the greatness of China’s future lay in the responsible actions of its leaders to conduct the necessary groundwork for true stability. Hu called for courageous policies relating to Tibet. Because he was open and honest, dared to act, dared to face reality and dared to bear responsibility, he won the hearts of the Tibetan people.

What Lodi Gyari doesn’t acknowledge is the mismatch. In the early 1980’s, Hu Yaobang and Zhao Ziyang were prepared to do a deal with the Dalai Lama — but it was His Holiness who balked. After the Cultural Revolution, the Tibetans just didn’t trust Beijing and thought time was on their side. They made a historic miscalculation in the 1980’s, and then the window for negotiation closed with the departure of Hu Yaobang and Zhao Ziyang. Maybe it’ll reopen with some future leadership team, but today’s Politburo is just not prepared to make the concessions necessary. Instead, it operates under the delusion that things will get better after the Dalai Lama dies.

The Dalai Lama has been extraordinarily effective with global public opinion, but he has been spectacularly ineffective with the constituency that matters most — Chinese officials and the Chinese public. It’s not too late for him to devote himself to improving his Mandarin skills, speaking more to Chinese audiences, and seeking to move to China. That request to move to, say, Beijing would put China in a box. I don’t think Beijing would accept, but it would at least be a signal of the Dalai Lama’s desire to work things out with the Chinese leaders.

And the track we’re on is disastrous. More Han Chinese are moving to Tibet, destroying its traditional character so that it will be gone forever. A political deal is the only way to forestall that and avoid violence, but it’s hard to see such a deal coming. Your thoughts?


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