By Pema Thinley
(www.TibetanReview.net, May 3, 2008) The indifferent suddenness and the casualness of the manner in which China sounded out an intention to “have contact and consultation with Dalai’s private representative in the coming days” shows that China did not entirely have its mind committed to what it appeared to be talking about. There was not even the courtesy of referring to the Dalai Lama by his proper title, only the slightly less derogatory one of “Dalai”. There was not the solemnity of an official announcement of the decision, only a news agency report citing an anonymous official as the source of the all-important information.
Besides, the decision to invite a Dalai Lama envoy did not appear to be without confusions within the Chinese leadership. On the day the Xinhua news report containing the invite decision appeared, which was Apr 25, China’s Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Jiang Yu rebuffed an EU push for dialogue between Beijing and the Dalai Lama, according to a PRESS TV (Iran) report Apr 25. The report said Jiang wanted the EU to stop interfering and called Tibet China’s domestic issue. It was quite another matter, however, that the European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso, who led a high-level EU delegation of nine European Commissioners, emerged from a meeting with Premier Wen Jiabao that day to declare a hope to see “positive developments” on the Tibet issue “soon”. Barroso, it may be noted, went to attend an EU-China summit with a strong commitment to push Beijing on the Tibet issue.
And although the invitation was to be for a private representative of the Dalai Lama, the audience the news report sought to address and influence was clearly the international community. After all, leaders of even nations – such as Japan – which usually dare not raise the subject, had been very vocally explicit in holding China singularly responsible for the recent, and still unfolding, tragedy in Tibet. Indeed, China’s interaction with the free world had reached such a stage that the Tibet issue had to be very high on the agenda, with none of the free world leaders heeding China’s insistence on calling Tibet its domestic issue. In this connection, one may recall Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd’s forthright and very public criticisms of China’s Tibet policy on April 9 in Beijing even while seeking to cement closer economic ties.
If the Chinese were genuine in their design, surely they would have given a proper reply to the Dalai Lama’s Mar 19 letter. Instead, as stated by the Dalai Lama’s Special Envoy Mr Lodi Gyari Apr 24, the Chinese replied with “nothing concrete, just rhetoric”, apparently of the kind still being endlessly spewed out by their official media. There was no courtesy of a prior discussion or at least a communication to the Dalai Lama of an interest to invite his private representative. Instead, the decision was conveyed in the form of a news report to the world at large, with the Dalai Lama, the main subject of the announcement, being treated as of no consequence to the setting of the agenda.
There are other aspects about the announcement which makes one feel cynical about the Chinese decision. The news announcement said China was going to extend the invitation “in view of the requests repeatedly made by the Dalai side for resuming talks”, not because China itself felt any need for a dialogue. It made clear what China hoped to gain from extending the invitation: not any resolution of any Tibet issue, but with a hope that “the Dalai side will take credible moves to stop activities aimed at splitting China, stop plotting and inciting violence and stop disrupting and sabotaging the Beijing Olympic Games so as to create conditions for talks.” China may not have said it in so many words, but its obvious hope behind the invitation move was to save its Olympic face by pre-empting or reversing boycotts by world leaders and athletes of the Games’ opening ceremony. Indeed, its official Xinhua news agency Apr 26 cited the EU as saying in a statement Apr 25 that the planned invitation would contribute “to the successful preparation and staging of the Olympic Games in Beijing.”
It needs hardly to be mentioned that in any announcement of meetings and summits, the broad agenda for discussion are clearly spelled out or known, as are the concerned persons from the two sides holding the meetings. But in the present case, the Chinese are conspicuous by their silence on what the two sides might discuss and seek to move forward on. While a mention is made of “contact and consultation”, it is not at all clear what the contact and consultation might focus on. It is as if there has been no contact of any kind between the two sides since 2002, when six rounds of talks were held in as many years. That fact alone puts a serious question mark on the Chinese government’s intention.
As regards the parties to the discussion, the non-mention of the participant(s) on the Chinese side makes it plain that Beijing’s emphasis will be on the fact that a meeting will at all be held, rather than on the issues, if at all, to be discussed and the invitation’s place in the overall context of Sino-Tibetan relations.
The most damning indictment yet of the Chinese government’s lack of sincerity behind the current invitation offer is that there is absolutely no change in its policy of brutal repression inside Tibet and the onslaught of propaganda vilification in the outside world. In other words, there is no change of heart in Beijing, but only a temporary adjustment of strategy in dealing with a problem that not only refuses to go away but keeps becoming ever more entrenched and difficult to deal with through more repression within and rhetoric in the outside world.