Leaders from the exiled Tibetan community have gathered in Dharamsala in northern India to discuss the future of their movement. Over the next few days, 500 delegates will discuss whether to pursue greater autonomy or flat-out independence. The Dalai Lama will not attend the meeting -- he has said he does not want to influence the outcome with his presence. The meeting is taking place as Sino-Tibetan discussions seem to be at a dead end. Beijing’s position is clear -- it refuses to compromise.
The Dalai Lama, the spiritual head of the Tibetans, does not want to influence the meeting with his presence or words
Raising concern across the world, soldiers from the People’s Liberation Army cracked down on anti-Chinese protests in Tibet in March -- just months before the Olympic Games were due to begin in Beijing. Monasteries were surrounded and hundreds of Tibetans were arrested.
Beijing blamed the Dalai Lama for the unrest. He had incited the demonstrators to violence, from his exile in India, Chinese officials said. He wanted to divide China and establish a Greater Tibet, they claimed.
But the Dalai Lama has said repeatedly that he does not want Tibetan independence but that he does want more autonomy. Beijing refuses to believe him.
Zhu Weiqun, the vice minister responsible for questions about Chinese unity, recently stated: “Many people think that the Dalai Lama only wants what is currently the autonomous region of Tibet. But this is not the case. He also wants the bordering regions, where Tibetans also live. He wants a Greater Tibet which would cover a quarter of China’s surface.”
Little progress in Sino-Tibetan talks
The Dalai Lama’s envoys have met representatives of the Chinese government three times since the unrest in March but there has been little progress.
Although China has not refused to take part in the talks, it is not willing to even discuss the Tibetan side’s demands.
Zhu Weiqun explained what happened during the last round of talks: “We spoke about the position of the Dalai Lama and insisted that the Dalai Lama should stop trying to separate Tibet from China. We told them the Dalai Lama should show understanding for the government and the Chinese people.”
“Never did we speak about the so-called Tibet question. It is in order to help the Dalai Lama understand the position of the Central Government and to understand his own mistakes that we are prepared to listen to his explanations.”
Tibet is part of China, Beijing insists
Beijing does not recognise the Dalai Lama’s government-in-exile. It sees the government as being illegal and does not see it as an adequate negotiating partner, with which to discuss legal questions concerning Tibet. Beijing considers it has full sovereignty over Tibet, which is a part of China.
Zhu makes clear that Beijing is unwilling to compromise: “The unity of the country, territorial integrity and national dignity are the greatest interests of the Chinese people. We will not make any concessions.“
“Our central government has said that the doors for the Dalai Lama to adopt a patriotic position are open. But the doors to Tibetan independence, or half-independence or covert independence were never, and will never be, open.”
The Tibetan Autonomous Region of China is home to about six million Tibetans. 100,000 more live in exile -- mainly in India and Nepal.