Crushed by China, Tibetans feel let down by Obama

by B Raman

Tibetans, both in the occupied Tibetan areas of China and in the diaspora, are increasingly frustrated by what they perceive as President Barack Obama's ambivalent attitude on the continued unrest in the Tibetan areas of China and Beijing's violations of Tibetans' human rights.

The Obama Administration, like its predecessor administrations, accords due courtesies to the Dalai Lama during his periodic visits to Washington DC. These courtesies include unofficial meetings between the President and the Dalai Lama.

The Obama Administration has also been periodically voicing its unhappiness and concern over Beijing's continued violations of the human rights of  Tibetans, and has been urging it to resume the stalled talks with the representatives of the Dalai Lama.

 Crushed by China, Tibetans feel let down by Obama

Dalai Lama. Reuters

But the Tibetans expected a greater sense of activism by the US in view of the increasingly grim situation prevailing in the Tibetan areas since March 2011 following the protests by the monks of the Kirti monastery in Sichuan against continuing Han colonisation of Tibetan areas. The monks have also been demanding the return of the Dalai Lama to Lhasa to take over the religious leadership of his people.

Nearly 40 Tibetan men and women have attempted self-immolation;  defiant monks of the Kirti monastery have been detained without trial in a military camp in Sichuan; many monks and others were forcibly subjected to what the Chinese call "re-education". During these re-education classes, they are forced to denounce the Dalai Lama and swear loyalty to the Chinese Government and Communist Party.

This grim situation, which initially started in Sichuan, subsequently spread to Qinghai and Gansu and is recently showing signs of spreading to Lhasa in the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) bordering India and Nepal. Lhasa saw two self-immolation attempts on 27 May  by monks who had come from outside the TAR.

Sources say that following the incidents in Lhasa, nearly about 3,000 members of the Chinese security forces have undertaken house-to-house enquiries to locate and arrest Tibetans who had come to Lhasa from outside the TAR and send them back to their provinces. About 600 local monks and others have reportedly been rounded up and shifted to a military camp of Lhasa for "re-education".

The details of the situation are well known to international human rights organisations, including  Human Rights Watch of the US. They have been highlighting these violations and demanding for over a year that international human rights observers should be allowed to visit the detention camp set up by Beijing in Sichuan, but the Chinese authorities have contemptuously ignored these demands.

They have also been ignoring the periodic exhortations from Washington to resume talks with the representatives of the Dalai Lama. The Chinese have repeatedly made it clear that any talks with the representatives of the Dalai Lama will relate only to the personal future of the Dalai Lama - and not on the future of the Tibetan areas. They do not recognise the Dalai Lama's right to negotiate on behalf of the Tibetan people.

In the face of this political deadlock and deteriorating human rights situation, Tibetans had hoped that during her recent visit to Beijing, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton would take up vigorously the grim human rights situation in Tibetan areas. But these hopes were belied.

It is this disappointment and frustration that are reflected in the decision by two senior advisers of the Dalai Lama—Lodi Gyari and Kelsang Gyaltsen—to resign from leadership positions in the team constituted by the Dalai Lama to hold talks with the authorities of the Chinese Communist Party from time to time.

In an announcement, they "expressed their utter frustration over the lack of positive response from the Chinese side". While they have attributed their resignations, which have been accepted by the Tibetan Government-in-exile, to their frustration over the negative Chinese attitude, it is reliably understood that the hesitation of the Obama Administration to vigorously take up with Beijing the grim human rights situation has also contributed to their frustration, but they have not mentioned so in public.

The Dalai Lama, who is no longer involved in the day-to-day running of the Government-in-exile, has not so far commented on the resignations, but it is unlikely that the two would have taken the decision without informally consulting him beforehand. Beijing is unlikely to be moved by their resignations. It is to be seen what impact it has on the Obama Administration.

A statement issued by the government-in-exile after accepting their resignations urged Beijing to accept the Dalai Lama’s "middle-way" approach, which seeks genuine autonomy for Tibetans within China and within the framework of the Chinese constitution. It said, "This is a win-win proposition, which contributes to PRC’s unity, stability, harmony and its peaceful rise in the world."

The Tibetan task force on the negotiations with Beijing will be expanded and will meet again in December to discuss the Chinese leadership transition (that is scheduled for October), with the hope of continuing a dialogue with the new Chinese leaders to peacefully resolve the issue of Tibet, the statement said.

Tibetans see no likelihood of any forward movement in addressing their grievances in view of the forthcoming leadership transition in Beijing and the US Presidential elections. The government-in-exile has, therefore, decided to wait till the end of the year. What impact this will have on the grim ground situation in the Tibetan areas remains to be seen.

B Raman is Additional Secretary (Retd) in the Cabinet Secretariat, Government of India. He is currently Director of the Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai; and Associate at the Chennai Centre for China Studies. Republished with permission from the Chennai Centre for China Studies. 

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Updated Date: Jun 06, 2012 17:49:41 IST