Dalai Lama talks unlikely to bring success

China’s offer to hold talks with aides to the Dalai Lama is unlikely to bring a breakthrough on Tibet, experts cautioned on Saturday, saying it was a PR exercise ahead of the Beijing Olympics.

Chinese state media said on Friday that government officials would meet soon with a representative of the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader, although China has given no other indication of a softening of its position on Tibet.

While welcoming the move, Tibet experts said it looked like a desperate bid to defuse mounting international pressure over China’s controversial crackdown on unrest in Tibet with less than four months before the Olympics.

Protests about last month’s crackdown in the Himalayan region have cast a showdow over the Olympic torch relay, which China had hoped would symbolise its rising status and pride in hosting the August Games.

“Who says China has blinked? This invitation takes the wind out of the Tibetans’ campaign of protests ahead of the Olympics, which was becoming a matter of huge concern for China,” said Anand Ojha, a China-Indian political analyst at Delhi University.

China has mercilessly vilified the Dalai Lama, blaming him for the deadly anti-Chinese riots in Tibet that triggered a military crackdown that exiled Tibetan leaders say left more than 150 dead.

Beijing insists no one died as it restored order, but that Tibetan rioters killed 20 people.

Beijing gave no specifics on the talks — details that are key to determining whether China is sincere in resuming a dialogue last held in July 2007, Tibet experts note.

Observers have blamed the failure of past rounds of the secretive talks on the fact that Chinese negotiators were from a powerless division of a Communist Party body created to foster unity with overseas Chinese.

“The first indication of how serious China is will be if they send out someone more senior with real and substantive negotiating power,” said Andrew Fischer, a Tibetologist at the London School of Economics.

“As long as it’s the United Front, this is unlikely to be more than just a dialogue,” he said referring the United Front Work department.

China’s rule of Tibet was thrust back into the world spotlight by the riots, the latest sign of deep resentment over what critics say has been six decades of Chinese religious and political oppression of the devoutly Buddhist region.

The Dalai Lama has accused China of “cultural genocide”.

While some experts fear the talks are a public relations exercise, others say it may indicate a realisation among some in government that its policy of fostering economic growth in Tibet has failed to win over the local people.

“It was not just the international pressure. This decision shows China must face its problems in Tibet, as it has not been able to quell the unrest despite a massive crackdown,” said Tsering Shakya, a Tibet historian at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver.

“Senior Chinese leaders realise they face a real problem in Tibet.”

But there is unlikely to be a substantive change in China’s stance toward Tibet until Beijing removes the region’s top official, Zhang Qingli, experts also said.

Zhang is known for his tough stance on dissent since taking over in Tibet in 2005 and before that, the western region of Xinjiang where China faces significant discontent among millions of Muslim ethnic Uighurs.

“What I think is that if the Communist Party is really interested in real negotiations, the first step is to sack [Zhang],” said Shakya.

“The things that he has done and the threatening and violent language he uses have been very disturbing.”

Fischer agreed, saying Zhang’s policy approach appeared to be “wipe out Tibetan culture and assimilate it into the mainland”.

“My hope is that this [offer of talks] will discredit the policies pushed heavily over the past five to ten years. The government is concerned that it has achieved growth but not stability,” he said. – AFP

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Dan Martin
Dan Martin
Award-winning storyteller, content marketer and nice guy in pursuit of a purposeful life.

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