Negotiations about where to hold the resumed talks between Beijing and representatives of the Dalai Lama (or more accurately, talks about resuming the meetings that were held from 2002 until 2007 when Beijing canceled after the DL was awarded the Gold Medal by the U.S. Congress) have been going on in recent days with the aim of getting together for two or three days starting Saturday or Sunday. After the first talks we should have a slightly better idea if there have been any real changes in Beijing’s attitude because of the events of March 14 which, whatever else you say about them, were a wake up call that the way the region has been administered in recent years was not working. On the evidence of the continuing arrests, imprisonments, ongoing unrest and the huge “patriotic education” campaign, there’s little reason to suspect there will be any change in attitude. The patriotic education campaign is particularly odd. From a public order point of view it is logical enough from the point of view of officialdom to round up suspects and imprison ringleaders to prevent further trouble. But to try and use old fashioned Communist propaganda techniques of mass campaigns, self criticism and forced denunciation of the Dalai Lama seems totally counterproductive. When I was in Xinjiang (story here for background) I talked with Uighurs there who had to sit through up to six hours a week of such campaigns (though milder than that current being conducted in Tibet) and they unanimously said that having to mindlessly parrot the Party line on East Turkestan Independence, the March 14 troubles etc. etc caused those opposed to Chinese rule to become even more set against the Chinese administration and pushed those sitting on the fence in the same direction. Surely the same thing must be true in spades in Tibet, where (admittedly partisan but as we aren’t allowed in to Tibet, its hard to confirm anything) reports by activists such as the International Campaign for Tibet (link here but those inside China will need a proxy) say that there have even been suicides by those traumatized by the desecration of the Dalai Lama’s image. These old habits are rooted, I believe, in the fact that many of the officials now senior in the Tibet administration came of age during the Cultural Revolution and can’t shake the mindset or the idea that highly aggressive campaigns and intimidation can win hearts and minds.
Clearly, though, the Chinese government’s attitude to the Tibet issue–and the conclusions drawn after 3.14–are not monolithic. On the one hand there’s the conciliatory tone of Premier Wen Jiabao in Laos at the beginning of April and the offer to hold talks. On the other there’s patriotic reducation and the endless stream of denunciations like that in the China Daily saying today that the DL is “spewing lies” and other familiar calumnies. We’ll have to wait and see who wins the argument.
Incidentally, both President Hu Jintao and the Dalai Lama made the 2008 list of Time’s 100 most influential people in the world, published this week. Link here to see Henry Kissinger on Hu and Deepak Chopra on the DL.