Beijing Agrees to Talk to the Dalai Lama: II

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There has been a near unanimous global chorus of approval greeting Beijing’s announcement yesterday that it would resume talks with the Dalai Lama’s representatives. As I mention below, it’s definitely great news, given the alternative, which is more name-calling and stonewalling. But it’s hard to get any excitement up about prospects for real progress on the issue. Or indeed not to have something of a nagging feeling that this is all part of negotiating tactics by China to help cool the issue off, until at least after the Olympics.

There are stupendous obstacles to progress on both sides. As I mentioned in the previous post below, the Dalai Lama’s position on what a new autonomous region would compromise is one of them. And he himself is also constrained by his own support groups from appearing too weak, particularly the younger Tibetans in exile (as we have written here). There are also extremely tricky issues such as the presence –and future status–of large numbers of Han immigrants and the stationing of Chinese troops in the region, all of which would require very lengthy and complex talks to resolve. All you’d think enough to make real progress in these talks (which have been going on sporadically since the 1980s and were most recently stopped by Beijing when the U.S. Congress awarded the DL its Gold Medal last October) a vanishingly remote possibility.

But that’s not even taking into account the impediments stopping progress on the Chinese side. First there is the problem of rhetoric: the more Beijing vilifies the Dalai Lama personally (“jackal in monks robes” etc etc), the harder it will be to do an about face and convince the Chinese people, that, hey, he’s not so bad after all and he’s actually somebody we can do business with. Even more daunting, according to scholar Huang Jing is the institutional resistance to change. Huang, currently a visiting fellow at the University of Singapore’s East Asia Institute, probably understands as well as anybody on the planet how the Communist Party and the administrative organs of the country’s government actually rule China and how policy is formed and executed. He told me recently that there is a huge bulwark of entrenched officials (in the United Front Work Department, the Public Security Bureau, Foreign Affairs, the Religious Affairs department, the Communist Party in Tibet, the Minority Affairs department being the main culprits) who have spent decades shouting about “spilitism” and not only can’t image any other approach but would feel it was a threat to their iron rice bowls or livelihoods, which of course it would be. Thus, Huang says, you have essentially the entire Chinese establishment that administers Tibet opposed to a compromise solution that would inevitably not only have to acknowledge that the policies they have pursued in Tibet for the last 20 years are a failure but would likely cost them their jobs. No wonder there’s not much hope for a deal.