इंद्रप्रस्थ विश्व संवाद केन्द्र

Part 1 of the three-part essay. 


Observers of Beijing-Dharamsala relations are these days keenly focused on the chances of Dalai Lama visiting China for a Buddhist pilgrimage to Wutai Shan. The issue might look casual or insignificant to the uninitiated who will see nothing special about a religious leader visiting a pilgrimage site. But knowing Tibet’s place in China’s geo-political aspirations and the significance of present Dalai Lama in their future game, this probable event holds the potential of changing geo-political discourse of Asia far more than any eventful development of this region in recent decades.


Signals emanating from Dharamsala over recent years have led to speculations among many Tibet watchers that despite the eight-year long dialogue (2002-2010) having failed and stalled abruptly by Beijing, the talks are still on, though at some different levels. Many among Tibet-China watchers feel that an influential section among Tibetan exile leadership is keen to pull a deal between Dalai Lama’s ‘Central Tibetan Administration’ (CTA) in Dharamsala and the Chinese rulers of Tibet. Or, at least, to send him on a visit to China before it is too late for the ageing Tibetan leader.


Clear signals from Beijing


Though senior functionaries in Dharamsala have been maintaining strict secrecy, yet recent developments, including an unpublicised meeting of a minister ranking Chinese official with Dalai Lama in Dharamsala few months ago, have not gone unnoticed from the prying eyes. And now a chain of signals from Beijing and other quarters confirm that Chinese leaders are desperate to receive the former exiled ruler and supreme religious leader of their colony  — even if this visit is short and just for a ‘pilgrimage’.


Hu Shisheng, an important Chinese brain on Tibet related issues and a Director at the China Institute of Contemporary International Relations (CICIR), run by the State Council of China, said on 24th February this year in Beijing that Dalai Lama’s pilgrimage to Mount Wutai (Wutai Shan) would be a ‘historic event’  and… ‘really a breakthrough’. In another commentary, published a day before President Xi Jinping visited India, China’s Sina.com quoted ‘informed sources familiar with the situation’ as saying that Dalai Lama’s return to China would be a ‘win-win’ situation.  Chinese media has widely quoted Wu Yingjie, the Deputy Secretary of Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) as saying that the talks with Dalai Lama’s personal envoy about Dalai Lama’s return were ‘proceeding smoothly’. On 2nd Oct 2014 the French news agency AFP even quoted Dalai Lama from Dharamsala as telling its reporter that he was in informal talks with Beijing over his ‘long held wish to make a pilgrimage trip to China’.


War of wits?


It was exactly nine years ago on 10th March 2006 when Dalai Lama used his annual address on the national ‘Uprising Day’ of Tibet at Dharamsala to publicly express his desire to visit China for a pilgrimage. His statement came in the middle of ongoing talks between his envoys and Beijing. Observers initially thought that this statement was yet another salvo in the ongoing war of wits between him and Beijing. People around Dalai Lama believed that his visit to Tibet or China would attract a Tsunami of Chinese and Tibetan believers which would increase his bargaining power with Beijing.


Beijing: From cold to warm


But his statement was greeted with the usual sarcastic contempt that Beijing rulers have always kept reserved for the Dalai Lama since China occupied Tibet in 1951 and his subsequent escape to exile in 1959. On 13th April, 2006 Qi Xiaofei, Vice-Director of the Chinese state administration for religious affairs said, “The Dalai Lama is not only a religious figure, but is also a long-time stubborn secessionist who has tried to split his Chinese motherland and break the unity among different ethnic groups.”


Interestingly in July same year rumours of Dalai Lama visiting Kumbum, the most revered monastery near Dalai Lama’s birth place in Qinghai, spread like a wild fire. Soon the town was flooded with thousands of Tibetan and Chinese devotees to have a view of him. But as soon as the crowds started reaching a critical level the Chinese government media announced that it was a hoax and security forces pushed out the crowd. Observers believe that it was a well planned Chinese move to have a fair idea of and to prepare in advance for the public reaction if Dalai Lama actually comes on a visit.


China singing, or are these alarm bells?


After a gap of nine years this sudden 180 degree turn in Beijing’s response to the idea of Dalai Lama’s visit to China clearly reflects a new kind of self confidence which is replacing the characteristic irritability, scepticism and even fear psychosis demonstrated by the Chinese leaders on anything related to Dalai Lama or Tibet over past six decades. It is this very change in the Chinese gestures and public articulation which deserves serious attention of the Dalai Lama, his advisors and his supporters when they sit to weigh the advantages and risks of the Tibetan leader’s proposed pilgrimage to China or fresh negotiations with Beijing.


Looking back at how deftly Beijing and Dharamsala have been playing their cards in past two decades, one cannot escape the stark contrast. While Beijing has been making impressive strides on almost every front to improve its grip on Tibet and check-mate the international opposition to its Tibet policy,  Dharamsala has been consistently frittering away all the advantages and virtues that Dalai Lama and his fellow Tibetans had earned with great efforts since 1950s in their struggle against Chinese occupation of Tibet.


Beijing turning tables on Dharamsala?


World has been watching with great admiration how a friendless Tibet and a powerless Dalai Lama of 1950-60s had moved gradually from near total oblivion to a star darling of the democratic world, especially the West by 1990s. Until the end of last Century, no Chinese leader had the guts to move openly in over three quarters of the globe without being jeered, accosted or shouted at by supporters of Tibet. In sharp contrast, the Dalai Lama was being decorated with the highest of awards; presented Mayor’s Keys to almost every city that could boast of having a door; received standing ovations at some of the most powerful Parliaments and; cheered like a rock star by ecstatic crowds at overflowing Olympic stadiums across the globe.


It was not too long ago when Tibetan flag waving supporters all over the world could virtually block the Olympic torch’s ceremonial journey to Beijing. Yet another campaign of international Tibet supporters around the turn of Century forced the World Bank to ask Beijing government to either withdraw its application for funding the ‘West China Poverty Reduction Project’ or get it rejected. Because the project aimed at promoting Han migration to Tibet through its economic development and the demonstrators did not want World Bank to finance such a project.


But things have been changing slowly and decisively in favour of China in recent years. So much so that the Belgian government was forced to join the league of countries like Thailand and Sri Lanka as it was forced by Beijing to refuse visa to Dalai Lama in 2006 just a week before he was scheduled to inaugurate the biggest ever international conference of Tibet Support Groups in Brussels. Only the other day South Africa expressed its inability to let Dalai Lama enter the country to participate in the world conference of Nobel Laureates just because it did not dare to make Beijing unhappy. And so much is the clout of Beijing that the Parliament of Spain was forced to rewrite parts of its constitution overnight last year so that the Supreme Court of Spain could not implement its judgement on two cases which related to human right excesses in Tibet by China. If implemented, this judgement would have forced the Interpol to arrest five senior Chinese leaders who included Hu Jintao,  Li Peng and Jiang Jemin on their next travel to any country.




(writer Vijay Kranti is a Senior Journalist with special interests in Tibet and China) 


(Part 2 of this essay will be published tomorrow)