Why Snub the Dalai Lama?
The China Post, Taiwan

The tumultuous situation in Tibet has come to a point where Beijing should no longer snub the Dalai Lama, the exiled spiritual leader of Tibetans, and begin dialogue with the man whom China's leadership has labeled as a "splittist."

There is great urgency for Beijing to resolve the unrest in Tibet, where violent protests broke out on March 14 when angry Tibetans took to the streets to "beat, smash, loot, and burn" businesses owned by ethnic Han Chinese. Since then, security forces have cracked down on rioters, fueling outcries from the international community and threats from several European leaders to boycott the Beijing Olympics.

U.S. President George Bush has urged mainland Chinese President Hu Jintao to open dialogue with the Dalai Lama (and Taiwan's Ma Ying-jeou to boot) to resolve the Tibetan issue peacefully. U.S. Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson, while visiting Beijing this week, conveyed to Hu Jintao Bush's concern over the situation in Tibet.

Tibet has been a thorn in the side of Beijing since the 1959 uprising in Tibet which resulted in the Dalai Lama's flight to India, where he set up his government in exile. Over the past decades, Beijing has injected billions of dollars to rebuild the impoverished region with infrastructure construction and educational improvement. Beijing hoped that the rising standard of living would earn the hearts and minds of Tibetans to accept its rule.

But the violence last month was evidence that the policy had failed. Beijing's reaction was swift and visceral, sending security forces to quell the riot and pointing an accusing finger at the "Dalai Lama clique" which Premier Wen Jiabao said was the mastermind of the violence. Wen said the Dalai Lama's non-violence advocacy was nothing but "a sheer lie."

The Dalai Lama, meanwhile, was appealing to Beijing to engage in "meaningful dialogue" with him, saying that's the only way to resolve the Tibet problem. He reiterated his pledge of not seeking Tibet independence and his insistence of non-violence.

Despite the appeals from world leaders like George Bush and the Dalai Lama himself, Beijing appears inflexible, repeating the litany that the Dalai Lama must stop splittist activities and recognize that both Tibet and Taiwan are inalienable part of China. There is no sign that any dialogue will take place any time soon, if at all.

There is no reason for Beijing to continue snubbing the Dalai Lama, whose cause of seeking "genuine autonomy" for Tibet by peaceful means has earned the sympathy and support of the democratic world. The "soft power" in his possession is stronger than Beijing might think.

It is wrong for Beijing to believe that the Tibet issue can be resolved once and for all when the septuagenarian monk reincarnates. It is wrong for Beijing to think that it can afford to wait to let nature run its course. This can hardly resolve the problem. On the contrary, it would sow the seeds of more trouble after the moderate Dalai Lama dies.

Tibet has been part of China since ancient times. In the seventh century, princess Wen Cheng, daughter of Emperor Tang Taizong was sent to Tibet, then called Tufan, to marry a Tibetan king in a political marriage aimed at cementing ties between suzerain China and the faraway dependent state. Throughout the centuries, Tibet and China had maintained tenuous political ties but a close cultural and religious bond. Tibet had never been independent from China.

Tibet -- under communist China since the early 1950s -- has never been trouble-free. The eruption of violent protests last month could be the result of either Beijing's religious repression or a well-orchestrated plot by the "Dalai Lama clique" to sabotage Beijing's Olympics. Whatever the truth, it shows a simmering crisis that needs to be defused. Hu Jintao should show leadership in dealing with the problem.

Beijing is a world giant while the Dalai Lama's government in exile in India is powerless in comparison. For China to deal with the Dalai Lama, it behooves Hu to remember Mencius's teachings 26 centuries ago: Only the benevolent can treat the weak from the position of strength; only the wise can deal with the mighty from the position of weakness (). President Hu should display benevolence instead of arrogance toward the Dalai Lama to resolve the problem in Tibet.

Beijing has nothing to lose in opening dialogue with the Dalai Lama, but a lot to gain. The Olympics, China's coming out party, is barely four months away. The torch relay was begun in Beijing Tuesday with tight security when President Hu passed the flame to gold medal hurdler Liu Xiang. The Games have been the dream of the Chinese people for a hundred years, and nobody would like to see the Games spoiled by boycotts and protests. Hu Jintao's "harmonious society" would be in shambles if the 29th Olympics were remembered as "protest Olympics." But the nightmare won't go away if Beijing keeps showing intransigence.

President George Bush, who has promised Hu Jintao to come to China's elaborate, US$40 billion party , is under increasing domestic pressure to shun the Games' opening ceremonies. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, for one, has urged Bush to stay home if Beijing refuses to start dialogue with the Dalai Lama.

While Beijing has reasons to feel resentful towards the rebellious Tibetans, who are seen by Beijing as so ungrateful as to bite the hand that feeds them, the regime should do some soul-searching to find out what went wrong. Are there grievances, and why? Beijing has to admit that there is a human rights problem in Tibet, at least by Western standards. A dialogue with the Dalai Lama is the first step toward resolving the grievances and other issues that were the fuse detonating the time bomb of discontent.



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