November 19, 2009

Tibet: a dialogue about what?

Speaking at the 5th World Parliamentarians Convention on Tibet, held in Rome yesterday, the Dalai Lama expressed his appreciation for the support given to him by Barack Obama, who on Tuesday discussed Tibet with China’s president, “making clear his respect for the Dalai Lama as a cultural and religious leader, and his intention to meet with the Dalai Lama at an appropriate time.” “We did note that while we recognize that Tibet is part of the People’s Republic of China, the United States supports the early resumption of dialogue between the Dalai Lama’s representatives and Beijing,” Obama said soon after his meeting with Hu Jintao.

Yet, notwithstanding the appointment of a special Tibet coordinator by the White House, with one of his characteristic laugh, His Holiness also noted the “limitations” to the support he could expect from the US. In fact, if the US recognizes that Tibet is nothing but a part of China, “What bargaining chips remain for the Dalai Lama to use with the Chi-Comms?” as rightly pointed out by Ralph Alter on American Thinker. As a matter of fact, Obama’s statement shocked the entire Tibetan community, said Tenzin Cheoying, the president of a voluntary, Students for Free Tibet.

As Dhondup Dorjee, vice president of the Tibetan Youth Congress, puts it,

“Whatever he (Obama) stated today, of course, Tibetans in general we welcome his appeal to the Chinese leadership in urging early resumption of dialogue, but a dialogue without any result, dialogue with lots of pre-conditions from the Chinese government and with no intentions to come to a solution, will reach us no where. So, we expect the President to take up the Tibet issue at a higher level, not at the mere usual common stand to encourage dialogue. And, what was the fate of the dialogue we have seen in the 80’s and even in the recent dialogue what happened.”

Very well said, if I may add. But then again, what has become more and more clear in the course of the last months is that times have changed, and much water has flowed under the bridge since the day that George W Bush met the Tibetan spiritual leader in public in a ceremony on Capitol Hill, a couple of years ago. Everything became clear when, last October, for the first time since 1991, a US President decided to postpone a meeting with the Dalai Lama until after this November summit between Obama and his Chinese counterpart, in order to maintain good relations with the Chinese government. Congressman Frank Wolf described the presidential snub as an embarrassment: “Economics should not trump human rights. You can do them both together and do them respectfully,” he said.

What we can say today is that President Obama “effectively forfeited the issue of Tibetan sovereignty in favor of Hu Jintao’s expansionist government,” as Ralph Alter puts it, and that

Obama’s October cancellation of a tentative meeting with the Dalai Lama, the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader, suggested that B.O. was looking for negotiating room in anticipation of his scheduled visit to Beijing. Despite Chinese forces torching Tibetan shops and attacking its citizens, it appears the U.S. President simply folded his hand, effectively tossing the Dalai Lama and his people into the crowded undercarriage beneath the Obama bus.

But most Americans, according to Alter, “are disgusted with B.O.’s determination to promote his ½ America principle.” Perhaps he’s right. As far as I am concerned, as a European by birth but an “American by philosophy,” I cannot but ask myself (once again): “Is this the America that the Founding Fathers would have wanted?”


  1. The ambiguity of Obama seems to be becoming his trade mark, especially in foreign affairs. He flirts with the Chinese government hailing a 'strong China' and then he tries to please Chinese students by extolling the virtues of Web freedom, also informing them that no one should be excluded from benefiting from 'Universal rights'.

    One of his first mistakes, to my mind re. foreign politics, was to suggest an open dialogue with Ahmadinejad 'without preconditions'. This virtually consists of a sell-out, and all more so in view of the events following the Iranian elections.

    Another disappointment, considering that Obama is supposed to represent the most democratic and freedom loving nation in the world, was his lack of support for Karzai's rival, Abdullah, who seems to care far more about defending the principles of democracy in Afghanistan, than Karzai. This also amounts to a shoddy (and risky) compromise adding more uncertainty to Nato's objective and reason of being in Afghanistan.
    Pressurising Karzai to purge Afghanistan of corruption when everyone knows that he was elected fraudulently is also a paradoxical epitome of incoherence.

    But the example regarding the Dalai Lama is even more flagrant. Indeed the statement would be far more honest and intelligible if it read- "As we recognise that Tibet is part of the People's Republic of China, there is absolutely no point in resuming any dialogue whatsoever between the Dalai Lama's representatives and Beijing"..

    Perhaps attempting 'to please all of the people all of the time', is more fatal than ever in our day and age.

  2. Is ther no end to Obamas readiness to talk and negotiate with the worlds worst.You have to give the man credit,he sure can talk....mainly through his rear.

  3. While being disappointed by the lack of stronger support for Tibetan claims by President Obama, I'd like to point out that the territorial independence claim has already be abandoned by the Dalai Lama (see Dalai Lama: Tibet Wants Autonomy, Not Independence for example).

  4. I’m sorry to tell you but this is a gross simplification. The so-called Middle-Way Approach “for genuine autonomy, and not independence” is something very different. Here is a brief explanation:

    “The Tibetan people do not accept the present status of Tibet under the People’s Republic of China. At the same time, they do not seek independence for Tibet, which is a historical fact. Treading a middle path in between these two lies the policy and means to achieve a genuine autonomy for all Tibetans living in the three traditional provinces of Tibet within the framework of the People’s Republic of China. This is called the Middle-Way Approach, a non-partisan and moderate position that safeguards the vital interests of all concerned parties-for Tibetans: the protection and preservation of their culture, religion and national identity; for the Chinese: the security and territorial integrity of the motherland; and for neighbours and other third parties: peaceful borders and international relations.
    Without seeking independence for Tibet, the Central Tibetan Administration strives for the creation of a political entity comprising the three traditional provinces of Tibet; Such an entity should enjoy a status of genuine national regional autonomy; This autonomy should be governed by the popularly-elected legislature and executive through a democratic process and should have an independent judicial system; As soon as the above status is agreed upon by the Chinese government, Tibet would not seek separation from, and remain within, the People’s Republic of China; Until the time Tibet is transformed into a zone of peace and non-violence, the Chinese government can keep a limited number of armed forces in Tibet for its protection; The Central Government of the People’s Republic of China has the responsibility for the political aspects of Tibet’s international relations and defense, whereas the Tibetan people should manage all other affairs pertaining to Tibet, such as religion and culture, education, economy, health, ecological and environmental protection; The Chinese government should stop its policy of human rights violations in Tibet and the transfer of Chinese population into Tibetan areas; To resolve the issue of Tibet, His Holiness the Dalai Lama shall take the main responsibility of sincerely pursuing negotiations and reconciliation with the Chinese government.”


    However, if anything, the recognition that “Tibet is part of the People’s Republic of China” couldn’t be the starting point of negotiations, but rather their point of arrival.

  5. US foreign policy doesn't vary much between Presidents (as is to be expected, diplomacy cannot flip-flop every 4 or 8 years).

    Differences are perhaps in style: GWB relied a little more on special personal relationships with world leaders, BHO relies a little more on international institutions.

    I don't think Tibet independence was ever considered in GWB policy with China. I couldn't find any quotation by Bush that expressed stronger feeling towards the Tibetans, even at the time of last spring uprising (perhaps you'll have more luck).

    Nor I think Tibet independence was supported by earlier Presidents. At least from Nixon on.

    If Tibetans have been "sold" by the USA, that sell happened long time ago.

    So, I think you're wrong in blaming BHO for a position that is exactly the one of his predecessors.

    As in other similar posts of yours, criticism of the current US President smells of ad hominem attack, rather than discussion of actual policies.