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?”