The Dalai Lama speaks with the Times (UK) as he begins his European tour. Very interestingly, he describes what might be a revolutionary change in position as far as a return to China.
In an unexpected shift of policy, he has four conditions which, if met, would permit him to return.
I analyze and discuss these four conditions below.
Previously, the Dalai Lama has spoken of two primary conditions: high degree of autonomy (similar to that of Hong Kong), and the creation of a “greater Tibet” for all ethnic Tibetans. Both of these are basically non-starters for most Chinese; I reject the idea that 1/4 of our country should be carved out for an ethnically pure “homeland”, and I reject a political solution that sets up the necessary conditions for the eventual transition to independence published by the Dalai Lama.
If these two primary conditions are now gone and replaced with these four conditions… it’s a huge step towards a potential compromise. Although I’ve just written a blog criticizing the Dalai Lama for having horrible advisers when it comes to Chinese issues, these conditions show a much better understanding of what we care about.
1. opening up Tibet to the foreign media – “The first sign that the [Chinese] government is taking the world’s concerns seriously would be the opening of Tibet to foreign media,” he said. “They should be given free rein to report all that they find, whether it is good or bad.
This is something that many Chinese would support. He’s right to criticize restrictions placed on foreign reporters in the aftermath of 3/14; many Chinese were also critical of the decision. Although the Western media hasn’t been proven especially fair when it comes to understanding Chinese issues, keeping them from the area hasn’t silenced their voices, only allowed them to become more extreme in manufacturing facts.
Other than the Tibet issue, the successful experiences in 2008 should be proving to the Chinese government that the foreign media should not be feared. All Chinese citizens, including “sensitive” dissidents, have been openly available to the Western media for interview. Those who read Chinese news reports on a regular basis will have heard many of their voices over the past 3-5 months. The recent experience with earthquake reporting should also be proof that transparency is a positive.
2. medical help from the outside – “Secondly, it is important that the government accept medical aid from outside. “
This is a rather odd request… mostly because it doesn’t seem especially controversial.
3. release all non-violent political prisoners – “Thirdly, the government must release all political prisoners. Not those who have perpetrated violence, but all who have protested peacefully. Then there should be fair and open trials for those who did engage in criminal activity.” [H]e is quite explicit: it is right that any Tibetans who have caused criminal damage or physical harm should be prosecuted.
The Tibet government-in-exile has previously demanded that “all political prisoners” must be released, without defining the term. There’s no possibility that the Chinese people could stomach the release of the criminals that we saw beating, assaulting innocent civilians on the streets of Lhasa.
It sounds like the Dalai Lama has been getting good advice, and he’s now clarified what the term means. And I applaud him for it. I don’t believe that there should be any “thought crimes” in modern China; those who did not participate in illegal criminal action should be released. Frankly, by all indications, this condition has already been met. New York Times’ Kristof interviews several Tibetan monks previously detained for political protests, who’ve since been released.
I also agree in the need for open/transparent/fair criminal trials, not just in Tibet, but throughout China.
4. basic human rights – “Finally, there need to be substantive discussions with a view to satisfying the Tibetan people’s aspiration to exercise their basic human rights.”
The Dalai Lama was anything but specific here, and that doesn’t leave us much room for discussion. I for one believe Tibetans (and all Chinese) should have the right to “exercise their basic human rights”, but it depends on how we exactly define these terms. If he means that the people should be allowed to worship the Dalai Lama as a religious/spiritual figure, I agree. If he means that the people should have the right to be taught in Tibetan or Mandarin, I also agree.
Bottom line, if this is really an accurate portrayal of what he is setting as basic conditions for a return to China, I’m very optimistic about a solution. There are many details here, but no major obstacles. This would set the scene for him returning to China as an average citizen, who happens to be a spiritual leader. He would continue to lecture to Tibetans (and all Chinese) as a religious leader, but he would have no political influence, and he would not be given the opportunity to again push for independence.
(Let me also reiterate an earlier point however: it’s a shame that the Dalai Lama makes these potentially very meaningful proposals in an English newspaper, but especially something like the Times. He could have instead chosen to share these via an interview with the NY Times, the Christian Science Monitor… or preferably Shijie Ribao, Phoenix TV, RTHK, or any number of other respected overseas independent Chinese news sources. This specific Times article, unfortunately, is filled with stomach-turning phrases that echo the worst of biased anti-China propaganda.)