Today, Tibetans all over the world -- at least, those outside their homeland -- will mark the 50th anniversary of the Lhasa uprising of 1959. That event culminated in the flight of the Dalai Lama and thousands of Tibetans into exile in India.
This year's commemoration must invoke somber reflection on the part of all stakeholders. Fifty years is a long time. China's great revolutionary leaders who were active in 1959 -- Mao Zedong, Zhou Enlai and Deng Xiaoping -- have long since gone. Many of the older generation of Tibetans who fled Tibet in the wake of the 1959 uprising, including my own parents, also are no more. Yet for Tibetans the tragic legacy of the 1950s still lives on, most painfully in the continued separation of the Tibetan people from our beloved Dalai Lama.
Surely the time has come to close this sad chapter, to resolve the longstanding dispute, and to allow the reunion of the Tibetan people with their cherished leader. Last year's disturbances across the Tibetan areas brought attention to the depth of the Tibetan dissatisfaction with the status quo. Similarly, the widespread protests against the Olympic torch relay in many cities across the world -- Asia, Europe and North America -- conveyed the wish of so many people in the outside world to see the Tibetan issue resolved.
Why is the Tibet question so intractable that no leader in Beijing has managed to resolve it so far? First there is the complexity of history, with claims and counterclaims pertaining to the ownership of Tibet. Second, in dealing with the Tibetans, Beijing is confronted with a people whose sense of a united nationhood stretches back at least as far as the seventh century. During that period, China's Tang emperor was compelled to offer a princess as a bride to the Tibetan Emperor Songtsen Gampo. With a language, culture and origin myths of their own, the Tibetans have a powerful sense of their distinction and a deep historical consciousness. These are aspects of the Tibetan identity that will continue to be passed from generation to generation, regardless of the political contingencies of a given period.
Yet now is the best time in a long time to achieve a just solution. During Mao's era, one might argue, the People's Republic of China had to spend much of its time addressing problems arising from its birth and growth into a modern nation. Deng's priority was to take China through a careful transition into an effective market economy. Perhaps neither felt he could afford to give the Tibetan issue the commitment and attention necessary for its successful resolution. Today, China is an increasingly confident nation gradually emerging as an important global power, which, given its antiquity, size and economy, is its rightful place. So Beijing today is well-placed to resolve the longstanding issue of Tibet.
What then might be the best way to proceed? For both sides, there is not much to gain from invoking history to contest the legitimacy of each other's claims. For the Tibetans, the facts on the ground are such that, whether we like it or not, today Tibet is part of China. Tibetans need to understand that any proposed settlement that fails to respect the territorial integrity of modern China will be unacceptable to any government in Beijing.
Beijing, meanwhile, needs to recognize the legitimacy of the Tibetan people's aspiration to protect the integrity of our language, culture and identity. Although Beijing recognizes Tibetan language and culture formally, policies in Tibet still undermine the survival of that identity. Beijing could allow Tibetan to be the language of primary education as well as introducing it in the governmental and public services in the Tibetan-speaking areas. Greater religious freedom is also crucial, including allowing Tibetans to again display images of the Dalai Lama in their homes. Beijing must also ensure that the demography on the Tibetan plateau is not threatened in a manner that makes the survival of the Tibetans as a people impossible. These steps could go a long way toward assuring Tibetans that China acknowledges and respects their distinctiveness.
If these basic premises are honored on both sides, all other issues will be details. This is exactly the principle upon which the Dalai Lama's efforts over the last three decades are based. This also appears to be the spirit behind Deng's now famous statement, made to the Dalai Lama's envoy, that "except for Tibet's independence everything can be discussed."
Beijing has already nominally accepted this solution by designating the Tibetan areas as the Tibet Autonomous Region, Tibetan AutonomousPrefecture and TibetanAutonomous Counties in other provinces like Gansu, Sichuan and Qinghai. It needs only to implement fully the letter of its own laws. The Tibetan side has also been ready to work from this premise. In October, at the eighth round of meetings since renewed contacts began in 2001 between Beijing and the Dalai Lama's representatives, the Dalai Lama's side offered a substantive proposal entitled Memorandum on Genuine Autonomy for the Tibetan People, which envisioned how such an arrangement could be implemented. At an important subsequent gathering in Dharamsala, the Tibetan exile representatives reaffirmed their full support to the Dalai Lama's approach.
Beijing now has the opportunity to exercise magnanimity and bring this sad chapter on Tibet to a dignified close. Failure to reach a solution while the Dalai Lama is alive will only serve to make the dispute even more intractable. The legitimacy of Beijing's rule in Tibet may be questioned for many more decades to come.
Mr. Jinpa is the principal translator for the Dalai Lama.
|Available for $7.00 plus shipping and handling: www.savetibetstore.org|
|Tibet: Lhasa and Beyond, takes readers from town to town, offering them a chance to get to know these places and the Tibetans who call them home. Each month features a different hometown, highlighting the significance of the area and juxtaposing it with Tibetans’ political turmoil.|