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Why can't Xi shake the Monk's hand?

By Claude Arpi
November 19, 2015 15:03 IST
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'Why assail the Tibetan leader at a time when many in China realise that the Buddhist monk is the best bet if Beijing is seriously trying to find a solution to the Tibetan issue?' asks Claude Arpi.

The Dalai Lama with the former Archbishop of Canterbury Lord Williams, right, at Magdalene College in Cambridge, September 16.  Photograph: Darren Staples/Reuters

China has found a new definition for 'corruption.'

In an article posted on the Web site of the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection, -- the CCDI is responsible for the anti-corruption campaign -- Chen Quanguo, Tibet's Communist party secretary, made a strange declaration.

'Tibet's lack of oxygen and position at the frontline of fighting separatism,' Chen asserted, 'did not mean it ignored the battle against corruption.'

It is true that very few heads have rolled in Tibet so far. Only Le Dake, the head of the Tibetan Autonomous Region's dreaded Security Department, responsible for collecting 'hostile foreign intelligence' in Tibet and in India, has been demoted.

Le Dake's name had appeared in 2008 as the official responsible for a military/security cell to watch over Tibetans in order to 'save' the Olympic Games from hostile Western attacks.

Chen Quanguo now says officials 'who follow the Dalai clique, go abroad to pay respects to the 14th Dalai Lama and send children or relatives to schools run by the Dalai clique will also be punished.'

He announced that the TAR has already promulgated 15 regulations to investigate and severely punish party members who have no firm ideal and conviction and have an incorrect view on minority issues and profess no religious belief but secretly believe.

Already in April, the State Council (China's cabinet) released a White Paper about Tibet's development path. It was not the first White Paper published by the Chinese government on the subject. It was the 13th since the State Council first attempted to justify its position about 'ownership and human rights' in September 1992.

The main characteristic of this last avatar was a violent attack against the Dalai Lama. One could ask: Why assail the Tibetan leader at a time when many in China realise that the Buddhist monk is the best bet if Beijing is seriously trying to find a solution to the Tibetan issue?

The longish White Paper warned: 'The wheels of history roll forward and the tides of the times are irresistible... Any person or force that attempts to resist the tide will simply be cast aside by history and by the people.'

Beijing was mistaken about the tides' direction: Democracy, freedom of thought and speech are accepted concepts everywhere on the planet, except in the Middle Kingdom which seems to have passed into reverse gear under Xi Jinping's leadership.

The White Paper requested the Dalai Lama to 'put aside his illusions' about Tibet's future status. The timing of the publication was linked to the celebration of the 50th anniversary of the establishment of the Tibet Autonomous Region.

In 1965, Tibet was divided into five areas, about one third becoming the TAR, while other parts of historic Tibet were officially integrated into the Chinese provinces of Yunnan, Sichuan, Gansu and Qinghai. Divide and rule at its best.

Today, the irony is that Beijing still insists that it will nominate the next Dalai Lama. The Communist Party seems absolutely unable to see how illogical its stand is. Poor Karl Marx must turn in his tomb!

In March, as China's 12th National People's Congress opened with the usual fanfare at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, Padma Choling, the TAR's chairman, had already created a flutter by declaring: 'It's not up to the Dalai Lama to decide (about his own reincarnation).'

The Tibetan official was objecting to the Dalai Lama's earlier announcement saying that '(his) traditional religious role should cease with his death.'

Padma Choling affirmed that if the Dalai Lama decides about his reincarnation it will 'upset the reincarnation system that has been honoured for hundreds of years in Tibet and destabilise the Buddhist region.'

He added that the process 'should follow strict historical conventions and required religious rituals of Tibetan Buddhism... and be approved by the central government,' in other words the Chinese Communist Party.

Can you believe that according to Beijing, it is for the Communist Party of China to decide who will be the next Dalai Lama? It is the 'tradition,' they affirm!

Choling affirmed that the Dalai Lama stopping his own lineage is 'blasphemy against Tibetan Buddhism.'

How will the Communist Party choose the next Dalai Lama?

Probably like Gyaltsen Norbu, the current Panchen Lama anointed by the party, by falsifying the dies thrown out of a Golden Urn (incidentally, the rite had not been used for the previous two Dalai Lamas).

Chen's declaration came as President Xi Jinping met with his Taiwanese counterpart Ma Ying-jeou to try to take a step forward in the Beijing-Taipei relationship. The South China Morning Post commented: 'The talks, at a luxury hotel in the neutral venue of Singapore, lasted less than an hour but were heavy with symbolism.'

The two leaders, calling each other 'Mr' shook hands for 70 seconds before hundreds of journalists and photographers from all over the world. Xi declared: 'No force can pull us apart because we are brothers who are still connected by our flesh even if our bones are broken, we are a family in which blood is thicker than water.'

This raises a serious question: While efforts are being made to have a more 'normal' relationship with Taiwan, the relations over the Himalayas are getting tenser.

Why can't President Xi meet the Dalai Lama on 'neutral' ground and shake the monk's hand? After all, it is also in China's interests to sort out the Tibetan issue. Further, there is a serious human tragedy behind the 65-year old 'liberation' of Tibet.

This human aspect should be tackled first.

I can give the personal example of a close Tibetan friend of mine. As a small child, soon after her mother passed away, she was brought to India while her father stayed behind in Tibet. She went to Dharamsala in order to receive a good Tibetan education. That was 38 years ago.

In 2004, with other members of her family living in India, she had the opportunity to meet her father again for four hours after her father was literally smuggled into a remote monastery near the border between Nepal and Tibet.

Recently my friend's father became critically ill. She was unable to speak to him, the communications between India and Tibet being cut.

Her father passed away a few days ago, but she could not even phone her family in Tibet. And, of course, there was no question of attending the funeral. She eventually got some news through a relative in Nepal who was able to contact the family on the other side of the Himalayas.

With Party officials like Mr Chen who considers that any Tibetan official having contact with their relatives in India is 'corrupt,' the inhuman situation facing Tibetans inside and outside Tibet is bound to deteriorate further.

Why can't the Modi government take the initiative of bringing some humanity into the fate of the Tibetans?

If the North Koreans can meet South Koreans in designated places, why can't India and China agree on a few places along the border where relatives could meet from time to time?

It seems a small thing, but it would be a great step forward, a human step.

A meeting between Xi and the Dalai Lama could help make a breakthrough in this direction. In fact, it would be a great victory for China which dreams to become 'normal.'

IMAGE: The Dalai Lama with the former Archbishop of Canterbury Lord Williams, right, at Magdalene College in Cambridge, September 16. Photograph: /Darren Staples/Reuters

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