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The Dragon's steely grip

Some recent developments may indicate that Beijing is reviewing its policy on Tibet and the Dalai Lama. But don't read too much into them, writes Jayadeva RanadeSome recent developments may indicate that Beijing is reviewing its policy on Tibet and the Dalai Lama. But don't read too much into them, writes Jayadeva Ranade.

india Updated: Jul 01, 2013 02:22 IST

After the 18th National Congress of the Communist Party of China, Beijing has renewed its focus on Tibet, forced by the fact that discontent among Tibetans in the country is growing.

While some sections of the exiled Tibetan community speculate that Chinese President Xi Jinping would adopt a 'softer' policy towards them and the Dalai Lama, there are no indications that would happen in the near future.

On the contrary, the party's renewed emphasis on loyalty and political reliability has had an impact on the representation of Tibetans in the party. In 2011, Chen Quanguo, party secretary of the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR), confirmed that resource-rich Tibet would remain under central control.

He disclosed that surveillance has been strengthened across Tibet, financial inducements are being offered to monks and nuns and campaigns are underway in monasteries to help them adapt to a socialist society.

Security has been tightened and political power has been strengthened at all administrative levels by recruiting new party members from each village every year.

Despite these measures, the number of self-immolations in TAR and the Tibetan areas continue to mount, suggesting that Tibetans inside China are desperate. This has confused the Chinese leadership.

An analysis of the self-immolations by Wang Lixiong is revealing. It highlights that "courage and resilience" and "prayers for the Dalai Lama" are major motivating factors. It underscores that the core of the protest movement has shifted to Tibet and that Tibetans inside China have taken it up as their struggle.

The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) understands that there is a potential for increased unrest inside China and apprehend that the sentiments expressed by the protesting Tibetans could spread to the rest of the six million Tibetans.

It could as easily influence the majority Han population, notwithstanding the divide between them and the Tibetans, because of other existing dissatisfactions. An example is the essay by Tang Danhong, a Han Chinese poet and film-maker who now lives in Israel, which went viral on Chinese cyberspace in January. Her essay sought to express the desperation felt by the Tibetans in TAR.

To defuse the tension, Beijing has launched initiatives to win over Tibetan Buddhists settled in the Himalayan region with material inducements, undermine the Dalai Lama's influence and create schisms within the Tibetan community.

Two recent events indicate that China is probably reviewing its policy on Tibet and the Dalai Lama. On June 3, the Hong Kong Tibetan and Han-Chinese Friendship Organisation invited the Dalai Lama to visit the city.

A suspected pro-Beijing front, it is headed by Philip Li Koi-hop, bankrupt former head of the Hong Kong North West Express Shipping Company and now reportedly a marine inspector.

The other is the interview of Jin Wei of the CCP Central Party School in Hong Kong's Asia Weekly on June 6. Under the direct control of the Politburo Standing Committee, the Central Party School is the institution for training upwardly mobile party cadres and those who teach there are routinely tested for 'political reliability'.

Jin Wei, who has a background in minority nationalities issues, reveals important aspects of the Chinese leadership's thinking on the Tibet issue and the Dalai Lama. She recommended re-starting of talks between the CCP and the Dalai Lama's representatives — suspended since 2010 — and blamed the anti-religious bias of several TAR party secretaries for the discontent.

She suggested a separation of religion from politics but by describing the CCP's differences with "the Dalai Lama Clique" as "antagonistic and irreconcilable", she endorsed the continuation of Beijing's tough policy on Tibet.

She justified the resumption of talks, saying that the Dalai Lama is considered a 'living god' by six million Tibetans and China cannot 'treat him as an enemy'. Asserting that it is imperative to ensure the reincarnation of the Dalai Lama in China, she cautioned that a failure to achieve this would have a "great impact on the stability and security of the Tibetan region".

She recommended tackling easy issues first while setting aside the 'Middle Way' and others. The Dalai Lama's visit to Hong Kong or Macau and even to Tibet could be considered at a later stage.

Commenting on the feelings of Tibetans towards the Dalai Lama, she disclosed that people had told her: "In this life I depend on the Communist Party, in the next life I depend on the Dalai Lama!"

She interpreted the worship of the Dalai Lama as something without any political significance and "Tibetan independence" as an empty phrase. Perhaps for the first time providing an insight into the CCP leadership's thinking on self-immolations, she admitted they had mutated into an ethnic conflict between the Chinese and the Tibetans.

Jin Wei's interview suggests that the CCP could project flexibility in policies primarily to ensure the reincarnation of the Dalai Lama inside China. At the same time, Xi Jinping defined the parameters for negotiations, including on Tibet, by declaring in January that "no foreign country should ever nurse hopes that we will bargain over our core national interests" and "nor should they nurse hopes that we will swallow the bitter fruit of harm to our country's sovereignty, security and development interests".

Jayadeva Ranade is a member of the National Security Advisory Board and former additional secretary, Cabinet Secretariat, Government of India.

The views expressed by the author are personal.

First Published: Jun 30, 2013 23:06 IST