September 12, 2010
Waiting out the Dalai Lama may be a big mistake for China. Dealing with him now may be easier than what may follow in his wake. Lodi Gyari, the Dalai Lama's representative in Washington, writes this in the South China Morning Post, quoted yesterday in a blog post by New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof:
The third mindset is that China should wait until the passing away of the present Dalai Lama, when the Tibetan issue will naturally disappear. This thinking is based on the belief that a leaderless and disoriented movement would fragment into pieces and eventually become irrelevant. This is a misplaced mindset for many reasons, and very counterproductive to China’s own future. Those who subscribe to this view do not understand that fragmentation today no longer means irrelevance; it means radical unpredictability and vastly greater risk. Far from fading away, the Tibetan political movement will reinvent itself in the absence of the current, Fourteenth Dalai Lama, and become something far more complex and unmanageable in the process.
As Kristof points out, it's the Dalai Lama who has been the voice of restraint in the face of growing Tibetan unrest. Yet it was His Holiness himself who missed an opportunity to negotiate for peace in the 1980s, something Kristof considers a "historic miscalculation":
In the early 1980’s, Hu Yaobang and Zhao Ziyang were prepared to do a deal with the Dalai Lama — but it was His Holiness who balked. After the Cultural Revolution, the Tibetans just didn’t trust Beijing and thought time was on their side. They made a historic miscalculation in the 1980’s, and then the window for negotiation closed with the departure of Hu Yaobang and Zhao Ziyang. Maybe it’ll reopen with some future leadership team, but today’s Politburo is just not prepared to make the concessions necessary. Instead, it operates under the delusion that things will get better after the Dalai Lama dies.
Of course, we can't know what might have been negotiated but there is every indication that Kristof and Gyari are right when they contend that China's best chance at a peaceful resolution is now, while the Dalai Lama is alive. No one else is likely to command the universal respect among Tibetans that he does, at least not any time soon.
Photograph: Archival Tibet photographs © Associated Press