Why Beijing Needs the Dalai Lama

Despite Beijing’s description of recent riots in Tibet and nearby provinces as having been “masterminded and incited by the clique,” Tony Karon of Time magazine argues that in the final analysis the Dalai Lama and China will need to work together:

Despite the intensity of the confrontation between the Chinese authorities and Tibetan protestors, Beijing and the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, appear to be subtly acknowledging the extent to which they need each other. But you have to read past the pungent rhetoric to see that. …

Beijing and the Dalai Lama are a long way from productive dialogue right now, of course, and each side sees reason to mistrust the other. …

Still, both sides may have an incentive to find a bridge over the gulf that separates them. …

Despite their deep differences, then, Beijing and the Dalai Lama share a preference for resolving the current conflict peacefully, on the basis of Tibet remaining part of China — albeit with sharply different ideas on the extent of its autonomy. The problem for both sides is that the longer the confrontation persists, the slimmer the chance of effecting such a solution.

Meanwhile, the New York Times reports that many young Tibetan exiles in India have rejected the Dalai Lama’s “middle way” approach and are advocating more forceful calls for independence:

…A handful of radical Tibetan exile groups have said angrily that the “middle way” has achieved nothing in nearly 30 years. They have called for an Olympic Games boycott, burned Chinese flags and refused to call off a march from here to Lhasa, Tibet’s capital, which he has called impractical in opposing a mighty state intent on using force.

So the question arises of whether the Dalai Lama, who has spent the last 49 years here in India and built one of the most powerful exile movements in the world, is out of touch with his own people. Or is this monk, regarded by his followers as a reincarnation of Buddha, the ultimate political pragmatist?

There is no clear answer. Whether his doggedly conciliatory posture will ever assuage China’s government, or whether his allies will intensify pressure on China on his behalf remains a mystery.

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