Dialogue on Tibet: Past, Present and Future

While those at the polar ends of the Tibet debate may see it as a black and white issue, a few efforts have been made recently to show the complexity of the problems involved. China Pictorial, an official travel and photography magazine, reports on a conference recently held in Beijing to discuss the status and history of Tibet, attended by several China-based Tibet scholars and researchers and foreign journalists. The participants’ responses have been edited by China Pictorial:

Did the Tibetan people enjoy and freedom when the region was ruled by Dalai Lamas? Is it true, what some say, that China carries out “cultural genocide” in Tibet? Does Tibet need to develop and realize modernization?

In the past, in China, such questions were seldom discussed in public forums. Recently, however, hosted by the Tsinghua International Center for Communication Studies (TICCS) in Beijing, an in-depth discussion on issues concerning Tibet’s politics, history, religion, economy and culture was carried out among Tibetan scholars and Western journalists at an academic workshop entitled “An Intellectual Dialogue on Tibet: Present and Past.” The viewpoints exchanged during the academic workshop tangibly represent a real dialogue among Chinese and Western media, as well as a positive discourse within academic circles. Such forums will present to the world a more complete picture of Tibet issues, so as to settle disputes and strengthen mutual understanding.

In Foreign Policy Magazine, in an article titled “China’s West Bank?”, Alex Pasternack writes about ethnic tensions between Tibetans and Han Chinese, and acknowledges a subtle shift in tone on the issue from the Tibet government:

Last week, as Chinese police fanned out across the Tibetan plateau, the chairman of Tibet’s government made a hushed departure from the official line on the unrest that erupted into violence there last year.

“There were all kinds of people, some of whom weren’t satisfied with our policies, or had opinions about them, or because our government work hadn’t been fully completed,” told reporters at the National People’s Congress annual meeting in Beijing, veering from the government’s oft cited condemnation of the Dalai Lama and his “splittist” clique. “Not everyone was a splittist.”

If it was the conference’s most obvious and extreme understatement, it was also a rare public sign that Beijing grasps some of the complexity of its Tibetan quagmire.

But this brief burst of enlightenment may not amount to much. Against the backdrop of the 50th anniversary of a failed Tibetan uprising against Chinese rule — and as a raft of other ominous anniversaries loom in a year of economic hardship — government officials are marching on a tightrope that could snap at any moment.

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