Robert Barnett: A Way out of Tibet’s Morass

Tibet expert Robert Barnett offers his suggestions of how both sides can work to increase understanding and decrease tensions over Tibet:

Western governments have been accused of interference, but it is unlikely that any want to derail their relations with China, especially during an economic crisis. Last October, British Foreign Minister David Miliband was so anxious to maintain Chinese good will that he came close to denouncing his predecessors’ recognition of Tibet’s autonomy 100 years ago. But foreign concerns about the status of China’s mandate in Tibet are understandable: Tibet is the strategic high ground between the two most important nuclear powers in Asia. Good governance on the plateau is good for everyone.

China could help to lessen growing tensions by recognizing these concerns as reasonable. The Dalai Lama could cut down on foreign meetings and acknowledge that, despite China’s general emasculation of intellectual and religious life in Tibet, some aspects of Tibetan culture (like modern art, film and literature) are relatively healthy. Western observers could accept the exiles’ assurances that their proposals on autonomy are negotiable and not bottom-line demands, rather than damning them before talks start.

All sides would gain by paying attention to two Tibetan officials in China who dared to speak out last month. A retired prefectural governor from Kardze told the Singapore paper Zaobao that “the government should have more trust in its people, particularly the Tibetan monks,” and the current Tibet governor admitted that some protesters last year “weren’t satisfied with our policies,” rather than calling them enemies of the state, the first official concession from within China that some of its policies might be connected to the recent protests.


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