- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 6, 2005

Chinese President Hu Jintao and the rising generation of Chinese leaders represent the best chance in 50 years for a breakthrough on the Tibet issue, said Lodi Gyari, the personal envoy and chief political adviser to the Dalai Lama for the last 25 years.

Mr. Gyari — who, like the Dalai Lama, is revered in Tibetan Buddhism as “Rinpoche” or senior reincarnated lama — spoke in an interview with The Washington Times last week about his years of negotiations with Beijing.

The Dalai Lama arrives in Washington today for a week of meetings and lectures, including a White House visit with President Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

Bush, Hu to meet

“His Holiness, the Dalai Lama, will ask President Bush to convey his sincerity [to President Hu when they meet Nov. 19], of his commitment to finding a solution with the People’s Republic of China, that he is not seeking independence for Tibet and that resolving the issue of Tibet will only bring more stability to the region and the world,” Mr. Gyari said in his International Campaign for Tibet (ICT) office off Dupont Circle.

While Mr. Gyari has been visiting China and negotiating with Chinese officials as the Dalai Lama’s personal representative since 1982, he said that in the latest round of talks, begun in 2002, there has been a subtle but tangible shift.

“The people we are dealing with now are far more self-confident. If you are dealing with people who are afraid of their shadows, you can’t accomplish much,” he said. On earlier trips, he said, he was treated well, but had to endure long, one-sided lectures. Now for the first time, he said, both sides are actually talking.

“There are still a lot of things we do not agree on. There are fundamental differences. The gap is wide, but we are talking. And talking is better than not talking,” he said.

Hu oversaw crackdown

The Chinese president himself is another reason for hope, Mr. Gyari said. Mr. Hu spent four years in Tibet, from 1989 through 1992, and was in charge of overseeing a crackdown on Tibetan dissidents. Some Tibetans interpret that to mean that, as president, Mr. Hu is a hard-liner and closed to dealing with Tibetans. Mr. Gyari sees things differently.

“He was the most important agent of the Chinese government in Tibet for four years. … Maybe I am an optimist, but my feeling is that [Mr. Hu] did not go out of his way to be an oppressor,” Mr. Gyari said earlier in a press conference at the National Press Club.

He conceded that while China appears to be cracking down on press and religious freedoms, there are other hopeful signs. For example, there is talk that Mr. Hu plans to reinstate disgraced former Chinese Communist Party leader Hu Yaobang, who was dismissed in 1987 for leniency toward student protesters and openness to Western ideas.

Mr. Gyari said the disgraced leader, who was a mentor of the current president, was “exceptionally forward-thinking” regarding Tibet, and if reinstated, it is possible that Mr. Hu might also show openness toward Tibet and to dealing with the Dalai Lama.

Mr. Gyari said his office is asking supporters of Tibetans to neither protest, nor do anything else to embarrass the Chinese government, in order to create the “right environment” so the next session of talks can take place — hopefully, before year’s end.

But he warned that China must not “dillydally,” and begin direct talks with the Dalai Lama soon if it wants to find a solution to the Tibet issue.

“His Holiness is 70 years old and in excellent health, but Buddhism teaches the impermanence of all things. All of us must think about the time when His Holiness is no longer with us,” Mr. Gyari said.

He said many Tibetans consider the loss of independence a betrayal, a concession to the Chinese that only the Dalai Lama could sell.

“The vast majority of the Tibetan people, inside and outside Tibet, young and old have deep resentment toward the Chinese … the majority find [giving up independence and other concessions] difficult to accept, but they trust His Holiness and, without hesitation, would solidly abide by and respect his decision,” Mr. Gyari said.

Benefits for China, too

He said that by dealing with the Dalai Lama, China benefits as well.

“The Chinese also seek legitimacy of their invasion and occupation. In an instant, with an agreement with the Dalai Lama, they get the legitimacy they seek and are no longer an occupying force,” he said.

Mr. Gyari stressed that the Tibetan government in exile no longer demands independence from China, only a measure of autonomy in regulating Tibetan affairs.

In the same way Beijing granted Hong Kong vital economic freedoms in its “One Country-Two Systems,” model, the Dalai Lama seeks a similar autonomy to protect the Tibetan language, culture and religion.

“The Chinese Constitution explicitly promises this. We will remain part of the People’s Republic of China … but Tibetans are being threatened and are in danger of losing their identity,” he said.

He said the issue of a boy recognized by the Dalai Lama in 1995 as the 11th Panchen Lama is an illustration of what is at stake. In response, Beijing selected an alternative “Panchen Lama” and the original boy and his family have been held incommunicado by Chinese authorities ever since.

“Why does an atheistic government want the final say about reincarnation? Let the voice of the Dalai Lama be the final voice. On political boundaries or the United Nations, Beijing should decide. On reincarnation, this should be in our cup, not their cup,” he said.

Mr. Gyari was born to a nomadic family in eastern Tibet in 1949. Recognized at an early age as the reincarnation of a lama, he received a traditional monastic education. After the Chinese invasion in 1949, his parents were freedom fighters in the Tibetan resistance, following the Dalai Lama into exile in 1959. Two of his brothers were killed by the Chinese. As a member of the Dalai Lama’s inner circle, Mr. Gyari has been involved in Tibetan politics ever since.

Considered an appeaser

He described his work for the Dalai Lama as the “most difficult” responsibility he has ever had, but dismissed rumors within the Tibetan community that he will resign soon.

He works with the ICT, a nongovernmental organization despised by Beijing for embarrassing the Chinese internationally with protests, films and rock concerts. By contrast, many Tibetans consider Mr. Gyari an appeaser, too willing to negotiate too much to the Chinese for nothing in return.

“Even if we reach a result, the vast majority will not be satisfied, and many will feel we have let them down. I’ll be labeled a betrayer or a sellout, and I’d respect such a sentiment. Tibetans have every right to expect more. I clearly understand there will be no reward. I do this for the love of my leader and the love of my people,” he said.

Mr. Gyari, who lives with his wife and six children in Virginia, said that the near future represents perhaps the only opportunity to resolve the Tibet issue because some Chinese officials believe that once the Dalai Lama is gone, Tibet will resolve itself. Mr. Gyari called this thinking “dangerous.”

“The Chinese should be as anxious to find a solution as we are. If they want a solution, they must not dillydally … . No other Tibetan leader, no other Dalai Lama could make an announcement that he is not going to ask for the re-establishment of Tibet as an independent state. The Dalai Lama in not the problem. The problem was created by Chinese policies. The Dalai Lama is the solution,” said Mr. Gyari.

“This is an opportunity that the Chinese leaders must not lose. If anything were to happen, and God forbid, His Holiness the Dalai Lama were not able to go back [to Tibet], for generations the Tibetan people would not forgive the Chinese.”

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