No progress in eighth round of dialogue as Chinese reject autonomy proposal

Chinese official Zhu Weiqun today categorically denounced an autonomy proposal presented by the Dalai Lama’s envoys during the eighth round of dialogue last week in an uncompromising stance that counters the hopes of Tibetans for genuine autonomy in their homeland (see Xinhua). By rejecting the Dalai Lama’s Middle Way approach as “disguised independence” and openly speculating over his death, the Chinese position will increase resentment and frustration among Tibetans.

In the most recent round of the Tibetan-Chinese dialogue (October 31 – November 5), the Tibetan side presented the most detailed and substantive document offered by either side in six years of talks: a memorandum that articulated a concept of genuine autonomy for Tibetans within the People’s Republic of China. The proposal was specifically requested by the Chinese side in the May 2008 round.

Rather than use the proposal as a starting point for earnest negotiations, the Chinese side summarily rejected it and resorted to well-worn anti-Dalai Lama rhetoric. In an unprecedented press conference in Beijing, Zhu, who is the Executive Vice Minister of the United Front Work Department (UFWD) of the Chinese Communist Party, declared that “We will never make a concession” on the Tibet question while simultaneously asserting that Tibetans should “shoulder full responsibility” for “lack of progress.”

The current impasse fails to meet the expectations of the international community for progress in Tibetan-Chinese relations. After the first round of dialogue in September 2002, the U.S. Government expressed hope that “substantive dialogue between the Chinese government and the Dalai Lama or his representatives [would] lead quickly to a negotiated settlement on questions related to Tibet.” This position has been reiterated by governments around the world consistently for six years.

In stark contrast, Chinese rhetoric confirms a lack of progress by characterizing the dialogue as nothing more than private discussions about the disposition of the Dalai Lama.

At the press conference, Zhu said the Middle Way approach of the Dalai Lama, who has repeatedly rejected seeking independence, was tantamount to Tibetan independence and was unacceptable to Beijing. According to a Xinhua news report, Zhu called on the Dalai Lama to “do something beneficial” for the Tibetan people before he passes away, and “reiterated that the door for the Dalai Lama’s return to a patriotic stance had always been open and would remain open.” Zhu also repeated old demands, such as insisting the Dalai Lama rewrite history by stating that “Tibet is part of China since ancient times.”

The Tibetan Envoys have announced that they will defer further comment on the 8th round until after they report on the dialogue at the November 17 – 22 Special General Meeting called by the Tibetan government in exile at the advice of the Dalai Lama. The calling of the meeting responds to the Dalai Lama’s frustration with Chinese intransigence on the dialogue and their ongoing repression in Tibet. This spring, demonstrations against Chinese misrule spread throughout Tibet and a security crackdown remains in place.

Zhu Weiqun will visit the United Kingdom this week and is expected to discuss the dialogue with officials at its Foreign and Commonwealth Office, which last week issued a strong statement in support of the dialogue process and the Dalai Lama’s ‘Middle Way’ approach towards a genuine autonomy for the Tibetan people.(http://savetibet.org/news/newsitem.php?id=1382)

Chinese President Hu Jintao is scheduled to meet with world leaders at a global financial summit hosted by President Bush in Washington, D.C. on November 15. President Bush has consistently urged progress in the dialogue and called on Hu to meet directly with the Dalai Lama, a position also taken by his successor, President-elect Barack Obama.