Helping Tibet in its Struggle for Freedom by Michael C. Van Walt WASHINGTON - The Dalai La

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Helping Tibet in its Struggle for Freedom by Michael C. Van Walt WASHINGTON - The Dalai Lama, Tibet's exiled head of state, recently completed visits to European countries. Despite strong Chinese pressure, this year's Nobel Peace laureate was received by senior government and party leaders in most of the countries he visited. In September he will visit the United States. Will the U.S. government welcome this advocate of peace and nonviolence? Or will the Bush administration continue to appease Beijing's aging dictator by refusing to do so? Will President Bush join Presidents Vaclav Havel, Oscar Arias, Carlos Salinas, V. P. Sing and others to welcome the Tibetan leader? Will he receive him as he received Nelson Mandela and Lithuanian Prime Minister Kazimeira Prunskiene, or will he miss the opportunity to play a constructive role in promoting a negotiated solution to the occupation of Tibet? Mandela and Prunskiene both represent struggles for freedom, one from a racist regime, the other from an alien occupation. The Tibetan struggle is against both, racist oppression and foreign communist occupation. The leaders of all three movements have called for negotiation and peaceful democratic change. The South African and Baltic struggles are by no means over, but F. W. de Klerk and Mikhail Gorbachev are responding with at least a willingness to consider reform. However, Deng Xiaoping, Li Peng and their colleagues respond with force; tanks, arrests, executions and torture. Just as the South African issue cannot be resolved until apartheid is dismantled, there can be no lasting solution to the Tibetan problem without a dismantling of the colonial Chinese system in Tibet. The similarities between the Baltic states and Tibet are striking. Both represent highly strategic areas. Both were forcibly occupied by a giant communist neighbor; the Baltic states in 1939, Tibet in 1949-50. Both have suffered demographic aggression (the transfer of millions of Russians and Chinese to the Baltic states and Tibet, respectively). The people and governments of the Baltic states claim, as do the Tibetan people and their government, that their nations are illegally occupied independent countries that were never legitimately annexed by the aggressor. The Baltic states are in the process of reclaiming the full sovereignty which such independence entitles them to recover. The course Tibet is following is not always as clear to the observer. Unlike the Baltic governments and citizen's representative bodies elected in each country, the Tibetan government and its elected parliament operate in exile, in India. They have been operating remarkably effectively from the North Indian town of Dharamsala for 31 years, keeping the struggle for freedom alive and rebuilding a nation in exile. The Tibetan government's objective has always been to regain Tibet's sovereignty in accordance with the wishes of the Tibetan people. In 1987, the Dalai Lama announced a five-point peace plan for the restoration of peace and human rights in Tibet. That plan called for respect for human rights and democratic freedoms; protection of the environment; and end to China's population transfer policy; and the transformation of Tibet into a demilitarized zone of peace and nonviolence. The plan also called for earnest negotiations between Tibet and China over the future of Tibet. The Dalai Lama expanded on his proposal for a negotiated settlement by suggesting the possibility of a "middle way" between the restoration of total independence for Tibet and its present complete absorption by China. These thoughts, which had been conveyed to Chinese leaders on numerous occasions by Tibetan officials, were made public during a visit to the European Parliament in Strasbourg, in June 1988. Essentially, the Strasbourg Proposal, as it later came to be known, suggested the restoration of complete self-government for Tibet but provided that China could retain overall responsibility for Tibet's foreign policy. The proposal was not a departure from the peace plan, but an elaboration of it. The international community reacted positively to the Dalai Lama's initiatives, but China rejected them and refused to open negotiations despite declaring publicly that it was willing to do so. Today, China still refuses to discuss the Dalai Lama's proposal and the repression of Tibetans by Chinese forces has increased. Following more demonstrations in Tibet and a massacre of hundreds of Tibetans in Lhasa, the army took control in March of 1989 and put Tibet under martial law for over a year. After the Beijing massacre, Chinese officials stopped responding to any Tibetan government communications. It will be difficult for the Dalai Lama to persist in his attempt for a negotiated solution along the lines he proposed in Strasbourg. China's leaders are clearly unwilling to discuss even a "middle way" proposal, and many Tibetans have voiced their opposition to any arrangement that could give China any rights in or over Tibet. They believe China would abuse those rights at the first opportunity; if the Chinese are not even willing to discuss the Dalai Lama's proposal, why would they every voluntarily implement it? Today, the question of Tibet's illegal occupation can no longer be ignored. This year's Nobel Peace Prize was a strong endorsement not only of the Dalai Lama himself, but also of the legitimacy of the Tibetan struggle for freedom. Even Chinese exiles are increasingly siding with the Tibetans and recognizing that Tibetans have a right to determine their own destiny. So there is reason for optimism. The Baltic states have declared their intention to reestablish the full sovereignty which is theirs by law and by moral right. Their path is a difficult one, but their goal no longer so remote. The challege Tibet faces is, if anything, more formidable. Its oppressor is more intractable, and the West is less willing to help bring China to its senses that it is to encourage an equitable end to the Soviet occupation. But Tibetans are determined. With a new and stronger elected government in place in exile and a Nobel laureate to lead the peaceful struggle into a new phase, Tibetans should be next to assert their rights, and Tibet should become the next focus of world attention, sympathy and support. President Bush should place the U.S. on the right side of the issue. He has the opportunity of learning firsthand what that side is. Source: The Boston Globe, July 14, 1990 (Michael C. van Walt is the legal advisor of the Dalai Lama.)


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