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Beijing's Sovereignty Ruse Blocks Tibet Negotiation

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The concept of mianzi or "face" in dealing with the Chinese is being stressed in many orientation briefings to foreigners visiting China where face is generally equated with image, reputation, prestige, pride and respect.

Losing, saving or giving face is a social concept common in many Asian societies but for the ever-resourceful leaders in Beijing, face takes on political meanings such as "sovereignty" and the "territorial integrity" of the People's Republic of China (PRC). To save face, Beijing uses these politically loaded words to brush off prying questions about its authoritarian behavior. Criticizing China's abuse of the word "sovereignty" to escape accountability and stave off inconvenient issues like Tibet, Liu Jianqiang, a senior reporter with Southern Weekend, an influential Chinese weekly, wrote recently, "This expression is used for human rights issues, for the Taiwan issue, and for many other issues. Sometimes China loves sovereignty even more than it loves the facts."

The late January discussions, the ninth such meeting since 2002, between envoys of His Holiness the Dalai Lama and the Chinese leadership have achieved little in terms of agreement on issues that the Chinese side thinks are linked to sovereignty and territorial integrity of the PRC. Beijing again accused His Holiness of demanding a "high level of autonomy" for "greater Tibet" in order to realize Tibetan independence. In the press statements after the talks, Du Qingli, head of the United Front Work Department - the body tasked specifically to handle the Tibet talks - and his deputy Zhu Weiqun reiterated the non-negotiability of sovereign and territorial issues.

But the Tibetan proposal for genuine autonomy calls for a uniform policy for all Tibetans in Kham, Amdo and U-tsang provinces under a single administration. Clearly, for Tibetans, it is less of a territorial issue than one of administration and policy. Meaningful autonomy is possible only when culturally compact Tibetan communities are allowed to create their own space within which to preserve and promote their culture, religion, language and identity. The reorganization of Tibetan cultural areas under a self-governing entity within the PRC territory should not be a sovereignty problem. Even India since its inception as a federal republic has successfully negotiated with its numerous languages and cultures by carving out states on a linguistic basis. Events in Tibet in the last decades have proved that direct governance from Beijing has failed to address grievances of the Tibetan people. The fact is that Tibet is still a hot bed of resistance and revolt even after 60 years of Chinese rule. No amount of money has brought stability or Tibetan loyalty for the government. And frankly, China wouldn't want an ignominious remnant of its divide and rule policy reflected in the still dismembered territory of traditional Tibet if it was serious about respecting Tibetan sentiments and establishing lasting stability in PRC. Further, the Tibetan proposal makes no mention of independence or any insinuation thereof. The extent of autonomy that Tibetans are asking for on specific issues is justifiable considering their distinctive historical and cultural characteristics.

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Tsering Tsomo is a Tibetan journalist based in New Delhi, India. She writes for exile Tibetan publications and other online media.
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