Wed, Apr 25, 2001 - Page 8 News List

Tibetan tragedy began with a farce

By Cao Chang-ching

The Dalai Lama's second visit to Taiwan was an historic event that symbolizes the ties between Taiwan and Dharamsala. After the people of Taiwan elected their native son, Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁), as president, in March 2000, ending the KMT's 50-year rule over the country, the democratic Taiwanese government invited the Dalai Lama to visit. The Tibetan spiritual leader postponed his visit many times, because, it was alleged, he did not want to provoke Beijing by visiting Taiwan. The Dalai Lama's concerns and precautions, however, were totally ignored by Beijing.

Before heading for Taiwan, the Dalai Lama told the press that Beijing had shut the door to dialogue and negotiations and had not allowed his delegation to go to Beijing. This was interpreted as a show of his disappointment toward Beijing.

In fact, the history of the Dalai Lama's dealings with Beijing is a history of disappointment and disillusionment, which began from the 17-Point Agreement that was signed exactly half a century ago. It was that agreement that formalized Beijing's sovereignty over Tibet.

The 17-Point Agreement was signed on May 23, 1951, and embodies two major principles: first, China has sovereignty over Tibet and is responsible for Tibet's national defense and diplomacy; second, Beijing guarantees the Tibetans' rights to a high degree of autonomy in the ethnic Tibetan region, and Beijing will not interfere with Tibet's culture, religion or social systems. This agreement looks like the earliest formulation of the "one country, two systems" (一國兩制) scheme employed by Beijing today.

How could the Tibetans hand their sovereign rights over to the Chinese? Of the five Tibetan representatives who negotiated with the Chinese government and signed the agreement half a century ago, four have already died. The only survivor, Ngabo Ngawang Jigme (阿沛.阿旺晉美), however, has been a high official in the Chinese government for several decades and can only parrot the official Chinese view, just as he did in a rare interview with Asiaweek last October.

In addition to the five Tibetan representatives, the Tibetan translator, P. T. Takla, also witnessed the whole process of the formation of the agreement. Takla also passed away two years ago, but fortunately I had a chance to interview him during a conference in London in 1997 and gained some first-hand knowledge about the negotiations.

Having studied Chinese in Nanjing in the 1930s and been educated at the KMT's Central Political School, whose chairman was Chang Kai-shek (蔣介石), Takla spoke fluent Chinese and remembered vividly the derivation of the 17-Point Agreement.

"It was a result of force," said Takla. He recalled that, under attack by China's People's Liberation Army (PLA) led by Deng Xiaoping (鄧小平), the few thousand-strong, poorly-armed temporary Tibetan force was soon defeated by the end of 1950 and the Tibetan capital, Lhasa, was on the verge of falling into Chinese hands. The Tibetan government had no choice but to send a delegation to negotiate with the Chinese.

Takla recalled that, upon arriving in Beijing, the Tibetan delegation, led by Ngabo Ngawang Jigme, proposed a resolution that contained four major points. First, the Tibetan government would recognize the new government in Beijing. Second, the PLA would return the Tibetan land it had occupied. Third, there should be no more than 100 people dispatched to Tibet from the new Chinese government. Fourth, no PLA army would be stationed in Tibet and the national defense of Tibet should be left for the Tibetan government to handle. In other words, the Tibetan government wished to keep the relationship it had with Chang Kai-shek's government from 1911 to 1949, under which Tibet belonged to China, but the Tibetans were in fact in charge of all their affairs, both domestic and foreign.

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