EDITORIAL: Feeling the Dalai Lama’s pain

Wed, Oct 29, 2008 - Page 8

On Saturday the Dalai Lama made a quiet statement of desperation, signaling the frustration of decades of failed efforts to win fair treatment for Tibetans living within China’s borders.

“As far as I’m concerned, I’ve given up,” reports quoted the Dalai Lama as saying, referring to his attempts to engage Beijing in meaningful talks on human rights abuses and the lack of autonomy in Tibet.

With these heartbreaking words, the exiled spiritual leader conceded what independent observers have long recognized: Beijing has not and will not move one inch on Tibet.

For all the differences between Taiwan, a sovereign country, and Tibet, which has been controlled by the People’s Republic of China since 1951, the Taiwanese public can no doubt sympathize with the Dalai Lama’s distress. Beijing brands any stand for the ideals of human rights and self-determination as dangerous, “splittist” and a provocation. Peaceful actions are scorned and cited by Beijing as sedition deserving of military retaliation — whether in the form of deploying missiles in the Taiwan Strait or cracking down on Tibetan demonstrations.

While Beijing time and again blames the lack of dialogue over Tibet on the Dalai Lama, likewise, Taiwan has been repeatedly labeled the provocateur across the Strait. Thus, the two UN referendums held in conjunction with the presidential election in March drew much saber rattling from Beijing.

Despite all the talk of detente, it is amply clear that China has no intention of budging on its claim to Taiwan. On that front, nothing has changed since the shift from a Democratic Progressive Party to a Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) administration in May, nor can we expect to see any progress.

Taiwan, as a sovereign country with control over its borders and economy, has more bargaining power than Tibet, where dissent is met with aggressive reprisals. In spite of this, the nation has nothing more than the Dalai Lama to show for extending olive branches to Beijing. This was confirmed when Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Strait Vice Chairman Zhang Mingqing (張銘清) said during his brief visit that China would not give up Taiwan without war.

President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) critics argue that his goodwill toward Beijing has yet to be reciprocated on any level. A single, meager gesture of “goodwill” from Beijing came days ago when it belatedly apologized for the tonnes of melamine-tainted products it has exported to Taiwan. It would seem Beijing is worried about the future of its exports to Taiwan — or disturbed by anti-China sentiment fed by that scandal.

But as for the nation’s status and international diplomacy, China remains incapable of discussing Taiwan’s future without brandishing its missile arsenal.

For his many years of promoting a peaceful dialogue and human rights in Tibet, the Dalai Lama was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. But from Beijing, he walks away empty-handed, accused of inciting riots and supporting terrorism.

As our own government pursues a dialogue with Beijing, it is unclear why we should expect results that are any better.