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Why has Tibet been deleted from politicians' memory?

July 3, 2008
Analysis: Claude Arpi

When the Dalai Lama left Tibet for exile in March 1959, the bridges with China were cut. Often one does not realise that soon it will be 30 years since the contacts between the Dalai Lama and the People's Republic of China's leadership resumed.

As the Dalai Lama's envoys leave for Beijing, it is perhaps time to look at what has been achieved and what has failed during these three decades. Such an analysis is, of course, subjective, but hopefully could generate a healthy debate at a time when the Tibetan issue has again come center stage, a few weeks before the Olympic Games in Beijing.

Let us recall the facts.

In December 1978, Gyalo Thondup, the Dalai Lama's elder brother was contacted by Li Juisin, director of the Xinhua News Agency, in Hong Kong, Deng Xiaoping, then the general secretary of the Communist Party of China, wanted to meet him.

With the knowledge and blessings of his brother, Thondup made a 'private' visit to Beijing in February 1979. Was it a coincidence that at the same time, then Indian foreign minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee was visiting China?

During his encounter with Deng Xiaoping, Thondup was told that Beijing wanted to invite the Tibetan refugees to return to Tibet. Deng told the Dalai Lama's brother: 'It is better to see once than to hear a hundred times.'

The new leader of China more importantly stated: 'The door is open for negotiations as long as we don't speak about independence. Everything else is negotiable.'

It is on this basis that three fact-finding delegations visited Tibet in 1979-1980 and subsequently talks were held in 1982 and 1984 between Dalai Lama's representatives and some Chinese officials in Beijing.

Image: Right: The Dalai Lama, Left: Gyalo Thondup, his elder brother and the first negotiator with the Chinese since the Dalai Lama sought sanctuary in India. Photographs: AFP/Getty Images

Also read: Interview with the Dalai Lama

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