Highly recommended analysis by JAYADEVA RANA
Jayadeva Ranade, a former Additional Secretary in the Cabinet Secretariat, Government of India, is the Founding Trustee of the Centre for China Analysis and Strategy (CCAS). He is also its President and CEO. Mr Ranade is presently a Member of the National Security Advisory Board (NSAB); Member of the Core Group on China of the Indian Council of World Affairs (ICWA) and Distinguished Fellow with the Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies (IPCS).
In the midst of reports of emissaries being exchanged between Beijing and the Dalai Lama’s set-up and positive references to Buddhism by Chinese leaders, clearer indications are becoming discernible in recent months to suggest that Beijing is contemplating a new initiative on the Tibet issue. There has, at the same time, been no easing in the policies being enforced in the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) or Beijing’s efforts to shrink the room for manouevre available to the Dalai Lama.
The latter has been highlighted by Beijing’s orchestration of protests against the Dalai Lama during his travels abroad by Shugden worshippers and groups of ‘nationalist’ Chinese students. This is reinforced by the steadily increasing diplomatic and economic pressure on foreign governments to refrain from meeting the Dalai Lama. Resultantly, the number of world leaders who have officially received the Dalai Lama has dwindled appreciably in the past couple of years. Examples are: Denmark shying away from scheduling any official meetings in the second week of February 2015; the Pope declining to meet the Dalai Lama in Rome in mid-December; earlier South Africa refusing him a visa; the Norwegian government refusing to officially receive him in May 2014; and, the capitulation of UK on the Tibet issue in the formal Joint Statement issued during Chinese Premier Li Keqiang’s visit in April 2014. The US, however, declined to succumb entirely to Chinese pressure and invited the Dalai Lama to the annual breakfast prayer meeting in Washington on February 5, 2015, although US President Obama avoided any direct interaction with him.
All this has been accompanied by an apparent mellowing in references by senior Chinese leaders to the 79-year old Dalai Lama, prompting him to describe Chinese President Xi Jinping as “more realistic” and his government as “softer” during an interview to the Nikkei Asian Review on November 25, 2014. Interesting is the Dalai Lama’s remark of October 8, when he said "some Chinese officials, for example the Deputy Party Secretary in the autonomous region of Tibet, he also mentioned the possibility of my visit." Though reports of any formal contacts have been denied by the Dalai Lama’s set-up, fresh speculation was sparked by the Dalai Lama’s interview on BBC’s ‘Newsnight’ programme on December 17, 2014, where he commented that he may not have a successor. He was quoted by BBC as saying "The Dalai Lama institution will cease one day. These man-made institutions will cease. There is no guarantee that some stupid Dalai Lama won't come next, who will disgrace himself or herself. That would be very sad. So, much better that a centuries-old tradition should cease at the time of a quite popular Dalai Lama."
Of particular interest are the activities of Prof. Jin Wei, a senior member of the faculty of the Central Party School in Beijing, which she joined in 1985. Jin Wei has a pronounced background in minority issues and is Deputy Director of Minority Issues in the Central Party School. The Central Party School is the crucible for training senior cadres of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) earmarked for upward progression and its faculty comprises CCP members hand-picked for their reliability. An ‘insider’ joke in the Central Party School at one time said that everyone drove carefully within its precincts as no one knew who would rise to become the CCP Central Committee (CC)’s General Secretary!
An important interview by Prof. Jin Wei, which was published on June 6, 2013, by the Hong Kong-based Chinese-language magazine ‘Yazhou Zhoukan’ (Asia Weekly), appeared to reveal important elements of the Chinese leadership’s new thinking on the Tibet issue and the Dalai Lama. Pertinent is that Simon Kei Shek Ming, the journalist who interviewed Prof. Jin Wei, used to be noticed accompanying Xiao Wunan, a former provincial level cadre of the CCP Central Committee (CC)’s United Front Work Department (UFWD), on his travels. Xiao Wunan is Executive Director of the Chinese government-sponsored NGO, the Asia Pacific Economic Exchange Foundation (APECF), and claims proximity to Chinese President Xi Jinping. Simon Kei Shek Ming accompanied Xiao Wunan when he travelled to Dharamshala in August 2012, and in a rare accomplishment met the Dalai Lama, Ughyen Thinley Dorje who is a claimant to the throne of the Gyalwa Karmapa [making him the 7th Karmapa], and the ‘Sikyong’ Lobsang Sangay, all in one day.
The APECF, incidentally, was also the first Chinese outfit to reveal its interest in Lumbini – the Buddha’s birthplace – when it unveiled a US$ 3 billion plan for re-development of the city. In December 2014 reports suggested that the Nepal government’s Social Welfare Council (SWC) had initiated proceedings against the APECF to black-list it for, among other reasons, lack of transparency and failure to submit its audit reports. In the process the SWC uncovered that while the APECF had made inroads into rural areas adjoining Lumbini like Dolakha, Sindhupalchowk, Rasuwa and Nuwakot, it had not informed the SWC of the year-long education and three-year long agriculture projects run from 2013-2017 in these districts.
In her interview to ‘Yazhou Zhoukan’, Prof Jin Wei was categoric in her assertion that China must ensure that the Dalai Lama’s reincarnation is found “inside China” and China must “make every possible effort to avoid the embarrassment of the “twin Panchen Lama” event”. She was critical of past policies and, advancing a new framework for talks, said it was necessary “to put aside disputes and break the current impasse” and acknowledge that the Dalai Lama is considered a “living god” by six million Tibetan people. China’s dealings with him, she said, “affects the feelings of thousands and thousands of Tibetans” and therefore “we cannot simply treat him as an enemy”. She described the Dalai Lama as a “key figure” in Tibet-related issues and recommended re-starting the talks with his representatives that have remained suspended since 2010.
Her views were swiftly and sharply rebuffed by Yu Zhengsheng, Politburo Standing Committee (PBSC) member and Chairman of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) and Zhu Weiqun, presently Director of the CPPCC’s Ethnic and Religious Affairs Committee and former Vice Minister of the CCP CC’s UFWD. Zhu Weiqun said “when we refer to Mr. Tenzin Gyatso as the Dalai Lama we are recognising his spiritual rank. However, in the course of time, he has acquired another label which we should never forget. Because of his efforts to split China he has become a political refugee”.
Prof Jin Wei’s continuance at the Central Party School despite the opposition generated by her interview, suggests that her views have approval at some high level. This has been implicitly confirmed in the past few months with Prof Jin Wei having apparently been drafted by the CCP to publicise its ‘new thinking’ on the Tibet issue in influential circles abroad.
In late 2014, she travelled quietly to the US where she had closed-door meetings with select think-tanks and, more significantly, with some of the Dalai Lama’s key supporters in Washington DC and New York. More recently, she spoke at Oxford and addressed the School of Oriental and Asian Studies (SOAS) in London on November 11, 2014. It is understood that she will very shortly be travelling again to London at the invitation of SOAS.
Prof Jin Wei’s remarks in the UK were interesting and hinted that Beijing could be re-evaluating its policy of aid to the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR). In her talk at SOAS entitled ‘Opportunities and Challenges in Western China – a case study in Tibet’, she expressed doubts about the benefits of Beijing’s financial assistance to TAR. Noting that the autonomous region’s GDP had grown steadily since the “peaceful liberation” of Tibet in 1951, Prof Jin Wei observed that the region had taken “initial steps” in establishing a “modern economic base”. Tibetans now had access to “basic” health care and education, good quality housing, usually with electricity and gas, and life expectancy had risen by 31.5 years. She highlighted, however, that Beijing’s top-down economic policies in the TAR had created what she described as a “two-way dependency”.
She gave the following break-up of projects undertaken in the TAR:
Year Number of projects Investment in TAR (in 100 million RMB)
1984 43 4.8
1994 62 48.6
2001 117 311
2005 24 64.2
2007 188 137.8
2011 236 419.2
2014 670 599.9
Her analysis of figures highlighting investment in TAR by the Central Government and provincial authorities revealed that only RMB 7 out of every RMB 100 spent by the TAR authorities came from local revenues. This was despite TAR having the second highest expenditure of any province.
She said that despite the increasingly large amounts being invested in TAR, the rate of increase in GDP growth had plateaued. She hinted that Beijing should discard established policies and explore new ones. She concluded that while aid to Tibet and high-levels of central investment need to continue, the authorities need to tailor these to local conditions and the needs of Tibetans. While Prof Jin Wei said that not all projects had failed, she asserted that almost 70 per cent of the projects started in TAR had become bankrupt or been forced to close down. Citing examples of the failure of the top-down policy of development assistance, she mentioned a wool processing plant in Naqu in northern TAR which had been forced to close down due to poor management and lack of a market for the wool; a “new” hospital where, because of the heavy cost of maintenance that local authorities could not afford because of inadequate local revenue, the roof leaked so badly that the patients had to shelter under plastic sheeting; and the Potala Square in Lhasa, which is the centrepiece of Beijing’s massive urban redevelopment of Lhasa, where the work unit in charge of the square had told Prof. Jin Wei that they lacked the funds to maintain the road surface which was badly potholed and cracked.
Prof Jin Wei said she had often travelled to Tibet since 1984 and on each occasion she had been touched and moved by the Tibetan people’s belief in religion. She disclosed that this has raised major concern among scholars and leaders in China. Prof Jin Wei pointed out that in 1950, the year before the PLA entered Lhasa, there had been a total of 2,711 temples and monasteries in the TAR and 114,103 monks and nuns. This had fallen to 553 and 6,913 respectively in 1965 but had increased to 1,787 and 46,000 respectively by 2014. Commenting on the issue of controls over monasteries and nunneries in China, Prof Jin Wei observed that though the number of monasteries and monks in TAR had increased since 1965, most officials in TAR saw monks as “trouble-makers”.
Commenting on the issue of the tightening controls over monasteries and nunneries in China, she said that the new policies introduced in 2011 included linking monasteries with towns by road, providing them electricity, requiring them to display photographs of Chinese leaders, fly the Chinese flag, and enrolling monks and nuns in social security schemes. She said “the most significant reform” had been to place more officials inside monasteries and nunneries and on the Monastery Management Committees. She disclosed that for every six monks and nuns in the TAR there was one official based in the monasteries across TAR. Stating that the officials stationed in the monasteries felt marginalised and didn’t like the job, Prof. Jin Wei described the policy as “unsustainable” but implied that there was little chance that the authorities would change their approach since most officials in TAR saw monks as “trouble-makers”. Prof Jin Wei commented that “policy makers” and those who “oversee policies on religion” were themselves not religious which also made it difficult for them to formulate “ideal” policies. She acknowledged that these reforms had increased “internal tensions”.
Within weeks of Jin Wei’s visit, TAR Chairman Lobsang Gyaltsen led a high-powered 8-member delegation to Canada and the US from November 30-December 6, 2014. It was the ninth overseas trip by Tibetan legislators since 2009. The delegation included two Deputies of the National People’s Congress (NPC) as well as Tenzin Lhundrup (Ethnicity: Tibetan) Deputy Secretary General TAR People's Government; Phuntsok (Ethnicity: Tibetan), Deputy of the TAR People's Congress and Director of the Standing Committee of Ngari (Ali) Prefectural People's Congress; and Zhang Yanqing,( Ethnicity: Han) Mayor of Lhasa and Deputy of the TAR People's Congress. The delegation visited five cities in North America. Tenzin Lhundrup, Deputy Secretary General of the TAR government and a member of the delegation, told Global Times that the “Tibet question groups" set up by more than twenty western parliaments to assist "Tibet independence" forces were “the key targets of, as well as barriers to, our communication efforts."
In Vancouver, Toronto and Ottawa they met overseas Chinese, Tibetans and Canadian officials. Lobsang Gyaltsen met Daniel Jean, acting Canadian Minister of Foreign Affairs and Victor Oh, Canadian Senator and Chairman of the China-Canada Parliamentary Association in Ottawa, who officially invited the delegation.
During his meeting with the Canadian officials, Lobsang Gyaltsen explained the CCP’s Tibet policy and the ‘tremendous’ social and economic progress that Tibet has made under the CCP’s leadership. He reaffirmed that “Tibet is an inalienable part of China since time immemorial” and that the “CCP liberated Tibet peacefully” more than 60 years ago. Lobsang Gyaltsen stressed that the TAR authorities fully adhere to the policy of religious freedom, promotion of religious harmony and strengthening the management of religious affairs according to law. He described the current situation in Tibet as the best period in its history and appealed to Canadian officials to take an impartial view of Tibet and recognize the importance and sensitivity of the Tibet issue. He requested them not to provide any scope for anti-China activities in order to cement the healthy and friendly relations between the two nations.
Welcoming the delegation led by TAR Chairman Lobsang Gyaltsen, Canadian officials affirmed that Tibet is an inalienable part of Chinese territory and that Canada does not support the "independence" of Tibet and is not willing to see the Tibet issue obstruct the development of relations between the two countries.
Lobsang Gyaltsen left for the US on December 2, 2014, where he visited Washington and New York. He spoke at the Brookings Institute and met journalists, overseas Chinese and overseas Tibetans.
Interesting too are the reports circulating in the US and West which, quoting reliable Chinese sources, state that Xi Jinping had conveyed to the Government of India that he would like to meet the Dalai Lama during his visit to India in September 2014. These sources claim that the Indian government did not respond.
In a fresh development laden with political overtones, on January 29, 2015, Xiao Wunan, a former provincial level official of the CCP’s United Front Work Department (UFWD) and Chief Executive of the APECF, released a video tape of his meeting with the Dalai Lama in August 2012 through the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC). It clearly depicts Xiao Wunan informing the Dalai Lama that there is a void at the top in China's Buddhist religious circles. He suggests that this could be filled by the Dalai Lama and offers the Dalai Lama the job. The video also attempts to portray that China allows a modicum of personal religious freedom by showing a room in Xiao Wunan's house that has been set aside as a shrine for worship of the Buddha. The video shows that in this room a photograph of the Dalai Lama has been given pride of place. It is obvious that the release of such a video, which is unprecedented, has been 'cleared' at a high level in the CCP.
To view this BBC interview, go to http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-30983402 and scroll down 2/3 of the page.
It is perhaps the first time that there has been such a brazen and publicised propaganda push to lure the Dalai Lama back to China. The video reveals that the main objective of China’s efforts and of Xiao Wunan’s visit to Dharamsala in 2012, was to persuade the Dalai Lama to return to Beijing to a religious post. It is interesting too that Xiao Wunan, who refers to himself in the video as a practising Buddhist, is described as a “former official” and that he has been able to inject the suggestion that he has a family relationship with Chinese President Xi Jinping.
China has in recent months seemingly stepped up engagement with foreigners on the Tibet issue. Examples include the participation by foreigners in the Tibet Forum in Lhasa in mid-August 2014, tour of Beijing-based foreign military attaches to Tibet the following month and the release in late January 2015 of Xiao Wunan’s video via the BBC. Simultaneously, Chinese officials appear to be trying to bring increasing pressure to bear on Tibetans. During a visit to Nepal in October this year, TAR Chairman Lobsang Gyaltsen asserted that “China doesn’t have any refugee as such” and those crossing the border into Nepal are “illegal”. This appeared to hint that China could at some point question the status of ‘political refugees’ accorded to escaping Tibetans.
Separately, members of Chinese think-tanks have been noticed raising the Tibet issue during meetings with their Indian counter-parts in India and abroad since late 2014. They generally observe that the Dalai Lama's presence in India is an obstacle to India-China relations and that while the "Dalai Lama has a religious colour" the "present person" is a political individual indulging in anti-Chinese activities.