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Tibetan Parlimentary & Policy Research Centre

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Home Interview with Tibet Experts

Interview with Tibet Expert

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Professor Robert Barnett


Robert BarnettProfessor Robert Barnett is a Tibet specialist and research scholar. He is director of modern Tibetan studies at Columbia University in united state of America. Professor Barnett has written a number of books on modern Tibet, including: The secret petition of the 10th panchen lama, Tightening control in Tibet, A poisoned Arrow, lhasa street with memories.

1. Protests will be vanished after Olympic Games or will there be protest again in near future?

Robert Barnett: It looks as if the main cause of protest now is the use of work teams to carry out patriotic education drives in monasteries and nunneries. I can’t believe the Chinese leaders will continue to allow this provocative strategy to be carried out.

Some Tibetans have said that there will be more protests if there are no results from the current talks. But I expect there means there will be more protests if there is some local incident or provocation. So the Chinese should be careful not to provoke something. This is very difficult for them to avoid, given their policies.

2. Is there any possibility that Chinese government will be willing to talk with His Holiness the Dalai Lama?

Robert Barnett: It's possible. But it is impossible that they will agree to do this without at the same time trying to insult him publicly.

Of course, if he stopped visiting so many Western countries and accusing the Chinese of “cultural genocide”, the Chinese government might use that as an excuse to change its policy completely and to welcome him, as they have done with Ma Jingyeo. So this is possible. In fact, it’s strange it hasn’t happened already, these are really relatively minor aspects of the situation. Of course, HH has good reasons for continuing these strategies and the Chinese should address those reasons instead of insulting him.

3. Recent Tibetan protest in Tibet will change Chinese policy towards Tibetan people in Tibet?


Robert Barnett: Yes, but there is a bigger problem: it has changed the view of millions of ordinary Chinese people, including many of their intellectuals abroad, and made them into radical, aggressive public opponents of the Tibet issue, ready to wage public war in western universities, the media, and the web. Many of them appear better informed than many pro-Tibet supporters and exiles, so it has exposed a major weakness in the public debate.


4. Is international community are using policy of appeasement towards the Chinese government?


Robert Barnett: More to the point, the Chinese authorities (not just the government) has been very skillful at dividing power from capital that is, using economic levers to make governments disagree about how to handle the China issue. So there is no unity among the international community about how to handle any criticism of China. At least the western governments have to be united to deal with this. They are not.


5. Tibet independence is great benefit towards its neighbor countries such as India, Burma and other south Asia?


Robert Barnett: I think that’s quite a complicated question. On paper, it’s true in many ways, but no country is ever truly independent, that condition does not exist. “Independence” and “nation” are just figures of speech. So we have to get beyond these words and study such questions in more detail, thinking in terms of realistic outcomes and realistic fears and needs by neighbours. So it depends, for example, on which regional power comes to have influence over this notional independent country. It also depends on economic capability, and on the ability and skills of its leaders and people, which are unknown, especially it’s educated and professional classes. Global warming and its effects on water supply would also be crucial – and many other factors.


Claude Arpi (Author)


Claude ArpiClaude Arpi is an expert in the history of Tibet,China and the subcontinent.He was born in Angouleme,France.He is the author of numerous English and franch booksincluding "the Fate of Tibet," 'La Politique Francaise de Nehru:1947-1954,' Born in Sin: the Panchsheel Agreement ' and 'India and Her Neighbourhood.' He writes regularly on Tibet, China, and India and Indo-French relation.

Sherab: Why do the Chinese fear a direct dialogue with his Holiness Dalai Lama?

Claude Arpi: It is a good question, though it is the Chinese who should answer it.According to me, it is the only chance to unlock the negotiations.His Holiness should meet Hu Jintao or Wen Jiabao and havea heart to heart discussion on the future of Tibet.The present dicusssions can continue at the present level for 10 to 20 years, no tangible results will be achieved.

The situation is so bad that Chinese do not even allow the Tibetan Envoys to have their own translators; The Envoys have to depend on the Chinese translators.

Let us be clear, the Chinese don't care about Middle Path, but a personal encounter with His Holiness with his warm personality could certainly change many things.

Sherab: Time is running out but there is no effective result on Sino Tibetan Dialogue?

Claude Arpi: If one Look at the history of the contacts between Dharamsala and Beijing, (one can't call them negotaition), during the first phase1978-1988, His Holiness tried to find out what was going on Tibet through the 4 fact-finding delegations and then discuss some possible solutions with the Chinese Leardership (1982 and 1984 delegations); Deng Xiaoping's framework for a possible solution was the base ("everything except independence").

This Failed.His Holiness was forced to take a new step: the internationalization of the Tibet issue (the Five -Point Peace Plan inWashington and the Strasbourg Proposal); one of the motivations of the His Holiness in 1987-88 was the 'vast seas of Chinese settlers'changing the demography of Tibet.

Today, the sitution is much worse than in the 80's especially after the arrival of the train to Lhasa in July 2006.Today, time is really running out.further the Middle Path approach has not been effective as His Holiness mentioned recently in this Tibetan Children Village 's speech.

It is probably why His Holiness has called for a special meeting of Tibetan officials and representatives of the public to discuss the next step, the previous ones having failed.

This time is also running out because of His Holiness'recent health problem which are worrisome.

An interesting point is that the uprising was not limited to Lhasa and Central Tibet like in 1987-88, but spread into the three tradition provinces.

More than fifty five years after the so-called 'Leberation of Tibet', people have a deep resentment against their 'Liberators'.

Beijing does not know how to deal with this resentment, except to send more army personnel or more PAP.but this is not a long term solution.

Pema Thinley (Tibetan Review Editor)


Pema Thinley{Tibetan Review is an editorially independent monthly publication in English of news and views and other informative and stimulating features. Magazine founded in 1967 and currently based in New Delhi, India.}



1. Protests will be vanished after Olympic Games or will there be protests again in future?


Pema Thinley la: There will always be protests so long as the Chinese refuse to enter into real negotiations with the Dalai Lama and the current situation remains or worsens. However, so long as the repression and the state of military siege remains strong, as it is now and as it is likely to be, all the more, after the Olympics, it will be nearly impossible to stage the kind of large-scale protests that erupted in March 2008. So, the desire and will to protest, though strong, will remain suppressed, and will more likely take the form of sporadic short-lived incidents here and there involving few people. The recent uprising occurred because China had relaxed its stronghold, believing that its development and modernization policy was working. By that logic, it may be a long time before another uprising on the scale of the recent protests recurs.


2. Is there any possibility that the Chinese government will be willing to talk with HH the Dalai Lama?

Pema Thinley la: There are plenty of reasons why China should, and, by that logic, could enter into substantive talks with the Dalai Lama. After all, not only should the issue be resolved simply because the dispute exists in all its seriousness but also because it will be good for China politically and diplomatically. The real question is whether China will do so. The answer to this question is, unfortunately, “no”. The reason for this has to do with the Chinese government’s legitimacy being anchored on its nationalist credential and its commitment to monopolize political power, come what may. Both require the communist party government to take uncompromising position on Tibet lest the very basis of its power may, by its prevailing ideology, be seen as weakening.

3. Recent protest in Tibet will change Chinese policy towards Tibetans in Tibet?

Pema Thinley la: In immediate terms, the Chinese have already answered this question positively by strengthening the repression and control in Tibet. It may seem logical for China to want to address some of the more significant grievances of the Tibetan people, such as by restricting the flow of Chinese immigrants into Tibet and, more importantly, granting Tibetans far more religious freedom. None of these will weaken Chinese rule over Tibet. While this is a sound reasoning from a democratic point of view, that is not the angle from which the Chinese government views as its problem in Tibet and the way to solve it. As explained in my answer to the question just before this, the Chinese ideology is to win conformity and allegiance through repression and brute force were its current policy of development and modernization – which benefits Chinese immigrants far more than the more disadvantageously equipped and placed local Tibetans – to fail. Chinese policy can be expected to change in favour of compromise and negotiation only if it democratizes to a significant degree. But Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao said recently that his government will never embrace this kind of democracy for at least another 100 years.

4. Is the international community using policy of appeasement towards Chinese government?

Pema Thinley la: The answer is obviously ‘yes’. So long as China as a 1.3 billion-strong consumer market remains, the concern not to offend China beyond a limit is indeed very strong. Any government that fails to keep in Beijing’s good book knows that a rival will step in its shoes and avail the benefits of good commercial ties with it. This does not mean, of course, that the international community is entirely powerless to speak up or act for Tibet. It only means that there is a limit beyond which nations will not dare to offend China irrevocably. Where that limit lies differs from time to time depending on the prevailing circumstances. The US, if example is best placed to do the most among most or all other nations for Tibet without China having much power to stop it. On the other hand, countries like Nepal have to go out of their way to appease China by acting tough on Tibetans protesting against Chinese rule in their homeland.

5. View on recent protests in Tibet

Pema Thinley la: Despite its tragic consequences for those who took part in it and for the Tibetans in Tibet in general, the protests were, viewed from another perspective, a very positive development for those seeking a semblance of autonomy and freedom for Tibet, besides others fighting for Tibet’s complete independence. It showed that beneath the state of calmness and stability brought on by repression and an appearance of acquiescence by Tibetans to the overwhelming might of China, the Tibetan people’s sense of nationhood and determination to fight, whatever the obstacle may be, emerged in unmistakable terms. This should come as a huge morale booster to Tibetan campaigners both in exile and within Tibet who might otherwise have wondered whether despite all their determination to fight on, the ground reality justified their adherence to the cause. It was also a huge setback and a massive propaganda embarrassment to the Chinese as it demolished all their claims about the situation in Tibet and the Tibetans view of the their rule and development efforts there.



"Ours is not a separatist movement. It is in our own interest to remain in a big nation like China," We are not splittists. - H.H.The Dalai Lama
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