If recent public comments on Tibet made by Chinese academics and officials are anything to go by, two sharply differing views are developing in China on how it should deal with the issue of Tibet. How these views play out and which view will emerge as actual policy will determine China’s attitude to how the issue of Tibet should be resolved, with ramifications for the future of all China.
A softer and perhaps a much more sophisticated argument on what medicine China should take to cure its perennial Tibet headache is advanced by Jin Wei, a professor at the Party School of the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party based in Beijing. In comments made to Asia Weekly, a Chinese language publication in Hong Kong, on 12 June, Jin Wei said that treating the Dalai Lama is an “enemy” is alienating all six million Tibetans who believe him as “the living Buddha.” She said “The Dalai Lama is the key to the issue of Tibet” and recommended that China should re-start its stalled dialogue with him.
On asked what the proposed new round of talks should focus on, Jin Wei suggested that big issues like the Middle-Way Approach should be set aside for the time being. Instead she suggested that the Tibetan spiritual leader be allowed to visit Hong Kong or Macau with the aim of his taking up permanent residence in the former British colony. According to Professor Jin Wei, China’s final aim should be to avoid the “embarrassment” of a situation which throws up two Dalai Lamas. Jin Wei says that if China is able to gain control of selecting the reincarnation of the next Dalai Lama the Party will succeed in winning the goodwill of all Tibet and destroy the strength of Tibetan independence forces working outside the country.
The Central Party School at which Jin Wei is the deputy director of minority issues and director of ethnic religious studies trains China top future leaders. The president of the school is Liu Yunshan, a member of the standing committee of the Politburo, one of the seven leaders who run China. The current President of China, Xi Jinping, was the president of the school from 2007 to 2013. The background of the party school and its importance should be reasons enough for observers to pay close attention to Jin Wei’s Tibet comments.
There is another reason for paying close attention. The party academics in China are well tuned to the thinking of the party on all core issues. They would not dare speak out on their own without some vigorous nods from above. This is an assumption. It could be wrong. Professor Jin Wei might have voiced her own opinion on Tibet. But if she spoke out of tune with official policy on Tibet and His Holiness the Dalai Lama, there is no indication yet of any adverse effect on her academic career. There is no news yet that she has been fired from her post.
The official Chinese hardline reaction to Professor Jin Wei’s seemingly conciliatory remarks was not long in coming. Zhu Weiqun, who was the principal interlocutor in talks with the envoys of His Holiness the Dalai Lama from 2002 to 2010 as the executive vice-minister of the United Front warned against changing the Party’s attitude to the spiritual Tibetan spiritual leader. In an interview to China News Weekly of 16 June, Zhu Weiqun, who is now the director of the ethnic and religious affairs of the Chinese People’s Political Consulatative Conference, an organ of the party, made these remarks: “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. “
For Zhu Weiqun there can be no talks on Tibet. He said, “The future of Tibet, since 1951 with the peaceful liberation to 1959 with democratic reforms, has been decided by the Tibetan people themselves. The Dalai Lama cannot change this situation.”
In the past, on Tibet and all other issues, China spoke with one voice. Either in writing or orally, policy statements on sensitive issues like Tibet carried the same turn of phrase or tone of voice. The party, state and military carried the same coherent message.
For observers, the question is why is China’s previously internal Tibet debate now out in the open? Which view will prevail? How should Dharamsala respond?