The November 7 meeting between China’s president Xi Jinping and Taiwan’s president Ma Ying-jeou was unprecedented and constituted a historic turning point in cross-strait relations. Beijing’s overriding concern has been that the two dominant parties in Taiwan, Kuomintang (KMT) and the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), both carry views opposite to Beijing though they are people in Taiwan who support unification. Beijing views Taiwan as a breakaway province and is ultimately determined to unify it with the mainland.
During the meeting, Xi and Ma talked about upholding the principle of “one China” based on 1992 consensus with respective interpretations. The meeting proved futile. However, it provided a fresh look on cross-strait relations under the new helmsman Xi Jinping. Finding a common ground based on peace and stability is priority for all the concerned parties including the United States.
In a similar manner, the Dalai Lama, who recently celebrated his 80th birthday worldwide, seeks autonomy rather than independence. The Dalai Lama wants Tibet to enjoy full autonomy within the scope of the constitution of the People’s Republic of China.
For the last more than 60 years of its rule in Tibet, Beijing agreed a number of informal meetings with Dharamsala. Most notably the formal negotiation with envoys of the Dalai Lama started in 2002. The negotiation remains hiatus since 2010. During those formal round of negotiations, there has been no positive response to the proposal. The negotiations were held under Hu Jintao’s presidency from 2002 to 2012. As a president Hu had failed to resolve the prolonged issue of Tibet.
Hu wasted his ten-years of leadership. He accomplished nothing on the political front during his presidency. He was a lame duck president. In fact, things went from bad to worse. His records on political and institutional reforms were largely deleterious. Hu declared martial law in Lhasa and a speculation about the mysterious death of 10th Panchen Lama occurred when he was the party secretary of the Tibet Autonomous Region from 1988 to 1992.
Under Xi, China is undergoing tremendous changes. Remarkably, Xi is promoting think tanks, steadily endorsing meritocracy, meeting with world leaders including Aung San Suu Kyi who is the face of democracy in Burma and allowing to mark the birth centenary of liberal leader Hu Yaobang, which his predecessors failed to do. Most importantly, Xi’s historic meeting with Ma could set an example for future dialogue with the Dalai Lama.
Conclusively, Xi grabbed power equivalent to that of Mao. In three years since ascension to power, Xi has not only created a number of leading groups, but appointed himself chairman of all these groups so as to bolster his dominance over policy making.
Regardless of Xi’s unprecedented accumulation of power, it would be wise to drop the optimistic idea based on his father, Xi Zhongshun being close to the Dalai Lama and his sympathetic attitude towards the minorities.
Imperatively, Xi’s vision of China is being hindered by many factors. The Tibet issue is one of them. In a series of articles carried by the Diplomat (thediplomat.com), Dr Xue Li, the Director of the Department of International Strategy at the Institute of World Economics and Politics, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, had exposed China’s five potential pitfalls. In his Pitfall#4, Li has called for negotiations with the Dalai Lama. “When it comes to ‘Tibet independence,’ we perhaps should seize the moment and start negotiations with the Dalai Lama”.
Indeed it would be high time for China to negotiate with this Dalai lama. Li rightly noted that “this would be to China’s advantage since the Dalai Lama and the Chinese government have a long history of interaction spanning decades. They understand each other fairly well. The Dalai Lama’s views are more moderate compared with the younger generation. For example, the Dalai Lama has not openly supported independence. But he is already 80 years old so time is running out”.
As the meeting held with Ma, the world is waiting for Xi to open a new page in Sino-Tibetan relations. Xi and the Dalai Lama could uphold the guaranteed autonomy enshrined in the 17-point agreement signed in 1951.
*The writer is a research fellow at the Tibet Policy Institute. Views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the Tibet Policy Institute.