To date, Beijing has argued that Tibetan independence is not open to discussion. The Dalai Lama has complied with this demand, offering instead numerous initiatives for a political solution which does not ask for full independence. The situation has now reached a stalemate, following Beijing's marked reluctance to enter any serious negotiations.
For the past 14 years, the Dalai Lama has constantly strived for a political solution to the Tibet-China problem which is beneficial to both sides. Not only has he declared a willingness to enter into negotiations, but he has proposed a series of initiatives which lie within the framework for negotiations as stated by Deng Xiaoping in 1979: that "except for the independence of Tibet, all other questions can be negotiated." The Dalai Lama has continually adopted a middle-way approach, deliberately avoiding the independence issue in the hope that this "would create an atmosphere of mutual trust and exert a restraining influence on the repressive Chinese policies in Tibet."
The Chinese, for their part, have constantly moved the goal posts, often refusing to meet with the Dalai Lama or his representatives after initial agreement. Official Chinese statements are aimed at confusing the real issues and delaying any substantial negotiation on the problem. They base their discussions on frequent requests that the Dalai Lama should "return to the motherland", where they have offered him an honorific post in the Chinese Government, and, since April 1988, the right to reside in Lhasa instead of Beijing. The Dalai Lama argues that China's attempts to reduce the question of Tibet to a discussion of his own personal status dodge the real issue: "the survival of the six million Tibetan people along with the protection of our distinct culture, identity and civilisation."
In September 1993, the Dalai Lama published a set of private letters written by him to the Chinese authorities, revealing his increasing frustration at the marked reluctance of Beijing to enter into serious negotiations on the future of Tibet. Frustration has led to disillusion. In his March 10th Statement of 1994, which marked the 35th anniversary of the Tibetan National Uprising, the Dalai Lama said: "I must now recognise that my approach has failed to produce any progress either for substantive negotiations or in contributing to the overall improvement of the situation in Tibet." He added that he was aware that a "growing number of Tibetans, both inside as well as outside Tibet, have been disheartened" by his conciliatory stand and his decision not to demand complete independence for Tibet.
According to the Dalai Lama, he has "left no stone unturned" in his attempts to reach an understanding with the Chinese. He announced that Tibetans would have to place their hopes in international support, but said: "If this fails, then I will no longer be able to pursue this policy [of conciliation] with a clear conscience. I feel strongly that it would then be my responsibility, as I have stated many times in the past, to consult my people on the future course of our freedom struggle."
The Dalai Lama has made it clear that negotiations must centre around ways to end China's population transfer policy; respect for the fundamental human rights and democratic freedoms of the Tibetans; the demilitarisation and de-nuclearisation of Tibet; the restoration of control to the Tibetan people of all matters affecting their own affairs; and the protection of the environment. He has also emphasised that negotiations must comprise the whole of Tibet, not just the area which China calls the "Tibet Autonomous Region". On the Tibetan side, the Dalai Lama has produced five major documents:
Draft Constitution (1963) proposing a fully democratic system based on Western models for a future independent Tibet, with the Dalai Lama's role subject to a parliament elected by universal franchise.
Five-Point Peace Plan (Washington, 21 September 1987) which added demands for demilitarisation, environmental protection, reuniting the three original regions of Tibet, and an end to mass Chinese immigration into Tibet.
Strasbourg Proposal (European Parliament, 15 June 1988 though withdrawn on 3 September 1991) which ceded to the Chinese control of foreign affairs and defence if they gave complete control of internal affairs to the Tibetans and accepted the result of a referendum.
Yale Address (Yale University, 9 October 1991) proposing the Dalai Lama visit Tibet to ascertain the situation for himself and to persuade the Tibetan people not to abandon non-violence as the appropriate form of struggle.
Draft Constitution for the Future Tibet (Dharamsala, February 1992) outlining proposals for the transition from a Chinese-occupied Tibet to a free and democratic Tibet.
The Chinese claim Tibet has never been an independent state, and that no government of any country in the world has ever recognised Tibet as such. They continue to insist that they will not talk with members of the Government-in-Exile, and that the issue of Tibet is an "internal Chinese affair". The Chinese have also gone to elaborate lengths to prevent or discourage any other government from meeting the Dalai Lama during his travels abroad, hinting that lucrative commercial deals and, in Britain's case, negotiations with Hong Kong, would be jeopardised.
In Tibet, China has threatened and imposed "severe measures", "resolute blows" and "merciless repression" for those who "make trouble in Tibet" (Sep/Oct 1988) and has accused the exiled "Dalai Clique" of instigating all protests in Tibet. Enshrined in China's domestic law are two major documents concerning Tibet:
Seventeen-Point Agreement (Beijing, 23 May 1951) which promised not to "alter the existing political system in Tibet" and that "in makers relating to various reforms in Tibet there would be no compulsion on the part of the central authorities." This treaty, signed by Tibetan officials in the face of an invading army, was abrogated by them after the 1959 Uprising in Lhasa, which followed allegations that the Chinese had breached the agreement in large areas of Kham, which they had renamed Sichuan and thus exempted from the treaty.
Law on Regional Autonomy for Minority Nationalities (1984) which updated similar provisions in the Common Programme (1949) and the Constitution of the PRC (1954) to allow local control over "economics, culture, and construction" as long as it was "under the guidance of the state plans." It aimed to correct the "excesses" of the Cultural Revolution by increasing the number of Tibetan cadres, repeating guarantees of freedom of religious practice, and permitting the use of Tibetan in schools.
In the five years after 1979, when this law and other "flexible measures" were implemented, the Chinese allowed five fact-finding missions representing the Dalai Lama to visit Tibet, but ended this arrangement in 1984 by demanding that the Tibetans travel on Chinese travel documents.
Foreign governments have been willing to question China over its human rights abuses in Tibet. This was reflected in a series of UN Resolutions in the early-1960s. Although the PRO was not part of the UN at that time, and has since argued that it is not therefore bound by these resolutions, it is important that they exist. Since being awarded the 1989 Nobel Peace Prize, the Dalai Lama has also gained international recognition. He has met the premiers of many countries, including Britain and the United States. The meetings are usually excused as having a religious agenda, but for them to be held at all is still a great step forward.
However, successive Western governments have refused to really address the question of Tibet's status or to discuss the issue of Tibetan independence. Although parliaments worldwide have pressed for negotiations between the Chinese authorities and the Tibetan people without preconditions, they have not given the Dalai Lama any substantial political backing. For example, the British Government has called for China to enter into open negotiations with Tibet, while still issuing statements that independence for Tibet is an unrealistic option.
International pressure has an important part to play in forcing China to come to the negotiating table, and also gives the Tibetans the political muscle to make their demands during negotiations. Otherwise, Beijing might force the Tibetans to accept a notional agreement promising an end to some symptoms of the occupation - improving human rights abuse and environmental damage - without giving the Tibetans real political control. Although there have been advances, respect for human rights and protection of the environment will always be fragile while China has colonial desires in Tibet.
Despite concern by foreign countries about human rights abuses in Tibet, pressure on China is soft. The reluctance of Western powers to address the issue of Tibetan independence may mask an attempt by them to pressurise the Dalai Lama into accepting any token offers, which would serve their own economic interests. Already by some estimates, China is the world's third largest economy, and its projected growth alone over the next decade will equal Europe's current annual output. In some commercial circles it is predicted that China will be the biggest economic player in the history of mankind. For instance, repeated attempts to get a UN High Commission condemnation of human rights abuses in Tibet have failed after China has managed to use economic strength to nullify the motion.
Non-governmental organisations and inter-national pressure groups like the Australia Tibet Council ensure that the Tibetan issue remains prominent. In this context their roles are vital. This is best summed up in the Foreign Affairs Select Committee's 1994 report on relations between Britain and China: "The world will not allow the issue of Tibet to be ignored. The Chinese Government may find that the advantages to China of their policies in Tibet may be outweighed by the trouble those policies cause to China's international relations generally."
All attempts to discuss Tibet are bedevilled by the Chinese redefinition of the country's borders since 1949. Here the term Tibet refers to the three original provinces of U'Tsang, Kham and Amdo (sometimes called Greater Tibet). When the Chinese refer to Tibet they invariably mean the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) which includes only one province, U'Tsang (the TAR was formally inaugurated in 1965).