Beijing Dances for Dialogue
China could surprise critics. There are distinct indications that talks between Dalai Lama and Beijing could start before the Olympic Games in August. Premier Wen Jiabao puzzled people by accusing Dalai Lama of trying to split China through independence for Tibet. In fact the Tibetan leader repeatedly said he sought autonomy. More recently President Hu Jintao accused Dalai Lama of preventing a dialogue which the Tibetan leader has repeatedly sought. This seems to be the classical Chinese way of saving face.
As in a carefully choreographed minuet Beijing takes two steps forward, one step backward. The empty bluster against Dalai Lama is intended to camouflage Beijing's retreat from its own earlier stand ruling out dialogue. Now, unobtrusively, it is not the dialogue being criticized but the Dalai Lama for coming in its way! If Beijing indeed is preparing for talks the optimum time to hold them would be before the Olympics.
Beijing is fiercely focused on China's national interest. This dictates that talks start before the Games begin. China's acrimony with the outside world has peaked. As security analyst B. Raman pointed out, China's nationwide protests against France were carried out by neo-Red Guards controlled by the Internal Security Ministry. If there is no serious split inside China, the rollback might have started. Beijing's official mouthpiece, China Daily, in its editorial of April 22 said China should learn to accept criticism. It wrote: "As the country becomes the locomotive of the world economy and plays a bigger part in global affairs, it draws more attention from the rest of the world."
The bitterness between China and the West, ignited by the Tibet issue, could convert into wild euphoria if carefully calibrated moves by Beijing result in starting substantive talks with Dalai Lama before the Olympics. Such euphoria would create the ideal setting for making the Olympic Games a great showpiece to the world of China's progress. That was China's original purpose for holding the Games.
China's paranoid approach to Tibet can be traced to two factors. First, China has never been a democracy. Even ancient India had village panchayats where people spoke freely. China always had warlords extracting mute obedience. Secondly, China's geography and history led to long spells of isolation from the rest of the world. Foreign rule in China came from, among others, the Mongols who advanced through its sparsely populated west. Tibet is best accessible to China through its other minority region, Xingjian. That is why Aksai Chin, which links Xingjian to Tibet, was annexed. But Tibet, sparsely populated, is easily accessible to heavily populated North India. If Tibet were free there can, theoretically, be an influx by Indians from the original land of the Buddha, to threaten China's buffer against future invasions. That perhaps explains the logic behind China's negative and expansionist policies, until now. For any Indian the notion of Indians posing a future threat to China through heavy migration into Tibet would cause hysterical laughter. But dictators seldom understand laughter ' or themselves have the ability to laugh.
Hopefully, China's economic progress and its potential of playing a major global role will induce a sense of realism in Beijing. A breakthrough with the Dalai Lama could turn defeat into a stunning victory for the Olympic Games. If Chinese leaders display their characteristic pragmatism they will talk to Dalai Lama before the Games, in which they have economically and politically invested so heavily. August will tell us if sense triumphs over paranoia in Beijing.