TIBET ISSUES MAY BE SOLVABLE
By Kevin Stoda
On DN [Democracy Now] last week, Robert Barnett, the director of the Modern Tibetan Studies Program at Columbia University and the author of Lhasa: Streets with Memories sounded upbeat.
This past week, in the face of official Chinese government opposition, President Barak Obama met behind closed doors with the Dalai Lama of Tibet. This week’s saber rattling by China over the Dalai Lama’s visit had been preceded earlier this February by a confrontation over Congress’ interested in selling Taiwan some major new weaponry. [China had immediately threatened sanctions.]
Barnett, who has written the introduction to a new book of essays called The Struggle for Tibet, stated, “I think there’s actually a bigger question behind this [weeks visit of the Dalai Lama to the White House and the ongoing superpower stress between China and America].”
Barnett also noted optimistically, “I think many people, people who support the Tibetan issue or the Dalai Lama—I think they have a certain kind of—really a kind of popular political intelligence that the Tibet issue is really very easy to solve for the Chinese. It has this very compromising leader, this very concessional leader. They could solve it quite quickly. And that’s very rare in the world today. We can’t solve issues like Chechnya or Darfur or Palestine easily. And there is a certain genuine sense, for the Americans, trying to encourage the Chinese to resolve this issue before it’s too late, before the Dalai Lama dies.”
Later, Barnett summarized a slow current change underway in China, i.e. since the region-wide riots in Tibet two years ago.
“We are seeing changes in China. There are very important discussions coming on this. This writer who I’ve been working with, Wang Lixiong, an enormously significant intellectual, who’s starting to use terms like ‘cultural imperialism’ to describe China’s way of treating Tibetans. These conversations are beginning to emerge inside China. Very significant. But it’s going to be a long time before they lead to real policy changes in the leadership of China. That’s going to take time,” noted Professor Barnett.
Barnet noted earlier, “Of course, China has legitimate interests, like other major powers do, in securing sea channels and so on. But there are some areas in Southeast Asia and South Asia where there is some nervousness about China. And interestingly, Tibet is exactly at the center of those tensions. Tibet is becoming surprisingly significant in ways that I think nobody really realized twenty years ago, in that it’s the nuclear tri-junction, probably the only one in the world, between Pakistan, India and China. Three nuclear powers face each other over that Tibetan border. And it’s also the source for the water supply for the main rivers that feed about a fifth of the world’s population. And, as we know, the glaciers there are showing signs of drying up. So future conflicts about water, that a lot of people predict, will probably involve Tibet, if it comes to that kind of tension. So, there are some feelings of nervousness about China in certain parts of Asia.”
In short, with the possible confrontations awaiting China, India and Pakistan over the water supply of the Himalayas, i.e. with Tibet at its center, China might seriously want to significantly improve Tibetan and national government relations immensely over the next two decades. Likewise, border relations need to be strengthened within Tibet to ward off any nuclear or other military confrontations in the Himalayas—as well.