The Dalai Lama’s meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was probably the most interesting part of his visit to Washington D.C. because the State Department is engaged in concrete politics, while the Tibetan spiritual leader is a largely symbolic figure who does not overly concern himself with the Tibetan diaspora.
On the eve of this meeting, President Barack Obama had to attend to the least interesting part of the visit: officially receiving the Dalai Lama and exchanging pleasantries with him for an hour. Both men declared for the umpteenth time that Tibet is part of China (does anyone doubt that?), voiced their support for the preservation of Tibet’s unique identity (who would object to this?), and so on and so forth. Everything followed protocol. This was not the Dalai Lama’s first visit to the White House
It was clear that Tibet would not cause a serious rift between the United States and China, although many people - especially in the United States - waited with bated breath to see if the aircraft-carrier USS Nimitz would be allowed to enter the Fragrant Harbour, i.e. Hong Kong, on the day of Obama’s meeting with the Dalai Lama. In the past the Chinese authorities have prohibited American ships from entering their ports to express disapproval. This time it was an aircraft carrier, a symbol of American might. Would the Chinese send it back? It passed mile after mile unobstructed until finally it arrived at the port. Sino-American relations will continue to evolve. Relations between the two countries are no doubt complex, but they are also extremely important.
Tibet is certainly an issue in Sino-American relations, however not as big an issue as the uninformed public assumes. In January Chinese officials held another round of talks with representatives of the Tibetan diaspora. To say the talks were not very productive is something of an understatement. But the Tibetans living outside Tibet were interested to learn at least that the autonomous region is now entering a new stage of economic development. Even without it, Tibet looks much better than it did just 10 years ago. This new stage will be seeded by $60 billion from Beijing (some U.S. states would certainly be happy to receive this sum from Washington). Beijing is not completely opposed the diaspora’s participation in this work either. The issue is the terms of that participation.
It would be no small matter if the United States was actively encouraging the Tibetan diaspora to work against China. This is why Beijing is so nervous about the Dalai Lama’s ceremonial visits to the White House and why it is closely monitoring moves made by the State Department in this direction. Beijing is trying to understand what influence they exert on Tibetans there. The Dalai Lama may believe that the destinies of Tibet and China are inseparable. But he is 75 years old. What if the Tibetan diaspora splits into moderate and extremist camps? The split has, in fact, already occurred, but Tibetan émigrés are trying to conceal it for the time being.
Is Beijing overreacting to Washington’s attempts to participate in this process? It depends on whether you look at it in the broader context. Any State Department bureaucrat can tell you what this phrase mean. And in this case, the context is very broad, stretching back half a century.
Tibet and China were merged during the Mongolian Yuan Dynasty, and they have been a single state for more than 700 years, which is more than three times older than the United States. True, Tibet’s geographic location has made it relatively inaccessible and autonomous, and this will never change. And as the White House meeting has confirmed yet again, nobody disputes China’s current national borders. This is codified in international law, the UN Charter, etc. But the situation was different half a century ago.
The CIA’s role in the events of 1959 - when the Dalai Lama and tens of thousands of his compatriots left Tibet - is not well known. In 1959 China was in the midst of the Great Leap, Mao Zedong’s first destructive social experiment, and the Chinese authorities saw the unrest provoked by the lamas as a strictly domestic affair. They were worried that the Tibetans receiving a modern education for the first time in Tibet’s history would return to the idea of autonomy and eventually lead it to rebellion. Chinese troops were brought into the region.
However, sometimes Beijing is wrong. There is a book “The CIA's Secret War in Tibet,” which was published in 2002 (I read about it in Expert magazine). This is a respectable and informative book written by people who were direct involved in the events. Among other things, the authors revealed that there were training camps for Tibetan guerrillas in Colorado and that CIA operatives made clandestine trips to Tibet by air. CIA operatives also arranged for the Dalai Lama’s escape across the Chinese border. The authors of the book conclude that the CIA was allaying the groundwork for a rebellion in Tibet, having assumed complete control of the “resistance movement.”
Later the CIA worked with the diaspora. There have been reports that the Dalai Lama’s administration admitted receiving annual payments of $1.7 million from the CIA in the 1960s. Part of this money was intended to fund guerrilla operations. No doubt there is more information about this out there.
A “broad context” includes the fact that in the late 1950s and early 1960s the United States did not recognize the People’s Republic of China and did not have official relations with it. The U.S. was, in fact, engaged in subversion against China. It was doing the same with Cuba. Then it moved on to Vietnam. President Richard Nixon’s visit to Beijing in 1974 ushered in a new era in world history.
It should come as no surprise that Beijing always has this past in mind. Whether history will repeat itself is another matter.
The opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.
MOSCOW. (RIA Novosti political correspondent Dmitry Kosyrev)