According to Newsweek, the Chinese government has realized how badly it bungled Tibet. Pouring billions of dollars into urban development has not won over the indigenous population they have mercilessly repressed. Does that ever work?
After the mass riots there in March 2008, Tibet faded once again into relative obscurity—the province of foreign-affairs wonks, adventure tourists, and a few well-organized protest groups who object to China's rule there. But during that time, Beijing has come slowly to two painful realizations. First, the restive plateau it had treated for decades as a colony is central to its national plan: development and stability are "vital to ethnic unity, social stability, and national security," President Hu Jintao recently told his Politburo. And second, a corollary realization: China's government has been mishandling the issue of Tibet all along.
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Suddenly, then, the Dalai Lama is not the problem but rather a pivotal part of the solution. As Tibet expert and author Robert Thurman says, the Dalai Lama is the key to giving China legitimate sovereignty over Tibet as an autonomous region within China because he would inspire his people to stay inside China in case of a referendum on independence. His growing following within mainland China (the number of Chinese Buddhists attending the Dalai Lama's teaching sessions in Dharamsala is growing quickly) can also help calm the simmering discontent among the Chinese who have been left untouched by the benefits of China's impressive economic growth, which has created a hunger for spiritual growth.
The Dalai Lama will be 75 in July. He is revered by the Tibetans and admired around the world. Any deal with him will have the unquestioned legitimacy and support that is so vital to China's aspirations. And his absence will spell uncertainty and a lack of moral authority over Tibetans—which can only hinder China's aim of becoming a global superpower.
Rapprochement between the Chinese government and the Dalai Lama? Dare we hope?