As the U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton arrives in Beijing Friday on the last leg of her Asian tour,Tibet has begun to acquire an unexpected profile in the Obama Administration’s engagement with China.
When Clinton referred to Tibet in her first foreign policy speech last week,most observers had seen it as little more than pro-forma.
Addressing the Asia Society in New York last week,Clinton had promised to listen to what the Asians had to say,but insisted that the Obama Administration will not hesitate to take up honest differences over human rights.
“As part of our dialogues,we will hold ourselves and others accountable as we work to expand human rights and create a world that respects those rights,one where¿ Tibetans and all Chinese people can enjoy religious freedom without fear of prosecution,” Clinton declared.
In the week since she has been on the road,Tibet and its adjoining provinces have seen major protests. Cracking down hard on these protests,China has brought additional troops into the disturbed areas and closed the troubled regions to foreigners.
Whether intended or not,the renewed restiveness of the Tibetans is bound to cast a shadow over Clinton’s talks with the Chinese leaders.
Beijing might find it hard to sweep the discontent under the carpet,as Tibetan frustrations boil over.
The Tibetan new year,Losar,which falls next week and the 50th anniversary of the failed Tibetan uprising that falls next month,have added a new edge to the renewed tensions. When Tibetan protestors rioted last March,with a rare ferocity,the Bush Administration pressed both sides to renew contact and pick up the threads of their stalled dialogue. This helped avoid making Tibet an international issue on the eve of the Beijing Olympics.
Once the Olympics got over,Beijing had little incentive to look good on the issue,let alone address the Tibetan grievances. Meanwhile,the Dalai Lama and his followers are convinced that there is no future in a dialogue with the CCP.
If Tibet does stay in the international headlines during this weekend,Clinton will find it hard not say unpleasant things. The Chinese,in turn,don’t take kindly to lectures by outsiders on matters that they consider internal.
Washington,however,is not the only capital that will find itself in a cleft stick over renewed disturbances in Tibet. New Delhi,which saw last summer what trouble in Tibet could do to its relations with Beijing,should be bracing for a rough ride.
(C. Raja Mohan is a Professor at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies,Nanyang Technological University,Singapore.)