Free Tibet Campaign urges new Chinese Communist Party General Secretary Hu Jintao to pursue unconditional negotiations with the exiled Tibetan government, but warns that he does not deserve his "moderate" reputation
Press Release 15 November 2002
The new leadership of the Communist Party of China was today unveiled in Beijing, and Hu Jintao has emerged from the Great Hall of the People as the Party's General Secretary, at the head of a nine-person Politburo Standing Committee. Free Tibet Campaign congratulates Hu Jintao on his appointment to the most senior position in the Party, and calls on him to actively pursue unconditional negotiations with the exiled Tibetan government. Free Tibet Campaign urges Hu to take up and develop the initiative of his predecessor Jiang Zemin, who retains considerable influence in the Party and who invited representatives of the Dalai Lama to Beijing and Lhasa for 'talks about talks' in September.
Free Tibet Campaign warns however that Hu Jintao's historical, hardline relationship with Tibet is inconsistent with his reputation as "cautious" and "moderate". This relationship is documented in a report by Free Tibet Campaign: Hu Jintao, Reformer or Conformist? which details his transformation of Tibet policy and reveals a deep distrust of Tibetan people.
"Hu's hardline attitude towards Tibet is not indicative of a man who will show concern for the welfare of the Tibetan people, and we take this opportunity to warn international governments that his reputation as a cautious and moderate politician is undeserved," said Alison Reynolds, Director of Free Tibet Campaign. "Hu Jintao clearly has an ability to bend with the political winds of the time, and this is likely to be a trait of his early years as General Secretary, since his power base is weak."
In Tibet Hu was the architect of a more resolute and hardline strategy, which he envisaged would most effectively enhance his reputation among senior Party leaders. His governorship of Tibet represented a turning point in the way Tibet policy was devised. Besides using the period of martial law to introduce more sophisticated methods of control to promote stability, Hu Jintao introduced a strategy of "grasping with both hands" which sought to use economic development as a tool in the "struggle against separatism". This and the increased administrative interference in cultural and religious spheres, which was introduced during Hu's tenure, are legacies which can still be seen in Tibet today. Free Tibet Campaign has concluded that Hu's role as an architect of hardline policies towards Tibet, both during his tenure and in his role in the Politburo, demonstrates an intrinsic lack of concern about the welfare of Tibetans, and goes beyond his political imperatives, which many claim have determined his actions.
The recent contact with the Tibetan Government in exile is understood to be an initiative of Jiang Zemin, who retains considerable influence in the Party. Hu Jintao's immediate priority will be to build a power base, so progress on Tibet may rest with Jiang for the time being. "The real test to China's sincerity in moving the dialogue with the Tibetan Government forward is yet to come," added Ms Reynolds. "The international community needs to see evidence that this initiative was not mere window-dressing for the benefit of Jiang Zemin's final visit to the United States as President of China."
Two envoys of the Dalai Lama were invited to Beijing and Lhasa in September for 'talks about talks'. On 9 September, the Dalai Lama's Private Office announced that Special Envoy Lodi Gyaltsen Gyari and Envoy Kelsang Gyaltsen would visit Beijing and Lhasa. "His Holiness the Dalai Lama is very pleased that the team is able to make such a visit," said a statement. The news was welcomed in all circles. The European Union said that it had "long encouraged both sides to enter into dialogue. The EU hopes that this visit will pave the way for direct dialogue between Beijing and the Dalai Lama leading to a peaceful and lasting solution to the Tibetan question."
Beijing played down the visit. Foreign Ministry spokesman Kong Quan told reporters, "There were some Tibetan expatriates allowed to come back to China in a private capacity." Kong reiterated China's pre-conditions to negotiations; that the Dalai Lama must agree that Tibet and Taiwan are part of China and stop all "splittist" activities. In Tibet, Deputy Party Secretary Legchog said the two sides did not discuss the Dalai Lama, and he expressed doubt about the Dalai Lama's sincerity stating, "his words do not match his deeds... What he now advocates, a high degree of national autonomy for Tibet and a referendum, cannot hold water. (It) is a disguised independence of Tibet."
Special Envoy Lodi Gyari issued a statement on his return to Dharamsala on 28 September, in which he described his priorities as being to re-establish direct contact with the leadership in Beijing, to create a conducive atmosphere enabling direct face-to-face meetings on a regular basis, and to explain the Dalai Lama's Middle Way Approach. He said "we focused our effort towards building confidence by dispelling distrust and misconception." In Beijing, Gyari said the delegation met Ministers and officials and "had frank exchanges of views with them in a cordial atmosphere... Since I had the opportunity to meet Chinese leaders in Beijing in the early 1980s, what impressed us more this time was the much greater flexibility displayed by the current leaders in their mental attitude." Prime Minister Samdhong Rinpoche said he hoped the two sides could start talks on Tibet's status by July 2003. The last official contact between the two governments was in 1993.
These developments are understood to have been sanctioned by Jiang Zemin. One interpretation is that Jiang Zemin found it expedient to make gestures on Tibet as a means to enhance his image as an international statesman and his relationship with the United States. The flurry of articles in the Chinese press over the summer, about Jiang's political abilities, seemed to indicate that he does not plan to retire from the world stage or relinquish all internal influence.
Despite the release of a number of Tibetan political prisoners this year, Tibet remained on the agenda of Jiang Zemin's summit with George W Bush in Crawford, Texas. On 25 October Bush told the media that he had asked Jiang to begin dialogue with Tibetan leaders to resolve the Tibetan issue: "I also spoke of the importance of respecting human rights in Tibet and encouraged more dialogue with Tibetan leaders." President Jiang Zemin did not make any reference to the issue of Tibet. Jiang prides himself on his ability to 'handle' the United States and Tibet is a sensitive thorn in the flesh of Sino-US relations. In the past Hu has apparently been suspicious of the United States; in 1994, he reportedly told a secret party meeting that "strangling China's development" was "a strategic principle pursued by the United States." He visited the United States for the first time in 2002.
With Jiang retaining his influence in the Party, by stacking the Politburo with a number of his allies, and assuming that he views resolving the Tibetan issue as an important step in China's relations with western nations, further progress may be made in the Party's relationship with the exiled Tibetan government. Two years ago, influential Chinese academic Wang Lixiong wrote an article called "The Dalai Lama is the key to the future" in which he argued that a deal should be brokered whilst the Dalai Lama was still alive. Wang's views, that a united exile community under the Dalai Lama was preferable to a fragmented exile movement that would create more difficulties for Beijing in the long-term, apparently found supporters amongst a number of government officials in Beijing, but it remains unclear as to whether Hu Jintao is among them.
The current Party Secretary of Tibet, Guo Jinlong is believed to be a close ally of Hu Jintao and, like Hu, emphasises economic reform as a means of consolidating control.