I read the Dalai Lama’s news conference, and unfortunately, I see the same thing that he sees.
For someone who is Han Chinese, I’m actually quite moderate on Tibetan issues. Yes, I do believe that “Tibet has been an inalienable part of China since forever” but at least I see this as something of a quasi-religious belief. Yes, you can try to argue with someone as to the divinity of Christ or whether this plot of land belongs to X or Y, but ultimately you have to just deal with the fact that you aren’t going to convince anyone by screaming at them, and that you need to sit down and try to keep people from killing each other.
The Dalai Lama sees quite well how all this is going to turn out. A lot of his pacifism comes from the fact that he really sees no other options, and he is right. If things turn violent in Tibet, then the Tibetan movement is going to lose all of its Western support, and you are going to see mainstream Han Chinese attitude turn strongly against it. At that point, Tibet is doomed. I think that that the rock throwers are trying to copy the Palestinians or perhaps the Irish, the trouble with that is population. There are about 2 million Tibetans in a nation of 1.2 billion, and Sichuan the neighboring province has 120 million.
There is a major weakness in the Tibetan campaign which stems from the basic reality that the fate of Tibet is not going to be determined in the West, but among Chinese public opinion. The danger in what is going on is that from the discussions in the blogosphere, it is very strongly hardening Han Chinese attitudes against Tibetans, and it doesn’t matter how much sympathy the Dalai Lama gets in the West, if they don’t get the sympathy of Han Chinese, then the game is over.
What’s even more frightening to me is that I think the Dalai Lama might be losing his support among Tibetans. I don’t condone violence, but I can understand some of the frustrations that drive a person to violence, and my worry is that the Dalai Lama might be getting out of touch with events in Tibet. My guess is that the main concerns of the “angry young Tibetan” is employment which they see as being taken up by people outside of Tibet. What is the Dalai Lama’s economic plan for Tibet?
One could argue that Han Chinese are hopelessly brainwashed, but it is interesting that none of the major Tibetan websites have a Chinese edition or even try to appeal to Chinese readers. There is also a huge resurgeance of Buddhism among non-Tibetans in China, and the Dalai Lama could try to tap into that. If Tibetan activists can come up with concrete policy ideas (education, jobs, cultural preservation) then it is possible that some sympathetic officials will use some of these ideas.
One very dangerous situation in the world is the “double victim syndrome” in which two sides of a conflict think of themselves as the weak victim and then use this to justify atrocities against the other side. The one thing that the Chinese government has to do is to realize that it is not the weak victim here. This isn’t fifty or even twenty years ago when China was in danger of collapse. There is no change that Tibet is going to secede. There is also no chance that Tibet can launch a successful rebellion against the PRC Central Government. For better or for worse, the fate of Tibet lies completely in the hands of Beijing, and hopefully if Beijing realizes that it is just not going to lose Tibet, then you can see the chance that the policy is not going to be driven by paranoia.