DHARAMSALA, INDIA — As China’s National People’s Congress gathers this week to formally confirm Xi Jinping as the new president, Tibetan activists in exile are doubtful that the transition will mean any substantive change for Beijing’s Tibet policies.
Speaking to VOA during a rally for Tibetan rights in New Delhi prior to China's National People’s Congress, Lobsang Sangay, prime minister of the Tibetan government in exile, made this request of the new Chinese president:
“We hope Xi Jinping will review the hardline policies in Tibet, realize these policies have failed and introduce reforms to meet the aspirations of Tibetan people," Lobsang Sangay says. "Then there will be peace and harmony in Tibet. But if you look at the past 50 years, it is not that optimistic.”
Professor Michael Davis, a China constitutional law expert at Hong Kong University, says Xi’s priorities are likely to include managing the economy, fighting corruption and negotiating the U.S. pivot to Asia - not re-evaluating Tibet policies.
“Tibet to the leadership in Beijing is a security problem," David said. "You would like to think they could connect the dots; that if you have a lot of dissent within Tibetan society, maybe more repression is not the answer; that a more generous, accommodating approach that respects Tibetan autonomy and culture might be more constructive.”
Beijing still fails to grasp how completely Tibetans reject the language, economic and religious policies that marginalize Tibetans in their own country, says Tsering Tsomo, director of the Tibet Center of Human Rights and Democracy.
“These policies are a guise for changing the identity of the Tibetans and turning them into what the Chinese government calls, ‘The New Socialist Man,’ he said. "That is their goal, and has been since Mao. It is really regressive of the Chinese to continue these policies, even now.”
The View From Dharamsala
In Dharamsala, Tibetan students are holding an anti-China hunger strike at the Dalai Lama’s temple. Although he gave up his political authority two years ago, the Dalai Lama remains a symbol of exile and the focus of Beijing’s criticism.
The spiritual leader will turn 80 well before the end of Xi Jinping’s first five-year term, notes Tibet analyst Caroline Coutinhall.
“The political bureau of the Chinese government is changing. Of course it is important. But it is not as important as the transition in power when the Dalai Lama passes away,” Coutinhall said.
From his office near the University of Hong Kong memorial to the Tiananmen Square massacre, Professor Davis suggets that President Xi might want to act sooner rather than later if he has any intention of engaging the Tibetan people through dialogue.
“I think the Chinese will find a less accommodating community if the Dalai Lama wasn't there. China will also have a vacuum as to who they can deal with; who can deliver the support of the Tibetan community," he said.
An Eventual Return Home?
Pursued by Chinese security forces for her role in the 2008 Lhasa uprising, Pema - not her real name - fled Tibet after being in hiding for five months. The young woman longs to return to her family, and has not seen her mother for over two years.
“Self-immolation shows how bad things are in Tibet. [It] is the final resort," she said. "When the Dalai Lama dies, it is possible Tibetans will take up arms: change from peaceful protest to non-peaceful protest.”
Decades of living in exile have not tempered the desire of Tibetans to return to their homeland. Despite the lack of progress on political talks with China, time remains on their side, asserts Lobsang Sangay.
“Buddhism has existed for some 2,600 years. Communism is 100 and something years old. So there is no competition. I really believe we will see basic freedom for Tibetan people and the return of the Dalai Lama to Tibet,” the prime-minister-in-exile said.
Tibetans and Chinese are waging a political campaign that is in the process of being handed on from one generation to the next.