Sino-Tibetan Dialogue: Hopes and Suspicions (1978 - 1987)
Mar 1978: In his official statement on 10 March 1978, His Holiness the Dalai Lama suggested that the Chinese authorities should allow the Tibetans in Tibet to visit their parents and relatives now in exile. His Holiness further said, "Similar opportunities should be given to the Tibetans in exile. Under such an arrangement we can be confident of knowing the true situation inside Tibet".
Dec 1978: Li Juisin, Xinhua's Head and China's de facto official representative in Hong Kong, met Gyalo Thondup, elder brother of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, and informed him that Deng Xiaoping and his colleagues were eager to meet him and discuss about the problem of Tibet. Li invited Thondup to visit Beijing for the purpose.
Jan 1979: On 6 January 1979, a reception committee to welcome the "returning and visiting" Tibetan exiles was formed in Lhasa, according to a Radio Lhasa broadcast 8 January.
Feb 1979: After seeking His Holiness the Dalai Lama's formal approval, Gyalo Thondup visited Beijing in late February 1979 in his personal capacity. Thondup met China's paramount leader, Deng Xiaoping, on 12 March 1979 in Beijing. Deng told Thondup that "apart from independence, all issues can be discussed". Deng suggested that His Holiness the Dalai Lama should send people to investigate the situation in Tibet and said "it is better to see with one's own eyes than to hear something a hundred times from other people".
Aug 1979: On 2 August 1979, His Holiness the Dalai Lama sent the first Tibetan fact-finding delegation to Tibet and China. During their visit to various parts of Tibet for nearly six months, the Tibetan delegation found that China's claim of socialist progress in Tibet had little substance - the living standard of the Tibetan people was extremely poor, economic development minimal, and the destruction of religion and monastic institutions almost total. On their way back to Dharamshala, the Tibetan delegation reported their findings to Beijing. Following that, China's paramount leader Deng Xiaoping instituted a five-member working committee on Tibet under Hu Yaobang, General Secretary of the Communist Party of China (CPC), to assess the situation and formulate correct policies for Tibet. The Working Committee was also given a task "to work for the return of the Dalai clique and the Tibetans abroad to the motherland".
Jan 1980: In January 1980, at the meeting of the National People's Congress in Beijing, the Chinese leaders announced that a new law would be enacted to "realise the right to autonomy" of the minority nationalities.
Apr 1980: In April 1980, the CPC's Central Committee called the first ever high-level meeting on work in Tibet.
May 1980: In May 1980, Beijing sent its own high-level fact-finding delegation to the "Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR)". The delegation composed of members of the newly instituted Working Committee. While in Lhasa, General Secretary of the Communist Party of China, Hu Yaobang, expressed astonishment at the level of poverty in Tibet. He demanded to know whether all the money Beijing had poured into it over the years had been thrown into the Yarlung Tsangpo River. He said the situation reminded him of colonialism. Hu sacked General Ren Rong from the post of the "TAR" Party Secretary and replaced him with Yin Fatang, a Tibetan-speaking Chinese.
May 1980: On 4 May 1980, the second Tibetan fact-finding delegation arrived in Beijing. After spending nearly three months in Tibet, Beijing asked the second delegation to cut short its visit as a result of emotional demonstration of popular support for His Holiness the Dalai Lama in Lhasa.
Jun 1980: On 11 June 1980, the Chinese Ambassador in New Delhi appealed for the early return of His Holiness the Dalai Lama. During a meeting with Kalon Phuntsok Tashi Takla, the Chinese Ambassador said, "If the Dalai Lama does not prefer to stay long there, he can return [to India]. The Central Government will respect his decision".
Jun 1980: The third Tibetan fact-finding delegation arrived in Beijing in the first week of June 1980. Commenting on the current China's preferential policy to the "TAR", Ling Tao, Vice-Chairman of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) and Deputy Director of the CPC's United Front Work Department, said to the Tibetan delegation, "With his visit to Tibet, Comrade Hu Yaobang has taken a special responsibility to groom Tibetan cadres to provide real autonomy to Tibet. Tibet and other nationalities are different. Therefore, we have developed and implemented a separate policy [for Tibet]."
Sep 1980: His Holiness the Dalai Lama offered to send 50 trained teachers from the exile community to help the educational development of Tibet. He also suggested opening a liaison office in Lhasa to build trust between the Chinese government and Tibetans.
Oct 1980: In a press statement released in Dharamshala on 7 October 1980, His Holiness the Dalai Lama appealed to his countrymen both in Tibet and in exile to look forward and to approach the whole problem calmly and objectively. His Holiness said, "The recent admission by the Chinese government of the mistakes committed, the failure of their policies in Tibet was a courageous step forward but is only just the beginning. We hope that the Chinese government would continue to review their policies thoroughly and respect and restore the fundamental human rights of the Tibetan people."
Oct 1980: The third Tibetan fact-finding delegation to Tibet, led by Jetsun Pema of the Tibetan Administration-in-exile, returned confirming that the standards of education in Tibet was deplorably low.
Mar 1981: In the beginning of March 1981, Gyalo Thondup, once again, visited Beijing. On 19 March, Thondup reported back to His Holiness the Dalai Lama that Beijing wanted the number of volunteer teachers to be reduced and sent first to minority schools in China instead of Tibet, where the living condition was bad. Thondup also reported that the Chinese authorities suggested postponing the Tibetan proposals to send the fourth fact-finding delegation and open a Liaison Office in Lhasa for a time being.
Mar 1981: His Holiness the Dalai Lama sent a formal letter, dated 23 March 1981, to China's paramount leader Deng Xiaoping in which he suggested improving "relationship between China and Tibet as well as between Tibetans in and outside Tibet". His Holiness further said, "The time has come to apply, with a sense of urgency, our common wisdom in a spirit of tolerance and broadmindedness in order to achieve genuine happiness for the Tibetans". In a separate note attached to this letter, His Holiness agreed to the postponement of the fourth delegation's visit and the opening of a Liaison Office in Lhasa for a time being. But, he requested the Chinese leadership to reconsider his proposal to send volunteer teachers and assured that the teachers would be concerned solely with education and would not "indulge in any political activities".
Jul 1981: Gyalo Thondup visited Beijing and met Ulanfu, Director of the CPC's United Front Work Department, and Yang Jingren, Director of the Nationalities Affairs Commission, on 12 July 1981. Ulanfu suggested that it would be better for His Holiness the Dalai Lama and his followers to return at the earliest. Thondup also met CPC's General Secretary Hu Yaobang on 27 July.
Apr 1982: On 24 April 1982, His Holiness the Dalai Lama sent a three-member exploratory mission to Beijing with the aim of kick-starting a discussion on key issues. The Tibetan delegation included Kalon Thupten Namgyal Juchen, Kalon Phuntsok Tashi Takla and Lodi Gyaltsen Gyari, Chairman of the Assembly of Tibetan People's Deputies (Tibetan Parliament-in-exile). On 29 April, the Tibetan delegation met officials of the CPC's United Front Work Department and Yang Jingren, Director of the Nationalities Affairs Commission. Yang Jingren handed over to the Tibetan delegation a copy of China's "Five-Point Policy towards the Dalai Lama", which was supposed to have given earlier to Gyalo Thondup by Hu Yaobang in 1981. The five points are:
- The Dalai Lama should be confident that China has entered a new stage of long-term political stability, steady economic growth and mutual help among all nationalities.
- The Dalai Lama and his representatives should be frank and sincere with the central government, not beat around the bush. There should be no more quibbling over the events in 1959.
- The central authorities sincerely welcome the Dalai Lama and his followers to come back to live. This is based on the hope that they will contribute to upholding China's unity and promoting solidarity between the Han and Tibetan nationalities, and among all nationalities, and the modernization programme.
- The Dalai Lama will enjoy the same political status and living conditions as he had before 1959. It is suggested that he not go to live in Tibet or hold local posts there. Of course, he may go back to Tibet from time to time. His followers need not worry about their jobs and living conditions. These will only be better than before.
- When the Dalai Lama wishes to come back, he can issue a brief statement to the press. It is up to him to decide what he would like to say in the statement.
The disclosure of China's "Five-Point Policy towards the Dalai Lama" clearly reflected that Beijing was only interested in the unconditional return of His Holiness the Dalai Lama to Tibet and not at all interested in discussing the issue of Tibet. The Chinese leaders contended that the Tibet issue was forever resolved with the introduction of "democratic reforms" in Tibet and the creation of "Tibet Autonomous Region".
Jun 1982: A high-ranking three-member exile Tibetan delegation to China returned to Dharamshala on 8 June 1982 after five weeks of talks in Beijing beginning 24 April. The delegation said it had "cordial, free and frank discussions with the authorities of the People's Republic of China".
Nov 1982: In November 1982, the Chinese government disclosed the content of their discussions with the three-member Tibetan exploratory mission. In an article, entitled Policy Towards Dalai Lama, published in Beijing Review of 15 November 1982, it said that the three-member delegation sent by the Dalai Lama requested the central authorities "to accord Tibet the same treatment as is provided for Taiwan in the Chinese Government's nine-point principle" and that "all the areas inhabited by Tibetans in Sichuan, Qinghai, Gansu and Yunnan be incorporated with Tibet to establish a unified big Tibet autonomous region".
Nov 1982: In response to the Chinese statements and commentaries published in Beijing Review of 15 November 1982, the Bureau of His Holiness the Dalai Lama in New Delhi issued a press statement on 22 November which said: "According to news reports which quoted latest Peking (Beijing) Review, the Central Chinese leadership seem to have some misapprehensions and misunderstandings with regard to the discussions held in May this year when His Holiness the Dalai Lama's delegation was in Peking for exploratory talk. His Holiness is, however, confident that the Peking authorities will sooner or later realistically recognise the reasonable desires and aspirations of the Tibetan people".
Jan 1983: At the end of a teaching in Bodh Gaya, India, in January 1983, His Holiness the Dalai Lama announced that he would visit Tibet sometime in 1985. This proposal was later officially conveyed to the Chinese leadership by Kalon Phuntsok Tashi Takla when he met the Chinese Ambassador, Sheng Jiang, in New Delhi on 5 February 1983.
Sep 1983: A press release of the Bureau of His Holiness the Dalai Lama in New Delhi in September 1983 reported the arrest of more than 500 Tibetans towards the end of August 1983. Many of those arrested were later known to be those involved in contacting the Tibetan fact-finding delegations and in the restoration of Gaden Monastery, near Lhasa.
Feb 1984: The CPC's Central Committee convened the second high-level National Forum on the Work in Tibet in Beijing between 27 February and 6 March 1984. Held under the chairmanship of the CPC's General Secretary, Hu Yaobang, the Forum initiated a second phase of reforms in Tibet and decided to open Tibet further by allowing Chinese entrepreneurs into Tibet. The policy later resulted in a chain of protests from the Tibetans in Tibet, who complained that the new immigrants threatened their livelihood and employment.
Mar 1984: His Holiness the Dalai Lama said that the situation in Tibet was far from satisfactory despite recent changes. In his official statement on 10 March 1984, His Holiness further said, "the Tibetan people in and outside Tibet must examine the facts by abandoning speculations and breaking free from bondage of fear. They must struggle with greater determinations to regain the right, which is justly ours and enjoyed by people the world over: the right to govern ourselves".
Aug 1984: In August 1984, Beijing dispatched another high-level delegation, led by Hu Qili, to "conduct a thorough investigation" of the situation in Tibet. Hu Qili endorsed the policy of opening up Tibet. However, the visit once again confirmed the Central Committee's intention of keeping a tight control of the running of the region.
Oct 1984: In October 1984, His Holiness the Dalai Lama, once again, sent the same three-member Tibetan exploratory mission to Beijing. The Tibetan delegation met Deputy Director, Jiang Ping, and several other officials of the CPC's United Front Work Department. At the meeting, Jiang Ping reiterated Beijing's "Five-Point Policy towards the Dalai Lama" and said, "It will remain unchanged, no matter what happens. Beijing has already made it clear that the precondition for dialogues is the Dalai Lama's recognition that Tibet is an inalienable part of China. This should be the basis for any dialogue between the two sides".
Nov 1984: On 28 November 1984, Xinhua News Agency released the document of Beijing's "Five-Point Policy towards the Dalai Lama" to the public. This was followed by another statement, on 2 December, saying that "the Tibetan delegates doubted the possibility of the Dalai Lama's visit to Tibet" and that they had once again sought "Taiwan formula for Tibet, inclusion of certain areas in a greater Tibet, and the withdrawal of Chinese troops from the region".
Dec 1984: On 3 December 1984, the Bureau of His Holiness the Dalai Lama in New Delhi refuted the claims made in Xinhua statement. The Bureau said that "the purpose of sending the Tibetan delegation to Beijing was to maintain our dialogues with the Chinese authorities and to discuss mainly the aspirations of the six million Tibetan people and not about the return of His Holiness the Dalai Lama".
Dec 1984: On 16 December1984, His Holiness the Dalai Lama announced the cancellation of his proposed visit to Tibet in 1985. In a formal press statement, His Holiness the Dalai Lama said, "As I have often said in the past, as long as the Tibetan people are not fully satisfied, the question of my return does not arise at all. The very fact that the Chinese are insistent that I return and stay in Beijing clearly indicates that there are still problems inside Tibet".
Jan 1985: In January 1985, the Tibetan Administration-in-exile, for the first time, issued a formal public statement on the Sino-Tibetan talks.
Feb 1985: The Assembly of Tibetan People's Deputies (Tibetan Parliament-in-exile) rejected the China's "Five-Point Policy towards the Dalai Lama". In a statement issued on 5 February 1985, the Chairman of the Assembly said that the Chinese terms are nothing but "a move to reduce the Tibetan cause to the personal issue of His Holiness the Dalai Lama. The Chinese leaders pretend to forget His Holiness' statement that the Tibetan people's struggle is a struggle for satisfactory happiness for the six million Tibetans. The Tibetan people will never be fully satisfied as long as they live under foreign domination".
Mar 1985: His Holiness the Dalai Lama appealed to the Chinese leaders to make genuine attempts to resolve the Tibet issue. In his official statement on 10 March 1985, His Holiness said: "It is now for the Chinese to act according to the enlightened ideals and principles of the modern times; to come forward with an open mind and make serious attempt to know and understand the Tibetan people's viewpoint and their true feelings and aspirations".
Jun 1985: On 8 June 1985, the Chinese government replaced the Tibetan-speaking Chinese "TAR" Party Secretary, Yin Fatang, with a slightly younger, non-Chinese national, Wu Jinghua. Wu belonged to the Yi nationality of Sichuan.
Jun 1985: On 9 June 1985, while responding to the press questions during his visit to Great Britain, West Germany and the Netherlands, China's Premier Zhao Ziyang said, "Tibet has been inalienable part of China since the seventh century. This is the historical fact and has been recognised by the international community. As such there is no question of discussing its future pattern or status except within the framework of the Chinese territory".
Jun 1985: The fourth Tibetan fact-finding delegation led by Woeser Gyaltsen Kundeling arrived in Beijing in June 1985. Before leaving for Amdo, north-eastern Tibet, the delegation met with the senior officials of the CPC's United Front Work Department on 21 June. Responding to the Chinese officials during the meeting, the Tibetan delegate said that as far as the [Beijing's] 'Five-Point Policy towards the Dalai Lama' was concerned, Tibetan people had already rejected it.
Jul 1985: In the United States, in an unusual gesture on Capitol Hill, China's President Li Xiannian was presented with a letter, written by Congressman Charlie Ross and Senator Claiborne Pell and signed by 150 prominent members of both houses of Congress, expressing concern for the situation in Tibet. The letter, dated 9 July 1985, urged the Chinese leadership to resolve the Tibetan issue through dialogue with His Holiness the Dalai Lama.
Dec 1985: On 23 December 1985, Britain's Parliamentary Human Rights Group wrote a letter to the China's Premier Zhao Ziyang, asking him to work out arrangements with His Holiness the Dalai Lama that accord with "justified and reasonable" wishes of the Tibetan people "to manage their own affairs".
Jan 1987: In January 1987, Hu Yaobang was removed from the post of General Secretary of the Communist Party of China (CPC). One of the reasons stated for the demotion of Hu Yaobang was his ethnic-sensitive liberal policy in Tibet.
Mar 1987: In his official statement on 10 March 1987, His Holiness the Dalai Lama said, "It seems there is no desire on the part of China to resolve the issue on the basis of mutual respect and for mutual benefit". His Holiness further said, "I would like to reiterate that the issue of Tibet is not about the power and position of either the Dalai Lama or the future of Tibetan refugees alone but rather it is the question of the rights and freedoms of the six million Tibetans... The issue of Tibet is fundamentally political with international ramifications and as such only a political solution can provide a meaningful answer".
May 1987: Gyalo Thondup made an another attempt to revive the Sino-Tibetan dialogue and visited Beijing in May 1987, but only discovered that Beijing's attitude had further hardened. Thondup met three senior officials of the CPC's United Front Work Department: Dang Xian-cao, Song Yidang, and Li Cao-ming, on 8 May.