Such vehement attacks on the Dalai Lama that appear with seeming regularity in state-media have in large part been sanctioned by the Communist Party for nearly 20 years, since the Party’s Third Tibet Work Forum, held in 1994. The Tibet Work Forums are major policy meetings held on occasion to set the Party’s overall strategy as it relates to Tibet (the most recent forum, the fifth, was convened by the Party’s top echelon in January 2010). At the crucial Third Tibet Work Forum, however, Party leaders abandoned what had been a relatively less hostile approach, and began to publicly condemn the Dalai Lama, and citing him as the root cause of instability in Tibet.
Prior to the Third Work Forum, denigrating the Tibetan spiritual leader was not an explicit goal of Party policy. It follows that without that key decision, or a subsequent one like it, we probably wouldn’t see such articles teeming with utter contempt for the Tibetan spiritual leader and Nobel Peace Laureate. We would see Party leaders better positioned to sincerely engage with the Dalai Lama on the problems in Tibet, rather than shrouding their invitations for his greater involvement with cynicism and spurious claims, which has the effect of actively working against attempts at mutual cooperation.
As long as the Party leadership maintains their course of giving license to public condemnations of the Dalai Lama, they will face the contradicting goals of seeking to diminish the Dalai Lama’s influence, while at the same time seeking to utilize that very stature in order to address issues, such as the Tibetan self-immolations, that the Party itself has proven ill-equipped to face.
Perhaps recent suggestions emanating from within the Party that leaders in China cannot simply ignore the Dalai Lama’s religious significance could pave a way forward, and create the pretense needed for authorities to safely begin to confront the reality of the Dalai Lama’s role in Tibetan society. However, without ending the public condemnations, Party leaders allow themselves few realistic avenues for engaging with the Dalai Lama in order to address what is taking place in Tibet today. The first step Party leaders must take, is to stop denigrating the Dalai Lama.