Quantifying “the Dalai Lama effect”

Joshua Keating’s blog on Slate alerted me to an interesting paper that actually quantifies “the Dalai Lama effect”. The 2010 paper by Andreas Fuchs and Nils-Hendrik Klann of the University of Göttingen attempts to answer the question whether China’s foaming rage every time a country engages the Dalai Lama actually leads to any measurable ill effects in bilateral relations. The answer is yes but the effect is rather limited and short-lived.

The paper makes for a compelling reading simply because Fuchs and Klann look at very precise questions surrounding the Dalai Lama visits. I have been interested in this subject for obvious reasons. My comment yesterday for the IANS wire was noticed in some media quarters in the U.S., especially my construct “A jade diplomatic dance.”

“Does China carry out its threats to sanction non-compliant trading partners or does the emerging economy simply play with its targets’ fears? Our empirical results confirm the existence of a negative effect of Dalai Lama receptions at the highest level on exports to China for the Hu Jintao era (2002-2008). Meetings of a head of state or head of government with the Dalai Lama lead to a reduction of exports to China by 8.1% or 16.9% on average, depending on the estimation technique used. This effect is mainly driven by reduced exports
of machinery and transport equipment and it disappears in the second year after a meeting took place,” the authors say.

This is by far the clearest measure of the “the Dalai Lama effect” I have seen. As far as I know this is perhaps the only paper of its kind that looks at the facts behind the rhetoric.

“Most sanctions are costly to the country that imposes them. Therefore, at first glance, it may seem odd that China would be willing to forgo the gains that would arise from trade under efficient importing decisions in order to punish trading partners who receive the Dalai Lama.

However, China’s political leadership may be willing to bear the economic and political costs that arise from diverting trade away from Dalai Lama-receiving countries if such ‘punishment’ increases the likelihood of its political survival. By exerting economic pressure on these countries, the Chinese administration seeks to suppress any notion potentially challenging the territorial integrity of China and intends to strengthen the stability of its Communist regime in the multiethnic country,” the paper, titled “Paying a Visit: The Dalai Lama Effect on International Trade”, says.

The paper’s mention of the Hu Jintao era has a context to it. The Dalai Lama effect seems particularly recognizable during his tenure because of one obvious reason. Between 1988 and 1992 Hu was in charge of Tibet and was known to be particularly uncompromising on the hardline policy, an approach he maintained throughout his leadership. The rise of President Xi Jinping was expected to soften some of Beijing’s China policy and rhetoric. That has not happened at all.

As the official reaction, albeit part of the Chinese establishment’s performance art, to yesterday’s meeting between President Barack Obama and the Dalai Lama shows China is unwilling to give any quarter at all to the 78-year-old Buddhist master.

Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Zhang Yesui late Friday in Beijing summoned the charge d’affaires at the US embassy to strongly protest the meeting. Earlier, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Qin Gang said in a statement, "The US seriously interfered in China’s internal affairs by allowing the Dalai’s visit to the United States and arranging the meetings with US leaders. We urge the US to take China’s concerns seriously, stop tolerance and support of anti-China separatist forces, cease interfering in China’s internal affairs and immediately take measures to eliminate its baneful influence to avoid further impairment to China-US relations."

I wrote the following last year as I have done several times before:

I personally think it is in China’s long-term interests to invite  the Dalai Lama to Beijing for direct talks, notwithstanding that he has retired from his political role. There is nothing to stop Beijing from including the democratically elected Tibetan prime minister-in-exile Lobsang Sangay but that may be too bold for a system that calibrates every step when it comes Tibet. In fact, precisely because the Dalai Lama has given up a political role, it might make more sense to talk to him directly.

Although formal political power resides in the office of Tibetan prime minister-in-exile in a real sense, the Dalai Lama unquestionably remains an overarching influence over any negotiated future of Tibet. Beijing knows that very well.

Talks between Beijing and the Dalai Lama’s representatives have been suspended since 2010 and there are no signs yet that they would be revived. Rather than talking to his representatives within a framework that is designed not to resolve anything, I think it is time for Beijing to host the Dalai Lama and have threadbare discussions.

2013 is not 1950 when China annexed Tibet, nor for that matter 1959 when it forced the Dalai Lama into exile in India. China is far more secure in its own skin now having pulled off what is widely regarded as human history’s biggest economic transformation.  The least it can do is to talk to a Buddhist monk who has officially given up his political and temporal responsibilities.

There are only upsides to this strategy, particularly when for years now the Dalai Lama has spoken specifically in terms of seeking genuine autonomy within China and not independence. The only thing standing in the way of Beijing is Beijing.


About chutiumsulfate

South Asians can infer from my name what I am. View all posts by chutiumsulfate

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