Students in Professor of Sociology Sheila Bennett’s course on contemporary Tibet participated in a simulation of negotiations between the People’s Republic of China and representatives of his Holiness the Dalai Lama and the exiled Tibetan government. Earlier in the semester, students were assigned specific individuals involved in the negotiations to research and then portray throughout the mock negotiations, among them Hu Jintao, general secretary of the Communist Party of China and His Holiness the Dalai Lama, as well as moderators such as U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter and Robert Barnett, freelance journalist and assistant professor at Columbia University.
Colleges President Mark D. Gearan provided introductory remarks for the event and students began the negotiation sessions with opening statements from each of the delegations. First-year student Chris Lansing, who was representing the Dalai Lama, explained he tried to keep his approach congruent with the five point plan that the Dalai Lama has actually proposed.
“I think that it was really helpful for students to have written their research papers before the negotiations because students had a really good feel for their character and where they stood on the issues being discussed,” explains Bennett.
Students began to realize early in the negotiating process how complicated the issues really are and how hard it can be to come to an agreement. Vincent Puleo ’14, who portrayed Jimmy Carter during the negotiations, says “At times things definitely got a little tense and people got really stuck on the past and historical events and it was hard to move forward. But that actually is probably pretty realistic.”
Melissa Hosek ’14 agreed, adding, “There were definitely moments of stalemate and uncertainty.”
In the end, the delegates were able to come to an agreement. Lansing explains this was possible because of “the decision to set aside certain issues, such as sovereignty, that we couldn’t possibly agree on.”
The Chinese delegation is described as “dogged about facts and information” and limited in the terms that they are even willing to discuss; students made that apparent in the “press conference” following the event.
“This was by far the most successful series of negotiations that have occurred,” as a part of Bennett’s class, she says. The final agreement of the mock delegations follows:
“Tibet shall establish their own local government, including control of religious and cultural practices. Four times a year, the Tibetans and Chinese will meet and speak about issues regarding the economy and the environmental issues that affect both. Along with this, representatives of these two parties will meet bi-yearly with representatives of the United Nations. Through these terms and conditions, we commit to advancing Tibet politically, economically, environmentally, and culturally, both internationally and within its own borders, and to Tibet’s re-establishment as a peaceful society.“