China, this time, seems to have miscalculated the events in Tibet. There have been enough indicators for a possible implosion as several forces at the global level were preparing for exploiting China's vulnerabilities in the run-up to the Beijing Olympics.
Beijing had the opportunity to strike a workable deal with the Dalai Lama through a new series of talks that began in 2002. But, the talks including the sixth round held in July 2007 made no headway due to China's tough position — refusing to even acknowledge that a process of negotiation existed and terming it only a dialogue or contact.
For years, the Dalai Lama was following a twin-track strategy of exploring conciliation while campaigning for mounting international pressure to bear upon China.
What he termed as the "middle-path" approach rejected all form of violent actions against China. Beijing officially viewed the Dalai Lama's move as a sham.
However, there was progress being made for a reconciliation including a planned visit in 2007 by the Dalai Lama to China's Wutaishan temple or Five Peaked Mountains in Shanxi province — a sacred mountain that enshrines Buddhisatva Manjushri.
The Dalai Lama himself expressed willingness to make a pilgrimage and see for himself the changes in China. At that point, Beijing said, "It is not impossible for us to consider his visit".
A series of events including the US Congress honouring the Dalai Lama last October with its highest civilian award torpedoed the plans.
Since then there have been enough signs that human rights groups, NGOs and the Falun Gong activists were coordinating to incite trouble for Beijing. Many of these may have been scripted in the West as the US National Endowment for Democracy (NED), the US-funded Radio Free Asia and others have been contemplating a 'Maroon Revolution' after the 'Saffron Revolution' in Myanmar last year.
The current crisis also indicated a division in Chinese leadership over handling of the Tibet issue. Hu Jintao was expected to engineer big changes in China's Tibet policy, since he is the only Chinese leader to attain such high office after having served in Tibet as the party boss.
If Jiang Zemin gained distinction for resolving the Hong Kong issue, there could be reason to believe that Hu could forge a breakthrough on Tibet.
But he is possibly facing a stiff resistance from the party cadres and PLA ranks. The fact that the event was allowed to occur does indicate deep internal division as many Chinese intellectuals, government and party officials tend to hold a supportive view about the Dalai Lama's peaceful approach.
A deep division and frustration among the exiled Tibetan community is common know-ledge. Several Tibetan outfits including the Tibetan Youth Congress, Tibetan Women's Association, Gu-Chu-Sum Ex-Political Movement, National Democratic Party of Tibet, Students for a Free Tibet India, all registered in India, have been opposing the government-in-exile's cherished non-violent or peaceful approach.
Their "Return to Tibet" activities that began on the 49th anniversary of the Uprising Day on March 10 may intensify as the Olympic Games approach.
However, there are limitations to what the Tibetans and their supporters could do to sabotage the Olympics since direct intervention from other states is unlikely to come.
Mere agitations and crying for freedom in front of embassies would not be sufficient. They need to be replaced by intensified protests by Tibetans inside China. But for now, sustained protests and agitations are bound to put the Chinese in an extremely embarrassing position.
Beijing already faces a dilemma over whether to suppress or relax its control over Tibetans — both have critical and immediate consequences for its Olympic show. Cracking down on the protesters would mean inviting international ire while balking could embolden them and even the Uighurs and the Mongols.
(The writer P Stobdan , is a senior fellow at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses.)