The recent uprising by Tibetans underscores the utter failure of Beijing’s policies in Tibet. But it also reflects the failure of the Dalai Lama and of America.
The Dalai Lama has played a waiting game, but as China gains global power — and as more Han Chinese flood into Tibet — that has been a losing strategy. The Dalai Lama has won acclaim internationally, but that acclaim triggers the deep Chinese sensitivity to foreign bullying and thus has antagonized the audience that may count the most: China.
I think Kristof is right on several key accounts. I especially appreciate that in a few sentences, he’s captured all I’ve ever wanted to say about the history of Tibet:
Both China and the Dalai Lama exaggerate, and the historical evidence about Tibet is contradictory. One can make a good case that Tibet has been a part of China at least since 1720. One can also make a good case that Tibet became independent around 1911. The evidence is simply mixed.
In my opinion, he’s certainly correct about the failures of Chinese government policy in some respects. Forcing “patriotic education” on monks isn’t working; it simply isn’t possible to force this value set onto the monks. I also believe China can afford a more relaxed attitude when it comes to religious worship of the Dalai Lama; repressing such worship means non-political religious Tibetans are being dragged into this conflict. The law should be clearly and unambiguously enforced: religious and cultural freedom for Tibetans, but legal consequences for those who violate our constitution by being directly involved in separatist activities. I also believe government policy should be reformed in a few key ways. For example, while I’m not sure the Tibetan Autonomous Region party secretary must be Tibetan, I think it’s time for a Tibetan to be promoted to that number one spot *somewhere* in China.
I also believe Kristof is completely right about the failures of the Dalai Lama. The propaganda being pumped out by the Dalai Lama and his political machine in Dharamasala is simply unbelievable to the vast majority of Chinese. Quite simply, we know he’s lying about the present situation, and that he’s exaggerating and manipulating the past. As long as that is the case, how can he possibly think that we have any interest in his views for the future?
The Dalai Lama and many of his closest political advisors know little about modern China. While they bombard the world with information in English, they issue only a few tiny drops of information in Chinese… even then, typically in traditional Chinese rather than the simplified Chinese used on the mainland. The Dalai Lama has rarely ever spoken to the Chinese press, and he’s simply expressed little interest in reaching out to the Chinese community on a political basis. If he claims that he’s ready to be a member of the Chinese (zhonghua minzu) family, as he wrote in a letter earlier this year, then he’s doing a very poor job of trying to get to know his relatives.
There are some signs that after the 3/14 riots he’s realized his mistake, as he held a few press conferences with the overseas Chinese media… but subsequently, he’s been back on the road and seems far more interested in speaking with Deutsche Welle than shijie ribao.
I believe that road is a dead-end. Has he really not noticed that German politicians are carefully avoiding him on this tour, while the Chinese community continues to simmer with a great deal of anger? Does he really believe Germany, or any other Western nation, will be able to force a political solution onto an antagonistic Chinese nation?
However, Kristof doesn’t get it all right. He talks of the impending threat of a militant, terrorist movement. He speaks of Hamas and the Irish Republican Army. Frankly, I don’t see any reason for the Chinese people to be concerned about the existence of such a militant movement. It’d make the hard-liners job easier, for sure; it’d give them the justification to eliminate the independence movement through force. Maybe we could even send for American trainers so that we could learn the finer skills involved in water-boarding.
But there’s simply no realistic way that there will be a prolonged military conflict involving militant Tibetans. The demographics simply do not support it. The Tibet Autonomous Region share a land border with Chinese provinces with 50+ times the total Tibetan population… compare that to the situation with Hamas and the IRA. Just the civilian police force in Sichuan province could probably defeat any armed uprising with over-whelming force.
If China makes a serious attempt to compromise along the lines that Kristof suggests, it’ll be because we respect Tibetan culture and we treasure the opinions of our fellow Chinese citizens… not because we’re afraid a small minority are threatening to break the law.