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Even more reader questions on Tibet

On a previous thread, Otto Kerner poses some excellent questions on Tibet. (Here is an earlier thread with a reader’s questions about Tibet.)

I give an attempt at addressing these questions below. I hope others will contribute their thoughts as well.

Gentlemen, I still think you’re personalising this too much. As a politician, the Dalai Lama’s job is to find a deal that is beneficial to himself or whatever it is that he represents. A deal can get done between him and the government when they find a deal that is mutually beneficial. Compare to the example of Anwar Sadat of Egypt. Sadat had never been a pro-Israeli politician — like virtually everyone else in Egypt, he was against Israel. The time came, however, when he and the Israeli leadership realised that they would both be better off making peace. It would have been completely irrelevant at that point for the Israeli government to wonder whether he had had a genuine change of heart on the subject of Israel — perhaps by reading a book describing the achievements of Israel and the Jewish people. That’s not the point. They had a deal that was mutually beneficial. Nor did this mean that Sadat was a windsock, taking whichever side was most convenient at any given moment. On the contrary, he decided that it was to his benefit to commit long-term to a peaceful relationship with Israel.

Well, certainly, like I said, I believe a peace deal is possible between the Dalai Lama and China. You don’t see anyone here saying that the Dalai Lama can *never* be trusted.

But I don’t believe the Sadat example is the right one, if only because we already know the conclusion of that story. A closer analogue might be equivalent to Iran and Israel. Can Iran and Israel make a deal and become partners in peace? Perhaps, but I don’t blame Israelis for being concerned about Iranian comments that Israel is an “illegal state” that should be erased.

I’m sure any peace deal Israel signs with Iran (or the Palestinian Authority) will make it very, very clear that Israel is absolutely a legal state with the same sovereign rights as any other country under international law. And any peace deal China signs with the Dalai Lama will also make it very, very clear that Tibet is and will be a sovereign part of China.

In the mean time, many of the Dalai Lama’s on-going actions and comments make us question his true motives.. just as many Israelis probably question Ahmadinejad’s true motives.

I agree, buxi, that the tactics the Dalai Lama has been using are deeply flawed, for the reasons you mention. The question is, what strategy are you recommending that would have been more effective? … Where I think the exile Tibetan movement has failed is that this internationalisation has to be part of a two-pronged strategy, and they have failed to effectively reach out to the Chinese people or government. As this blog has pointed out previously, there are plenty of non-PRC-government-controlled Chinese media outlets available in Taiwan, HK, Singapore, etc. The Dalai Lama should be making statements there, rather than in English.

Yes, you answered your own question. If the Dalai Lama was to come to me for advice, this is what I’d tell him:

  • even though you tore up the 17-point agreement 40 years ago, try to go back to it. The monks who support you with religious fervor should be waving copies of this in China, not the “International Jurist” judgment that Tibet should be independent.
  • instead of waving the snow-lion flag, tell your supporters to wave the Chinese national flag. (I’m very serious.) If monks in Lhasa were marching with the Chinese flag, even if they were chanting “Free Tibet”, it would change the tone of the protest immediately.
  • stop talking to European parliaments, and talk to the Chinese people. China is an increasingly open country, and there are numerous channels for getting his points across. Retire his “Washington DC” and “European” envoys, and appoint a Hong Kong envoy.

You ask about his threats of impending violence. I don’t have a problem with him making the statements as a negotiation position, I’m just saying that it’s a weak argument because it doesn’t work.

China’s not unwilling to talk to the Dalai Lama, and it’s shown that again this year. China’s just unwilling to compromise on the terms he’s insisted on, and every time he fails to follow the steps I mentioned above (while ignoring the questions posed in this thread), he just makes it less likely China will compromise.. not more.

Can you give some more details on the Dalai Lama renouncing the Strasbourg proposal in 1992 and seeking full independence? I don’t recall hearing about this before.

chorasmian provided this link on the previous thread: http://www.tibet.com/dl/10mar92.html

I will give you another even more direct to the point link: http://www.tibet.com/proposal/invalid.html

“Under these circumstances His Holiness the Dalai Lama no longer feels obligated or bound to pursue the Strasbourg proposal as a basis for finding a peaceful solution to the Tibetan problem.”

Lastly, the question has been raised of how the PRC can trust the Dalai Lama to keep his word at this point. Allow me to ask, additionally, how can the Dalai Lama trust the PRC government? If he returns to Tibet, what stops them from simply detaining him the next time they feel like it?

Just to emphasize, the question isn’t “how” can the PRC trust the Dalai Lama… but why is the Dalai Lama taking steps that make us trust him even less? Why isn’t he doing more to address the questions that we have about his motives and actions? As far as whether the Dalai Lamas’ concerns about being detained… I don’t see why the PRC would let him back in just to arrest him. What purpose could that possibly serve? It would raise huge international (and domestic) uproar for zero gain.

If we assume the Dalai Lama’s motives in returning are “pure”, then what he fundamentally wants in his remaining years is the preservation of Tibetan culture, greater religious freedom in Tibet, and presumably a stronger voice for Tibetans in managing their own affairs. And why wouldn’t Beijing agree to that, what motives could lead Beijing to retract any concessions on this point?

As President Hu Jintao has said, there isn’t a cultural or religious problem in Tibet, only a separatism problem. How many people in China want to see Tibetan culture and religion wiped out? How many people in China want to see Tibetan Buddhist monks subjected to political study sessions? Why would any of us Chinese be in favor of this?

If he returns and the independence movement dissipates, why wouldn’t we want to give our Tibetan brothers/sisters the same rights that we all aspire to? Things were different in the 1950s, when we honestly believed that we were about to build an utopian society, even if it came at great cost. We’re more practical now, as the last 30 years have proven. I believe the vast majority of Chinese only want to build a modern society, and we respect minority cultures and religious practice (within political limits).

Welcomed or not, tens of thousands of Chinese have spent years in hopes of “building” Tibet. Billions of RMB have been spent on constructing the physical infrastructure of a new Tibet. I realize that in the eyes of many this might have been misguided, but the point remains the same: we want to help Tibet and Tibetans.

If the Dalai Lama returned and the independence movement dissipates, and if he along with Beijing is able to negotiate a system so that our help is directed in a channel that Tibetans can support, then I think we will have achieved a double-win that no one would want to change.

Frankly, I believe Chinese policies in Tibet (and other minority areas) needs change. Race relations are hard in any country, and China is finally getting to the point where with growing wealth + technology we’re becoming more integrated. More Han Chinese are traveling to Tibet and Xinjiang, and vice versa. It’s time we figured out a way to better live together side by side, and the Dalai Lama could play a constructive role there… but he has to discard his political background and everything associated with it.

UPDATE: AC posts an excellent link on minority relations in China, complete with some advice for Beijing.

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  1. EugeneZ
    May 30th, 2008 at 21:06 | #1

    Buxi, the double-win outcome you described would be a nice goal to strive for. But will it work? This is really a question about what kind of person the Dalai Lama is today. Does he really want to do something useful for the well-being of the 5+ million Tibetans, even at the expense of his own interests? Did his behavior over past 5 decades make us believe that he could after all be such a selfless person who cares about the lives of average Tibetans? By returning to China and trying to make a contribution to the development of the Tibetan society, at the same time playing by the laws of PRC, He would have to give up all the goodies that come from his current lifestyle of being the international star among the western societies, where he enjoys spotlight, good-will, money, fame, fashion sunglasses, partying with Hollywood movie stars, and being able to making irresponsible, outrageous comments about “cultural genocides” without being subject to direct challenges and scrutinization.

    I am highly suspicious, so should the government in Beijing. 50 good years of life in exile may have completely corrupted him as a person. Therefore, the majority of energy and resource should be spent to prepare a “no-deal” scenario, and try to contain the damage caused by the Dalai Lama both domestically and internationally.

  2. Allen
    May 30th, 2008 at 22:10 | #2

    Buxi – thanks for the post. Very enlightening and insightful…

    My suspicion of the DD stems from the audience he has always focused – foreigners rather than Chinese.

    The open letter to the Chinese people in Apr is just another case in point. A good analysis of the issues can be found in http://twofish.wordpress.com/2008/03/29/notes-on-the-dalai-lamas-appeal-to-the-chinese-people/

  3. Allen
    May 30th, 2008 at 22:15 | #3

    To follow up on my above comment.

    Imagine the difference if Martin Luther King had protested to the UN (in the name of the UN charter) on the subject of US racial tensions rather than to the Americans (in the name of the American Constitution) on the subject of US racial tensions …

  4. May 30th, 2008 at 23:53 | #4

    @Allen – MLK should have – and Mandela/Nkomo/Nyere/Kenyatta did. Had the DL focused on the Chinese audience would he have been heard? The demonstrators who were beaten and fire-hosed as they crossed the bridge at Selma chanted ‘The whole world is watching!’, do you think they should have chanted ‘the whole south is watching’ – especially given that the south by-and-large wasn’t watching and didn’t care what happened to the blacks?

    @Buxi – It is for this kind of article that I like this blog – obviously you can tell from what I have written previously that I do not agree with some of the things you have written, but this is unimportant.

    The final question I have to ask is this: If Tibet were accidentally to find itself independent tomorrow how many people would choose to go back to the current situation which the Chinese government is defending so firmly now? My guess would be very few indeed.

    I doubt that the Chinese public enjoy the idea of keeping the Tibetans down through main force much more than the British enjoyed keeping the Irish or the Indians down, one day they will grow tired of doing so. However, I may be guilty of transposing my own country’s history onto other people, but in this case I think not.

    For the UK, the result was the agreements signed in 1922 and 1947 – agreements which did great harm to the nations concerned but in both cases basically removed the problem from British shoulders (at least for a while). The British withdrawl from Ireland left a power vacuum which caused the Irish civil war between Sinn Fein and the Free Staters, and the withdrawl from India left the field free for ethnic strife between the Hindus and the Moslems. The eventual solution for Tibet is unlikely to be much cleaner.

  5. Allen
    May 31st, 2008 at 00:02 | #5

    @FOARP – good points, but we’ll just simply disagree. I believe there is a big difference whether MLK had made racial tensions in the US into a sovereignty issue for the blacks (black nationalists) instead of just a domestic civil rights issue.

    The issue in Tibet, as Mel Goldstein (a prominent Tibet scholar in the West) has made clear in his books, is not human rights or religious freedom as is commonly presumed – but about the political issue of whether Tibet should be an independent country or an integral part of China…

  6. Buxi
    May 31st, 2008 at 00:58 | #6

    Allen,

    I believe there is a big difference whether MLK had made racial tensions in the US into a sovereignty issue for the blacks (black nationalists) instead of just a domestic civil rights issue.

    There’s a huge difference. As I said before, imagine how the ’60s might’ve ended if there was no MLK… but only a Malcolm X.

    That said… Beijing is also partly responsible because by “freezing” political discussion in Tibet, it has prevented the creation of a Tibetan MLK.

  7. Allen
    May 31st, 2008 at 02:01 | #7

    @FOARP

    If Tibet were accidentally to find itself independent tomorrow how many people would choose to go back to the current situation which the Chinese government is defending so firmly now? My guess would be very few indeed.

    [For the sake of discussion, let’s assume you are right.]

    50 years after the American civil war, if the American South had a chance to be “suddenly independent,” they would probably also have chosen to be independent. That could still be true in many parts of the South in the 1960’s – almost 100 years after the civil war. Does that mean the South should have gone independent?

    If the black Americans suddenly had their country in the 1960’s, many would also have chosen to be independent… Does that mean we should have a black state of America?

  8. S.K. Cheung
    May 31st, 2008 at 02:31 | #8

    But MLK did exist, and he did what he did. And the South didn’t further push to separate, and the US is what it is. What’s the point of talking about “if’s”; it’s navel-gazing speculation about conjecture, ending up with a bunch of untestable hypotheses. The DL is who he is, and right now, like him or not, trust him or not, he’s the most legitimate person to be negotiating with. And I’m glad China is doing that. But with any amicable negotiation, it’s unlikely that either side will get what they want in its entirety. So while many here have waxed on about China’s starting negotiating position, it might serve to see what China is willing to compromise on. Because if you want a negotiated solution, both sides will have to allow for some. Then in 50 years, if we’re still alive, you can look back then and resume the “what-ifs” about today, keeping in mind that it will be just as relevant then as talking about the MLK “what-ifs” today.

  9. Allen
    May 31st, 2008 at 02:37 | #9

    S.K. Cheung – I had meant my post to be rhetorical.

    My point was only to illustrate that political struggles (such as the American civil war) take a long time to resolve. I was trying to criticize (constructively, of course!) FOARP (and now, perhaps you, too) for taking a ‘point-in-time’ approach…

  10. S.K. Cheung
    May 31st, 2008 at 05:06 | #10

    To Allen:
    I agree these things take time…and this current one is going on 49 years and counting. And while retrospection and reflection has its place, ultimately, if change is to be effected, the looking forward part is where the money’s at.

  11. Buxi
    May 31st, 2008 at 05:21 | #11

    FOARP,

    However, I may be guilty of transposing my own country’s history onto other people, but in this case I think not.

    I do believe you are “guilty” of doing precisely that: projecting your own nation’s history onto others.

    European history is filled with one repetitive theme: fragmentation. No substantial empire has existed since the Roman Empire; every potentially dominant polity has always eventually been torn apart by some sort of local-ism. (I can’t use the word nationalism, since that’s a new concept… but you get my meaning.) The British empire did well for a few hundred years, but ultimately, it fragmented from within.

    Chinese history is instead filled with a different repetitive theme: unity, as well as cultural assimilation on major values, and cultural accomodation on minor values. There are 1.3 billion Chinese on this planet not by accident of recent history, and not because we’re especially good at breeding. It exists because our culture has always told us conforming helps unity, and unity is strength.

    I personally believe that if we could some how manage to stay unified during the chaos of the 1910s-1950 era (much thanks and appreciation to my grandparents’ + generation), I’m much more optimistic about where we’ll be over the next 50 years.

    Keep that in mind when you project forward on a future for Tibet and China.

  12. Allen
    May 31st, 2008 at 05:57 | #12

    And while retrospection and reflection has its place, ultimately, if change is to be effected, the looking forward part is where the money’s at.

    Can’t agree more with you! And – following up on Buxi’s last comment – I am optimistic.

    I pointed to history only because I thought if I keep rapping off my vision and optimism, others on the board may accuse me guilty yet again of “CCP propaganda”… 😉

  13. S.K. Cheung
    June 1st, 2008 at 07:05 | #13

    I admire your optimism, and certainly respect your vision even if I might disagree with it at times. But I certainly wouldn’t be slapping on “propaganda” labels etc, for that sort of behaviour only serves to stifle conversation, and seems counter-productive in a forum such as this.

  14. WhatTibetanWant
    June 5th, 2008 at 16:28 | #14

    If China want to help Tibet, why not start by listening what tibetan want (I personaly have no idea what they want, I just see that if they riot it could be that they are not happy with what happen right now)
    A referendum could be a direct and efficient way to know what they want.
    But now… Army has been sent, witness/foreigners kick out. and nobody know what happen there since nearly 3 months.

    I feel that China wants to help Tibet… Like US wants to “help” Iraq. Both invest lot of money to “help” someone who did not ask for it.

  15. WhatTibetanWant
    June 5th, 2008 at 16:37 | #15

    To Buxi:
    What you call unity sound for me like colonialisation through sending millions of han to live in on place… Han who do not adapt to the local culture but thanks to their high number, they force the local culture to adapt to han culture.
    I see nothing great in invading/destroying other cultures.
    Majority (Han) forcing unity: What is great in that?

    In Europe after fighting for thausands of years and killing each other, we are finally building unity not through colonialisation but through mutual agreement, we are building a common identity but keep our different cultures.

  16. Buxi
    June 5th, 2008 at 16:44 | #16

    WhatTibetanWant,

    We want to help Tibetans just as we want to help all Chinese citizens. They’re not something separate from us, they’re part of our country. I believe their opinion is important, exactly as important as the opinion of any Chinese citizen.

    Tibetans are Chinese citizens. One day, I hope to see a Tibetan president of the Chinese republic. But this also means that any decision that effects the future of our country must be decided by the country as a whole.

    Iraqis aren’t American citizens. No Iraqi citizen will ever be an American president.

  17. Nimrod
    June 5th, 2008 at 16:50 | #17

    WhatTibetanWant wrote:

    I feel that China wants to help Tibet… Like US wants to “help” Iraq. Both invest lot of money to “help” someone who did not ask for it.

    ++++++
    Uh, except Tibet is part of China’s own country so there is an obligation to help, don’t you think? Not to mention objectively, Tibetans are increasing in population and live better than they did before (not saying it is a perfect life). None of these can be said of the US involvement in Iraq, now can it?

    WhatTibetanWant wrote:

    Han who do not adapt to the local culture but thanks to their high number, they force the local culture to adapt to han culture… In Europe after fighting for thausands of years and killing each other … we are building a common identity but keep our different cultures.

    ++++++
    I happen to think there should be lots of ethnic interaction and cultural borrowing. It’s not a bad thing. But if you like the European model of tossed salads not melting pot, then why do you object to Han not adopting the local culture? This smacks of yellow perilism because the only objection seems to be that the Han are too many in number. If Tibetans need to learn the national language to make it easier to find jobs in many parts China, why’s that cultural destruction? Are the English causing genocide on you, because you speak English?

  18. Buxi
    June 5th, 2008 at 16:57 | #18

    WhatTibetanWant,

    I have respect for Tibetans who want to preserve their culture. Exactly as you said, Europe can be an example for us here. There are many multi-ethnic countries in Europe, and many of them are successful, happy places.

    I believe Tibetans should have the right to be educated in Tibetan, to access government services in Tibetan, to have Tibetan newspapers, books, TV. I believe as long as Tibetans on average are under-performing economically, they should receive affirmative action.

    However, I’m not aware of any country in Europe that has provided the “high degree” of autonomy demanded by some.

    I don’t believe that any country should allow itself to divide itself up on the basis of race or religion, however; do you believe Islamic communities in your home country should be able to implement Sharia law, if they choose?

  19. starlight
    August 23rd, 2008 at 08:27 | #19

    @buxi,

    “Tibetans are Chinese citizens. One day, I hope to see a Tibetan president of the Chinese republic. But this also means that any decision that effects the future of our country must be decided by the country as a whole.”

    Why not start with REALISTIC steps, instead of talking of impossibles (just look at persistent U.S. racism against African-Americans, 143 years after banning slavery). If Tibetans are allowed a first Tibetan party secretary in Tibet Autonomous Region, that is a huge step forward. Instead, the party secretary post in TAR is used like a stepping stone for Chinese politicians to prove their hard-line/”patriotic” qualities.

  20. MatthewTan
    June 16th, 2009 at 22:58 | #20

    Starlight,

    “Why not start with REALISTIC steps, instead of talking of impossibles (just look at persistent U.S. racism against African-Americans, 143 years after banning slavery).

    — Tibetans will certainly take up important positions in the CCP and government. Already they are over-represented in government organs.

    “If Tibetans are allowed a first Tibetan party secretary in Tibet Autonomous Region, that is a huge step forward.”

    — Before 1989, someone from the minority race (Yi) was the Party Secretary of TAR. And before that, Phungtso Wangye was offered the position of Governor, with the eventual promotion to Party Secretary within three years. But he declined to accept that, choosing instead an academic career. The Chinese government has every intention to have Tibetans running their own affairs. But the Dalai Lama spoilt everything.

    “Instead, the party secretary post in TAR is used like a stepping stone for Chinese politicians to prove their hard-line/”patriotic” qualities.”

    This is an ignorant statement coming from someone who does not who the Party Secretaries of Tibet were and where they have ended eventually,

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