If there’s one thing we’ve consistently criticized here, it’s that the Dalai Lama (and “clique”) has largely failed to reach out to the Chinese people directly. For every interview he provides to the Chinese-language press, it seems he’s done fifty for foreign language press. And even when he makes an attempt to speak to the Chinese (as with an open letter released earlier this year), his ignorance and lack of familiarity shows through.
But he is at least making an active effort to change this. He has met with individual Chinese in the United States and Germany in recent months. And in his just completed trip through Australia, he met with the Chinese-language press, and also hosted an open Q&A session targeted at overseas Chinese. (Unfortunately the session was organized with a dissident group with links to the FLG… but that’s not the point here.)
Here’s what he had to say in Australia, courtesy of the International Campaign for Tibet (原文):
Dalai Lama: … Problems related to Tibet must absolutely be resolved between the Han and Tibetan races, no one else can deal with this type of problem. And precisely because of that, the Chinese, the Han in inland China, you must understand the real situation, this is very important.
So, what is the real situation in his opinion? Read on for more.
Dalai Lama: I’m very happy, very fortunate to have this opportunity to be in contact with the Chinese media. Speaking as a Buddhist disciple, we all know that that history of Buddhist teachings in China predates Tibetan history, so the students of Buddhism in China are really our elders. And I’ve also occasionally run into some believers from the mainland, and many desperately hope that I can return to spread teachings; some even shed tears as they made this request.
Unfortunately, the media is limited in China, so there’s no way to share the real situation with everybody. This is why it’s even more important that overseas Chinese learn the truth. So, I am very enthusiastic about meeting with Chinese, and I’m very happy about this opportunity.
First, let me make clear one thing. I absolutely am not against the Chinese (huaren), I’m not against the Han (hanren), I absolutely don’t have that in mind. I’m not against China, I’m not anti-Chinese. Second, I completely support the Olympics. Third, I even made the call: please do not interfere with the Olympic torch relay.
Because of recent events, some people have come to the conclusion that I’m anti-Chinese, and I’m absolutely not. After the events of 3/14, no matter where I go, protesters are following me. Chinese protesters, Han protesters. They believe, and perhaps in their hearts they truly believe, that I’m anti-Chinese, I’m against the Olympics. But my response has been a very positive, very benevolent. Even so, they say that I am lying, they want me to stop my lies. Ok, that’s fine, whatever.
Well, that’s quite an expression of love from the Dalai Lama. But as we’ve said, we’re dealing with him as a politician… so enough platitudes, on to the real stuff.
Xinhua (?) reporter: First, let me say I deeply respect you. During the Olympic Torch relay, everyone saw the turmoil, the grabbing of the torch. The Dalai Lama believes this has nothing to do with him, but the Chinese government believes it is related to you. Others have said the Tibetan Youth Congress is using the Olympics as an opportunity to internationalize and expand the Tibet problem. So, in this kind of situation, do you believe the Tibetan Youth Congress has responsibility for this? Thank you.
Dalai Lama: Since March 10th, I’ve made three different appeals. The first to the Chinese world-wide, the second to the people in Tibetan areas, and third to the Chinese world-wide with an emphasis on Buddhists within China. I said to them, from the very beginning I’ve completely supported the Olympics. Why? The primary reason is because, in a country of this size, the opportunity to host the Olympics is something they feel very fortunate about, are proud of. I respect their thinking, and I am determined to support the Olympics. This is what I’ve said in the beginning.
Is that really the case? Even on the Tibet Central Government Authority website, it describes an interview from the Dalai Lama on Jan 23rd. When asked if Tibet groups should protest the Olympics, he said “that they could remind the international community, including the Chinese people about the repression and urgency of the situation in Tibet“.
Is he insulting our intelligence? Is that really proof of his “determination” to support the Olympics? Perhaps a lawyer could defend his words when interpreted strictly: he’s not against the Olympics being held in Beijing… but to the rest of us, his words are clear confirmation that he supported politicizing the Torch and the Olympics, and that he advocated protest from activist groups.
UPDATE: One of our readers, chorasmian, also brought this article from April to our attention; it quotes Lodi Gyari, the Dalai Lama’s personal envoy to the United States (and one of the negotiators in Shenzhen), as saying: the IOC “should tell China, ‘Look. That stretch of relay through Tibet needs to be cancelled.’”
… Dalai Lama’s answer continued from above…
Later on, in London, in Paris there were attempts on the torch. Before the torch made it to San Francisco, I already privately wrote letters to Tibetans in the area, saying, please don’t interfere with the torch relay. I appealed to them. But based on what I saw on BBC, the people grabbing at the torch in London, unless they’ve had plastic surgery, aren’t Tibetans, they’re foreigners.
Again, I have to ask. Is he insulting our intelligence? He might be right about London, but surely he’s also seen the footage from Paris. Unless they’ve had plastic surgery, those attacking Jin Jing were Tibetans, not foreigners.
… Dalai Lama’s answer continued from above…
We completely believe in democracy, so we don’t have the right to tell them to shut their mouth. I can’t say this, I really have no way to tell them to shut their mouth, because we are determined to believe in freedom of thought, freedom of speech, and this can’t be controlled. All I can do is explain what’s good and what’s bad; you don’t have to listen to me, that’s your freedom, your decision. But because I have this moral responsibility, so I have to make it clear to you, I have to explain it to you.
Xinhua reporter: Do you really have no influence over the protesters? Do you really have no influence over the Tibetan Youth Congress?
Dalai Lama: Let me give you an example. Recently, some Tibetan Youth Congress are trying to peacefully march to the China-India border. In response to this, I called the leadership, and I discussed with them; if you walk over like this, it’s not good for anyone, because there might be some violent actions at the border, so I recommend that you don’t do this. Besides, the Indian government really dislikes this, and of course China dislikes it, so basically everyone’s agreed: please don’t do this. They listened at first, but then they still marched. What else can I do? I have no way of making them shut up.
Xinhua reporter: Do you really have no way of controlling them?
Dalai Lama: I have no way of controlling them. On this planet, the only one that can control a billion people are the Chinese government; we don’t have that ability.
Did you like that little dig at the Chinese government at the end? It seems like a perfectly reasonable explanation, over all. He’s powerless, these protests are all spontaneous and completely out of his control. And then you read this in a statement issued on May 21st by his Central Tibetan Administration:
“In order to express our solidarity with the great natural disaster that befell on China, Tibetans across the world should shun staging demonstrations in front of the Chinese embassies in the respective host countries they live in at least for until about the end of May, this year.“
Not so surprisingly, the almost regular protests in front of Chinese embassies disappeared for about 2 weeks. The almost constant waves of Tibetans protesting in Nepal, for example, dissipated over night… only to return at the end of May. These are not the words of a spiritual leader giving moral advice, these are the words of a political leader giving orders to his followers. If he treated the Olympics as seriously as he treated the Shugden issue, I doubt many of his followers would be ignoring his advice so easily.
Let’s continue with his interview session in Australia:
New Era reporter: And what kind of autonomy are you looking for?
Dalai Lama: What kind of autonomy am I looking for? Foreign policy and defense as responsibilities of the central government. But Tibetans have the right to manage education, culture, and religion, etc. Of course, all of this must be based on the Chinese constitution, as well as rights described for minorities within the government’s white paper. I believe details must be discussed.
New Era reporter: You’re putting in a lot of effort to speak with China, do you believe there’s hope?
Dalai Lama: I believe there is hope, and am making an effort at progress in this direction. If you look at the past 60 years, the last four generations of Chinese leadership has given us different changes. During the Mao Zedong era, the most important emphasis was on ideology. During the Deng Xiaoping era, the emphasis was on economics, and this has led to dramatic changes. Gradually, there became wealthy people in China, and from that point on the Communist Party didn’t belong exclusively to the worker class. In the Jiang Zemin era, the “Three Represents” was proposed, which basically said the Communist Party no longer only represented the working class, but also had to represent the relatively wealthy. Now, during the Hu Jintao era, the growing wealth gap, as well as the growing gap in living standards between coastal and inland areas, implies that more attention must be spent taking care of the weaker groups in society. This is why now, the emphasis is on harmony (和谐) and unity. So, we can see that throughout history, the Chinese leadership has made tremendous changes in policy as the situation changed. This is the primary reason I maintain hope and optimism.
And after 3/10, a number of scholars and professors within China have expressed a voice different from the government through their writings. This also gives me hope.
I think the Dalai Lama shows an insightful understanding here of the Chinese government, so that’s certainly a welcome thing. He’s said in the past he thought dissident voices in China might force political changes, but I don’t recall him speaking favorably or optimistically of the Chinese government itself.
… followed is a leading question from a Chinese dissident based in Japan, about inviting the Dalai Lama to speak to Chinese in Japan …
Dalai Lama: Last year, in Vancouver Canada, I saw that local Tibetans and Chinese had established a friendship association. I thought this was an excellent example, and we should all learn from them. After March 10th when I went to the United States, I also said to local Tibetans, we must take the first step and maintain friendly relationships with Han in the area, using Canada as an example. And during every Tibetan celebration, we should invite these comrades from the Party and non-Party friends, and have them join us and learn from each other. During Chinese holidays, we should also join them, and establish a friendly relationship like that between brothers. This way, when problems erupt, we won’t be filled with suspicion.
From my side, I’m ready to meet with local Chinese any time and anywhere. Because I have consistently maintained thought: and that’s great unity between Han and Tibetan. Great unity doesn’t come from calling out slogans, but actual contact between people.
Well, I certainly welcome the spirit of what he’s saying; regardless of what happens to the Dalai Lama, greater Han/Tibetan unity should always be embraced. However, he will find though that the local Chinese remain very skeptical of his mixed answers.
EDIT: Removed the Chinese response, and added it as a comment below.
All in all, it’s a mixed bag. On the negative side, the Dalai Lama continues to evade his involvement in the Olympic protests and his influence over Tibetan protests in exile, while painting himself as a committed friend of all Han and Chinese. On the positive side, he’s trying to reach out to the Chinese people, and also shows signs of having a better understanding of the government in Beijing.
That’s not the end of the story. The Kalon Tripa (head of the Central Tibetan Administration) issued a press release during the Dalai Lama’s visit to Australia, and it gives us a clue into where their new negotiating position lies.
First, on the good side, for the first time I personally have ever seen it, they claim their form of autonomy is limited to exactly what the Chinese constitution promises minorities. The press release includes a very detailed analysis of the Chinese constitution and its provisions for minority autonomy.
If these provisions of constitution and autonomy law are implemented in true spirit it will ensure the welfare of Tibetan people and the protection of Tibet’s unique culture, religion, tradition and language. It will further enable Tibetans to perform their universal responsibility.
In my mind, this is progress. I’ve said before that if the lamas protesting in Tibetan areas had been holding up copies of our Chinese constitution, demanding the rights legally promised them, it would have changed the entire complexion of the conflict. I’m not naive enough to believe Beijing would agree overnight, but at least many Chinese would sympathize.
However, on the negative side, it makes an ideological claim about Tibetans that I personally don’t understand and could not possibly support:
All Tibetans lived together on the Tibetan plateau since time immemorial, sharing the same religion, culture, language, customs, geographical location and livelihood, and if the PRC truly accepts Tibetan nationality as one of the 55 minority nationalities of China as they already claim, one cannot divide them into different parts or designate them into inner or outer region and smaller or greater. It is essential to implement self-rule provided under the provisions of national regional autonomy to all Tibetans.
Though Chinese side has unleashed massive propaganda to project that His Holiness the Dalai Lama is demanding a “greater Tibet” and “high degree autonomy”, but in reality Tibetans are one single nationality and it cannot be divided into greater or smaller parts.
Even if Tibetans are a dominant and isolated majority in central Tibet, that has never been the case in eastern Tibet. The Dalai Lama is certainly aware of this, having been born into a Chinese-speaking Tibetan family in Qinghai province. Throughout Qinghai/Sichuan/Yunnan, Tibetans have been living alongside non-Tibetans for literally centuries. The idea that “all” Tibetans must now be tied to the same political entity makes no sense, and instead only suggests independence is their real, long-term goal.
I’m still optimistic about the upcoming meetings between the Dalai Lama’s representatives and Beijing. I hope that with more time and compromise, the negative aspects will be thrown away, and we will find enough in common on the positive side for a permanent solution.