By Tsewang Rigzin

After rendering 60 years of meritorious, unceasing and dedicated service to a nation, Tibet lost one of her longest-serving civil servants, most venerable Tara-wa Tenzin Choenyi,

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Will Xi bring a meaningful reform?

On December 19, 2012

By: Tenzin Tseten

“The risks of not reforming are now higher than the risks of reforming.” According to Robert Lawrence Kuhn, an American businessman who wrote an authorized biography of Jiang Zemin.

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By Tempa Gyaltsen Zamlha

The highly speculated leadership change in China later this year has brought back a memory of very different leadership change in exile Tibetan community a year back, where an ordinary citizen like me had an active role in choosing our Kalon Tripa (now Sikyong) or political leader of Tibet.

On 20th March 2011, I got up early and rushed to the Polling Booth with pride and excitement like everyone else, proud in electing our own leader and excited about the possible election outcome. Through this democratic election in Exile Tibetan Community, a young charismatic and Harvard educated Dr. Lobsang Sangay won the Kalon Tripa election 2011 with 55% of the nearly 50,000 total vote cast. This is a very small number in comparison to the 1.3 billion plus Chinese, but here we are talking about democratic elections and not factional bargaining. I really wonder how many democratic votes Xi Jinping would require to govern the nation and how far those electoral rights extend beyond few privileged Communist top brass?

There are many more questions but Chinese citizens are not entitled to question the government. They can only speculate like the world has done in recent months about factional infighting before the 18th National Congress to choose the next batch of Chinese leaders. The rubber stamp National Congress will unanimously endorse every proposal put forth by the Political Bureau of the CPC Central Committee without any deliberation. This highly opaque and undemocratic process in Chinese political transition makes us realize the fact that the built up to our Kalon Tripa election has been very democratic, transparent and exciting.

The excitements were bursting out in the streets with Kalon Tripa candidates putting up their campaign posters in every visible corner. As the time for preliminary elections approached, the number of candidates narrowed down to six prominent figures and I was pretty sure of my choice of candidate after reading, listening and watching many debates and campaigns. I wanted our new Kalon Tripa to be someone who could lead Tibetan people as well as take firm and occasionally unpopular but visionary decisions. But in China a different kind of election is fought within Communist Party where different factions secretly play deadly ploys against each other. This means Mr. Xi has to survive the infighting to win the Party’s support and not the general public.

Whereas, Dr. Lobsang Sangay’s triumph as the Kalon Tripa was through intensive campaign to win every vote, travel every settlement, answer numerous queries to convince the general public that he can deliver the task assigned to a Kalon Tripa. The 37.42 percent vote won by Kasur Tethong Tenzin Namgyal is a strong indication of political maturity and diverse views found in every free society.

But in China there is neither election nor candidates to represent the masses. The Chinese government would present yet another musical play on 8th November 2012, where 18th National Congress would endorse and applaud everything put forth like a good comrade who never questions or dare to question. That is why the general public in China doesn’t give a damn who would the next president of PRC would be, because billion plus Chinese citizens are irrelevant in this once in a decade leadership change. Whereas, the Kalon Tripa of Tibet had the electoral verdict of the exile Tibetan community stretching 30 different countries, as well as the love, the songs and the moral votes from Tibet.

Unlike in China where everything happens within the forbidden palace and people could watch only on CCTV, I was among thousands of ordinary citizens and political leaders sharing the same podium during Kalon Tripa Oath ceremony to cheer for the occasion with joy, hope and pride. There were two sights during that function which I will tell and retell my children and grandchildren.

First, how His Holiness the Dalai Lama held our new Kalon Tripa’s head firmly in his chest for few minutes of silent prayers and blessings like 7th Dalai Lama did when the Kashag(Cabinet) was first set up. The very sight brought tears in my eyes and I did little prayer of my own for the success of new Kalon Tripa in bringing freedom to all Tibetans.

The other sight was when the incumbent Kalon Tripa Prof. Samdhong Rimpoche handed over the 260 years old sovereign Seal Dekyima to Kalon Tripa elect Dr. Lobsang Sangay, which signifies historical legitimacy and continuity of the Kashag which existed since 1751.

Finally in a thank you message, the new Kalon Tripa said: “With profound humility I accept the Tibetan people’s support and the post of Kalon Tripa.” I really wonder who the new Chinese president would thank, the Chinese people or the Communist party?

Obviously there can be no similarity between the world’s largest authoritarian government and the world’s smallest democracy. That’s why we love our leaders while Chinese fear their government.

 

By Sonam T Frasi

This analytical paper is written to coincide with the gathering of the second special general meeting of the Tibetan Diaspora towards the end of September 2012.

The Kashag of the Central Tibetan Administration and the Tibetan Parliament-in-exile has convened this important gathering to mobilise, energise and find new solutions to overcome the very urgent and desperate current situation in occupied Tibet, particularly the stream of selfless act of self-immolations carried out by Tibetans inside and outside of Tibet. The general consensus of the motivation and reasons behind the drastic acts of these Tibetans were for the return of His Holiness The Dalai Lama to Tibet and to achieve freedom for Tibetans from the rule of communist China.

This piece that I am about to communicate is an independent analysis of the present day China, China and the world, the world and China, the Tibetan issue and the opportunities as well as the realities that Tibetan movement faces. I am writing this piece not as an academician or as a specialist on either China or Tibet but as a lay person, who has watched, worked and continues to study the Sino-Tibetan relationship or no relationship with keen interest.

Therefore, it is fitting to quote a stanza from an ancient master Shanti Deva who said:

“Here I shall say nothing that has not been said before,

And in the art of prosody I have no skill.

I therefore have no thought that this might be of benefit to others;

I wrote it only to habituate my mind.”

I am sure that there is nothing in this piece that the reader has not read or heard already. But I hope this piece will serve as a small aide-memoires of the current position of China and the current international scenario that are necessary to be considered in making our deliberation to find solutions for Tibet and Tibetans inside Tibet.

It is particularly important this time because the deliberations of the delegates will not formally be commented, protected or blessed by His Holiness The Dalai Lama as the political head of Tibetan people. In other words, we do not have the safety cover of His Holiness The Dalai Lama, which we have always relied upon as a fall back and a guarantor. We are not so lucky now.

It is absolutely essential and vitally important that we consider the wider context under which China is now operating in the world and how other countries including superpowers are behaving, positioning and formulating not only their foreign policies, but also their economic and domestic policies towards China and its impact and consequences on Tibetan issues now and for years to come.

Within a period of thirty years, a periodic span of three generations of Chinese leadership (Deng Xiaoping, Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao), China has been transformed from a crippling communist regime to a super power next to the United States.

At the beginning of 2012, The Economist almost as a matter-of-fact reported that China will have a larger economy than America in purchasing power parity in less than five years from now (2016)

The economist also methodically chronicled and published the following statistics:

* China’s net foreign assets surpassed the United States in 2003 (China’s net foreign assets of $2 trillion today versus US net foreign debt of $2.5 trillion);

* Chinese exports surpassed the US in 2007;

* Chinese fixed capital investment took the lead in 2009;

* Chinese manufacturing output surpassed US in 2010;

* Chinese energy consumption also surpassed US in 2010;

* Chinese patent applications granted exceeded the United States applications for the first time in 2010.

* Based on reasonable projections of relative real growth rates China will have the larger GDP as measured by market exchange rates within the next seven years (2018)

China’s stated global aim and core interests:

Beijing’s stated core objectives, loosely and by no means exhaustive, consists of (a) the preservation of communist party and it’s rule in China, (b) unification of Taiwan with mainland China, (c) continuation of rule of Tibet, (d) unhindered access to world’s mineral resources and (e) non acceptance of what China calls imposition or importation of western values such as human rights and democracy in Chinese society.

The world and China

What has become evident is that, during these last three decades, China’s attitude towards the rest of the world has significantly changed since the early days of Deng Xiaoping’s modernisation program or vision of Chinese economy for alleviating the Chinese society from poverty in the aftermath of Mao’s cultural revolution and isolation of China from the rest of the world.

During the past decade, buoyed by China economic success, the country’s regime has manifested in a very assertive entity, threatening those countries with punitive economic repercussion who criticises its human right records, democracy, and issues relating to Tibet and Xinjiang.

This assertive Chinese policy on global development and dominance is imposed on other countries through a mixture of force and diplomacy. It has rattled and confronted the reality, the challenges that other governments especially western governments, parliamentarians, political thinkers and ordinary members of the society alike, may have envisaged on such a turn around. But none are not only unprepared for the consequences but at the speed of its arrival.

It seems the reality of Deng Xiaoping’s famous tactical policy for China of “biding time and hiding one’s talents or strength” has arrived suddenly within a very short period of three decades, with shock waves for the future of world order politically, economically, and the emergence of the concept of human rights, democracy and rule of law in Asia. My assumption here is that once China has actually obtained national wealth and superpower status, it will increasingly act unilaterally without adherence to international norms.

As a consequence is visible from the changing US policy and perhaps many regional countries too are likely to take active measures to hedge against a more unilateral China in the future so that they are not caught unprepared.

American President George W Bush senior rightly saw and politely stated that China is a competitor, but the US and western world accepted China as a “friendly partner” overshadowed by the stream of cheap imports from China that was to glut the insatiable wants of the western consumer society.

Transfer of western manufacturing know-how and technical expertise to China in the search for high profits for the corporations has made the economic benefits more lucrative to political expediency in the past three decades.

The Rise of China and its Impact on the Regional and Global Order

The real question throughout the world today is what does this rise and rise of China means for the regional and global order. What are its real impacts on both regional and global peace, prosperity, security and stability for the immediate decades ahead? How does this economically powerful China affect it treatment of Tibetans, Uyghurs, Mongolians and other minorities in China?

The current rise of economic power of China has been compared to the possible down fall of Western economic power primarily due to the global financial crisis, which started around 2006 that resulted in a long and still continuing economic recession in Europe and USA. The present economic crisis in Europe is so acute that it is not only affecting the economic recovery of US, but it still has the full potential to unleash a second round of Global Financial Crisis.

For the Western world this unprecedented rise of China is a very uncomfortable force to be reckoned with. According to Kevin Rudd, the former Prime Minister and current Foreign Secretary of Australia, “this will be the first time ever a non western power will dominate the global economic power since the rise of Spanish Empire in 1492 and that this will be the first time ever a non-democratic country will be the world’s largest economy for nearly 300 years”.

When we look at the impact of the rise of China in terms of global peace and security, we must look at it in a much wider worldwide and historical context than the relatives of G2 (US and China) metrics of the 21st century. The global implications of China rising to the top of the global economic position are simply jaw dropping to consider.

It is, therefore, a subject worthy of the most serious reflection and analysis, not just in Beijing and Washington, but across Asia, across Europe and across the world.

Asia Pacific and USA Foreign Policy change:

The inexorable rise of China has forced US to look eastward withdrawing from their war engagements from Iraq and Afghanistan and Europe First policy engagement with North Atlantic Alliance, which has been the back bone of US foreign policy for the past 60 years.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton pronounced the Obama administration’s new approach to Asia Pacific in her November 2011 “America’s Pacific Century” speech where she declared that “the future of politics will be decided in Asia, not Afghanistan or Iraq, and the United States will be right at the center of the action”. And she further went on to say that “as we move forward to set the stage for engagement in the Asia-Pacific over the next 60 years, we are focused on the steps we have to take at home to secure and sustain our leadership abroad”.

In a very fluid world of changing politics dominated by giants powers, we need to look back and recollect with deep interest how President Obama’s administration has written a new chapter in American foreign policy, saying that United States will move away from South West Asia to focus on the rising power of china.

Clearly, America is broadening its strategic reach and relations in the pacific region both with individual countries as well as with Asian institutions such as ASEAN (Association of South East Asian Nations) and EAS (East Asia Summit) to engage and to maintain a balance of power to counter the growing power and assertive influence of China. China’s growing global power, influence and its assertive territorial claims in South China Sea has made ASEAN countries nervous of the intentions of China. The Asia Pivot policy of Obama Administration has embraced the US by Vietnam and other member countries as a fallback security against their giant neighbour.

It is important to point out that for the first time ever in the ASEAN Regional Forum’s 45 year history, since its inception, there was no agreed communiqué in their 2012 Annual meeting in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, because South-east Asian countries have failed to reach an agreement on how to deal with China’s assertive sovereignty claims on disputed territory in the South China Sea. The Philippines and Vietnamese wanted ASEAN Regional Forum to have a unified policy on South China Sea dispute and to resist Beijing’s insistence that the disputes should be handled on a bilateral level only. Perhaps, American Asia Pivot Foreign Policy may have given these smaller countries some confidence and may have increased their resistance level with China and it seems such countries are reciprocating favourably to the US declared role in Asia Pacific. Rival countries have made claims over territory in the South China Sea for centuries but the recent upsurge in tension has sparked concern that the area is becoming a flashpoint with global consequences.

US had clearly concluded that it not only has vital interests in this Asia Pacific Region in the century ahead, but also that this region will progressively represent the centre of gravity of global economic and strategic power.

US and most of its allies believes that this strategic positioning has kept and will keep the region in peace, thereby enabling open economies to develop, trade and commerce to flourish, and democracies to emerge.

This is where core American and Chinese strategic concepts clash against each other, because the Chinese view that US alliance structures in Asia and Pacific are relics of a cold war past that should be disbanded and that the retention of these alliances is designed to constrain China; and in doing so, continue to frustrate the reunification of Taiwan with the motherland.

Burma

It is not a coincidence that the Secretary of State Hillary Clinton should make the first-ever and a landmark historical visit to Burma in December 2011, reversing a fifty year US Policy of engagement with Burma so soon after Obama Administrations Asia Pivot Policy announcement. US is well aware that such high level visit by the administration will not only give high hopes and expectations for the democratic movement in Burma, but that this will also provide the possibility for the Burmese authorities to rebalance its one sided and suffocating relationship with China, which has been resented by ordinary Burmese people.

Secretary of State Clinton’s meeting with Ms Aung Sun Suu Kyi, a Nobel Laureate, human rights icon and champaign of democracy in Burma, has paved the way for greater normalisation of relations between Burma with US and Europe.

Burma has become a client state of China for the past many decades. China has invested heavily in Burma both for its natural resources and for securing and carrying out the so called Maoist encirclement strategic position in surrounding India – which has given home to His Holiness the Dalai Lama, the exiled Tibetan community and enabling and facilitating the exile Tibetans to preserve their language, customs and the unique cultural heritage of Tibet – from the east, Sri Lanka from the south, Pakistan from the west and occupied Tibet and Nepal from the north.

Japan

The continued mistrust between Japan and China are self evident in the past, but the clash between Chinese fighting boats with coastguard off Japan at the end of 2011 and allowing anti-Japanese protests and demonstration to take place in major cities in China by the Chinese Communist Party is a reminder of another flash point with global consequences.

Japan is one of the most important partners of USA in Asia, and China has consistently complained at USA and Japan’s military alliance. In reference to the annual USA and Japan military drill, which took place in Gotemba at the foothill of Mount Fuji on 21st August 2012, China Daily quotes a defence commentator as saying that the drill “is increasing tension in the region and has shown Washington’s true colours, despite its so-called neutral stance over the issue of disputed islands in the East China Sea”.

Again if we look back to the early days of Obama presidency, one could argue that the preparation for the Asia Pivot and American Pacific Century thinking was already underway soon after the end of 2008. It was evident because the Japanese Prime Minister was the first Oval Office visitor from abroad in early 2009 and Secretary Clinton’s first overseas trip was to Tokyo and not to London or Europe.

Australia

In line with US new policy of engagement in Asia, United State has secured a far reaching agreement with Australia to expand its military presence in the country and facility for joint exercises, training, and access to bases and eventual postings of up to 2500 American troops in northern Australia. Naturally, China is very unhappy with this US positioning.

Australia being a member of the club of G-20 and East Asia Summit Forum is also interested in shaping the future of Asia and Pacific region. Australia has huge commercial interests with mainland China with its mineral resources.

European Union and China

The European Union is the biggest and most important trading partner of China. The EU pursues a friendly strategic partnership with China and welcomes Chinese nods and winks when it hints that they may prop up the Euro. Chinese are openly lobbying Chinese government’s interests in Brussels and in the capitals of the European countries, yet at the same time Chinese leaders are telling off and pointing fingers at the European leaders for their lack of leadership for not “putting their houses in order”. Perhaps, it is really a sign of change in time of European fortune that we witness remarkable and extraordinary acts of dependency and vulnerability to see European States publicly seeking China’s financial support to intervene in Euro-bond markets.

Europe welcomes Chinese investments and China has taken advantage in investing and taking over well known brands and buying up ownership in strategic key industries requiring cash injection for the corporation’s survival.

In less prosperous European economies they have invested by either taking over the control or have taken stakes in key industries such as Ocean terminal at Piraeus port in Greece and wind-power farm in Romania. In other key industries they have taken stakes such as in the makers of polysilicon for solar panels in Norway, 40% stake in Norwegian Statoil, Addax Petroleum of Switzerland, a stake in the Fortis bank of Belgium, stake in the Barclays bank in UK etc.

China has two major demands from the EU. Firstly, China would like EU to lift the arms embargo imposed on it after the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre. Secondly, it would like EU to grant them the status of a full market economy, which would shield it from anti-dumping measures.

EU member states remains divided and unable to agree on both issues because of the very sensitive political nature of the arms embargo and the inherent nature of the protection required for home grown industries to safeguard employment from cheap imports.

This has inevitably allowed China to manipulate the internal divisions of the member states and play one member state against others thorough the so called bilateral talks and discussions a format China has very successfully followed in South East Asia.

China and Africa, Latin America

Although China’s global influence, be it through force of assertiveness, through natural course or through bullying and blackmailing tactics, is felt almost throughout the entire world. In the above short and very superficial analysis, I have concentrated mainly on China and its relationships with the United States of America, Europe, Asia and Pacific.

Dominance of Chinese influence in the entire continent of Africa is without any dispute. China’s economic controls and political influence in the whole of Latin American world, former USSR republics are also undisputed. China is promoting their state interests in these countries through a combination of aid programs, particularly in Africa where China is now using aid programs to explore open markets for oil, minerals and other resources. In return for the access to natural resources, China lends cheap money, builds roads, railways, airports, bridges, hospitals, sport stadiums, schools and official buildings.

Although, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton did not mention Beijing by name but was directed at China when she said “be wary of donors who are more interested in extracting your resources than in building your capacity. Some funding might help fill short-term budget gaps, but we’ve seen time and again that these quick fixes won’t produce self-sustaining results.” at the global summit on development and aid held in South Korea.

For many of the developing nations China has become an essential partner particularly for those repressive and rogue regime states in African continent, Middle East and Latin American oil reach states.

An Overview on China

Whilst China’s economic power is growing and unstoppable, yet this is a country not at ease with itself and there is a huge number of areas which could derail their progress from becoming the world’s number one superpower.

The particular areas to look out for are both internal and external forces, but the explosion of an internal force is more likely and will have more devastating and chaotic outcome if that were to happen. The internal pressure for reform in China is like a boiling kettle and the Chinese government’s own admitted cost of maintaining the internal security in 2010 was US Dollars 93 billion. Experts believe that this amount is $1 billion more than the government’s publicly admitted national defense budget, and surely, such spending on internal security is a devastating blow for the image of a stable China, which it would like to portray and an undoubted evidence of a State at odds with its own people.

A leading UK think-tank on international affairs, Chatham House, states that there were 9 million petitions to the central government in 2009 and estimates that there are as many as 180,000 mass incidents each year. Most of the disputes have arisen because of infringement and summary acquisition of land rights, unsettled pension payments, conflict of political and lack of participation in decision making process in civil society frustrated by the non transparent and control imposed by one party system.

The second major area of internal conflict pressure point is the existence of massive inequalities in income between cities and countryside; development and income gap between coastal and inland regions; between eastern and western regions, as most of the development and wealth is concentrated in coastal regions. The scale of inequality is illustrated by World Bank’s statistics which states that China has 150 million people living in abject poverty, 24 million people malnourished, but China has 35 Dollar billionaires and over 100 Dollar millionaires.

The third pressure point is the massive problem of corruption and nepotism in Chinese society which is enhancing the marginalisation of ethic minorities, non communist party members, religious affiliated groups and other vulnerable members of the society.

The fourth pressure point is both an internal as well as an international issue which relate to Tibet, Xinjiang and Inner Mongolia on one hand and Taiwan on the other. China’s continued inability to address and resolve the real and unprecedented grievances of the people of Tibet and Xinjiang has continued to dogged the Chinese government by a series of public disorders, unrest, protests and international condemnation of the Chinese government for its hard line policies and handling of these issues, which continues to taint it’s authority and legitimacy of rule in these ethnic regions, especially in occupied Tibet.

Sino-Tibetan Relations: The Way Forward

The objectives of Memorandum on Genuine Autonomy for the Tibetan People proposed by the Tibetan side, which provides the basis for a realistic and sustainable political solution to the issue of Tibet, is sill achievable through a strategy of campaign and continued engagement and negotiation with China even in the face of the latter’s intransigence. All we need is a political will from Beijing to resolve the question of Tibet. The last round of talks between the two side was held in January 2010.

A progressively wealthy and powerful China should have the confidence to settle the Tibetan issue during the life time of His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama, who is revered and enjoys the full confidence of all Tibetans both living inside and outside of Tibet. China should not fear the sincere overtures of His Holiness in helping China to settle the question of Tibet for the mutual benefit of Tibetan and Chinese peoples.

His Holiness has often talked about and recognised the need and benefits of a wealthy, powerful and industrious China to help bring economic development to Tibet. It is important for the Chinese leaders to realise and appreciate His Holiness’s genuine views and hopes for the benefit of both Chinese and Tibetan communities.

China must also be wise and confident enough to accept that it is in the best interest of China to settle the Tibetan issue as quickly as possible. The unsettled Tibet problem is one of the worst burdens that China has and this is holding back China in the eyes of international community. An amicable political settlement of the issue of Tibet with the return of His Holiness to Tibet will undoubtedly earn China international recognition for its political maturity and moral authority necessary to be a world super power.

Since the election of Kalon Tripa Dr. Lobsang Sangay, the unannounced official Chinese position had been that of a non engagement policy with His Holiness the Dalai Lama and the Central Tibetan Administration.

Of course, this is much regretted from Tibetan side and I hope the new Chinese leadership, which will be selected in mid October, will reverse the existing hard line policy of non engagement with His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Central Tibetan Administration. The new Chinese leadership has the opportunity to seize the moment to restore freedom in Tibet by putting an immediate end to the draconian control imposed in Tibetan areas. This will give breathing space for normal existence to begin, whereby the trauma of hopelessness will cease and may help to end the cycle of tragic self-immolations in Tibet.

As I am giving my finishing and final thoughts to this piece, the number of Tibetans who have set themselves on fire reached 51, of which 41 died. But unfortunately, there is no sign of abatement in this drastic form of non-violent protest against the continued Chinese rule in occupied Tibet and the denial of the return of His Holiness the Dalai Lama to his homeland.

The political movement of self-immolation, which started from inside Tibet, is a testament of desperation and unhappiness endured by Tibetans in Tibet.

We really need to collectively engage in the forthcoming Second Special General Meeting to come up with strategies and programmes, which will enable us to achieve an amicable resolution of the political future of Tibet based on the forward-looking and foresighted principles, philosophies and guidance of His Holiness the Dalai Lama.

Sonam T Frasi is a former Member of Tibetan Parliament-in-Exile

September 2012.

 

By Thubten Samphel*

Ancient China erected the Great Wall to keep out the barbarians. Modern China has erected the Great Firewall to prevent barbarian thoughts from infecting the health of the citizens of the People’s Republic. Like the ancient wall, the Great Firewall has been breached. Tibetan exiles have initiated a conversation with the netizens of China that has the potential to moderate Beijing’s policy towards Tibetans and other minorities.

One burning topic of discussion between Tibetan exiles and the Chinese on the Mainland is the spate of fiery deaths that engulf Tibet today. So far, 51 Tibetans have set themselves on fire since 2009. All of them called for freedom in Tibet and the return of His Holiness the Dalai Lama to his homeland. When informed of these self-immolations, the reaction from the Chinese netizens is one of is shock and disbelief. Even when images of self-immolations were sent to them, the sentiment of the majority Chinese netizens is, this can’t be happening in China.

Ai Weiwei: Nobody is talking about the burnings in Tibet/Photo credit: Dezeen Magazine

Buried in the widespread sentiment of disbelief are also expressions of support and understanding, says Tsering Wangmo, who heads Drelwa, a Tibetan NGO based in Dharamsala, the seat of His Holiness the Dalai Lama in north India. Drelwa consist of six young Chinese-speaking Tibetans who daily surmount the Great Firewall of China to carry on a conversation with netizens in China. One netizen writes, “You Tibetans are not alone. We are also frustrated by rising food and rent prices. Though we haven’t heard about the self-immolations, we understand the reasons for the frustration arising out of a loss of hope.”

Another blames the Chinese Communist Party for the increasing cases of Tibetans resorting to self-immolation. He says, “The CCP hides the truth and spreads distorted information. The CCP suppresses not only Tibetans, Mongols, Uighurs but the Chinese people. The Chinese people don’t know the truth because all channels of free information are blocked. To solve all these problems, China must tread on the path of democracy.”

These are some of the sentiments of support and sympathy whispered beyond the radar of China’s censor and below the din of China’s Internet chatter.

Others openly express what they feel about the self-immolations going on in Tibet. For example, in an interview for the Foreign Policy magazine in its September-October 2012 issue, Ai Weiwei, the world famous Chinese artist, made these comments. “The one exception is Tibet, because of its natural resources, but the Tibetan people are burning themselves to death. Already over 40 of them in the past two years, and nobody’s talking about it.”

When asked whether he had been to been to Lhasa before, Ai Weiwei said, “No. I would feel ashamed to go. I think to respect [the Tibetans] is not to touch them, to leave them alone.”

Ran Yunfei, one of China’s most outspoken public intellectuals, in an interview to Ian Johnson for the New York Review of Books, said, “The communists really destroyed religion. They don’t understand it at all. Look at Tibet. I told the guobao (state security agents) that, “you guys have gone too far. You don’t allow them to hang pictures of the Dalai Lama. You don’t have faith so you don’t understand. So the Tibetans get very angry and depressed. And then you go into temples and instead hang pictures of Mao and Jiang (Zemin) or Hu (Jintao). You’ve gone overboard! This isn’t right. Think about it. No wonder they set themselves on fire.”

Ran Yunfei: The communists really destroyed religion… No wonder they set themselves on fire/Photo credit: New York Review of Books

In the wake of the widespread and sustained protests that erupted in Tibet in 2009, Chinese intellectuals’ expression of sympathy for Tibetan grievances was loud and clear. A letter, signed by the leading lights of China, including by the imprisoned Nobel Laureate, Liu Xiaobo and more than 340 others, urged the Chinese authorities to hold direct dialogue with His Holiness the Dalai Lama to resolve the issue. Similarly, in May 2009, Gongmeng, a law firm in Beijing that advocates the rule of law, published a detailed report investigating the causes of Tibetan discontent. It cited China’s policy failure as a major cause. The reported recommended that Beijing in future base its Tibet policy on the aspirations of the Tibetan people.

His Holiness the Dalai Lama joined in this conversation in 2010, answering questions on his successor, his approach to resolve the issue of Tibet with Beijing, the nature of autonomy for Tibet, whether Tibetans would stick to non-violence after his demise and relations between Tibetans and Chinese. 1,543 Chinese submitted 326 questions. 12,771 netizens voted for the final ten questions, which were then answered by the Tibetan leader.

Yu Jie, now in exile in the United States, the author of Wen Jiabao: China’s Best Actor and a biography of Liu Xiaobo, commenting on the event said,  “The scale of the dialogue is not that big, just several thousand [participants]. However, I believe its influence and impact are getting bigger and bigger. One day it will defeat all distorted propaganda on the Dalai Lama and truth in Tibet.”

Given China’s current fluid political situation in which the premier of the nation is calling for the absolute necessity for political reform, these voices of moderation and tolerance may shape China’s attitude towards Tibet. Li Yuanchao, head of the Organization Department that supervises appointments of officials and a strong candidate for the Standing Committee of the Politburo, recommends that the authorities “comply with the will of the people.” If these sentiments of Chinese leaders are translated into policy, there is real hope for China and its minorities.

For another group of Chinese there is a different Tibetan attraction. This is Tibetan Buddhism. Young and well-to-do Chinese are turning to Tibetan Buddhism, inviting Tibetan lamas to their homes, joining monasteries in Tibet and even coming to India to attend the teachings of His Holiness the Dalai Lama. This year in January when the Dalai Lama gave a set of Buddhist teachings in Bodh Gaya in northern India where the Buddha attained enlightenment, more than 1,000 Chinese from the Mainland attended the event.

These two strands of conversation which the Tibetans carry on with the Chinese in the Mainland constitute a drop in an ocean. However, if it is allowed to grow to its full potential within an evolving and increasingly pluralistic China, this conversation will help positively shape how China treats its minorities.

*Thubten Samphel is the director of the Tibet Policy Institute. Views expressed here do not reflect those of the Central Tibetan Administration.

 

Liu Xiaoming

By Thubten Samdup, Representative, Office of Tibet, London

The Chinese ambassador to Britain, Mr. Liu Xiaoming’s colourful tourist travelogue on Tibet painstakingly details many vistas where Tibetan cultural and religious life historically intersects with that of the Han Chinese. Making analogy with the UK’s political structure, the assertion here is that myriad sites, depicting centuries-old intercultural links and shared Buddhist references, speak of a Tibet that has always been integral to the greater China. Of course, it too easily discounts the centrality of the Dalai Lama to the Tibetan Buddhism to which he so liberally refers. In addition to summarily discounting Tibetan claims to sovereignty, Mr Xioaming’s eye-witness account of an intercultural landscape (Han & Tibetan) offers no evidence of a Tibetan struggle. If anything, we are informed that should we visit this landscape we would encounter a people faring better than ever; living as full-fledged integrated Chinese citizens.

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By Thubten Samphel, Tibet Policy Institute

He Qinglian: the chronicler of China's Great Leap Backward

For much of the past three decades China was viewed by the world as the engine that drove global prosperity. Communist China was credited with lifting the greatest number of people out of poverty in the shortest possible time in all of human history. The world was mesmerised by China’s stunning economic performance. Meanwhile, in 2006 China laid a railway line to Lhasa, the highest in the world. The Olympic Games held in Beijing in 2008 brought all these economic and technological achievements to a dazzling climax. China’s place in the world was firmly established and was well deserved.

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by Jamphel Shunu

“The dream of returning to Tibet is a dream that unites us all”

 Ever since I was a child in a Tibetan school in south India, I was taught that our country is Tibet and that we should be proud of being a Tibetan. And I have grown up duly, dwelling in the awesome feeling of being a Tibetan.

But as I grew up, I felt the dream of returning to the promised land, from where my parents came, kept getting farther and farther because as I see it, the Tibetan movement, as vibrant and widespread as it may be around the world at the moment, thrives solely on the support of others/foreigners, which also is based on one main fulcrum: His Holiness the Dalai Lama.

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By Tenzin Tseten

The year 2012 marks the dynamic year for China with the ongoing political infighting among the top brass leadership. On the other hand, the Beijing handpicked Panchen Lama Gyaltsen Norbu, aged 22 has made his maiden political appearance outside the mainland China in third world Buddhist forum held in Hong Kong which was attended by more than 4000 Buddhist monks, nuns and scholars from 50 different countries. Despite his rare appearances, he made his political debut in 2010 at the annual session of the Chinese People Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) as a national committee member of the top political advisory body and he had also attended the 1st and 2nd world Buddhist forum in year 2006 and 2009 respectively. 

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THANK YOU LOLO

On April 26, 2012

 Thank you ལོ་ལོ།

For keeping alive our history, memory and mortality

Thank you ལོ་ལོ།

For teaching us what true love and compassion is

Thank you ལོ་ལོ།

For your wisdom

That truth

Is but a union of Ume-lam and Rangzen

Thank you ལོ་ལོ།

For giving us hope

Joys and sorrows

Thank you ལོ་ལོ།

For bringing tears in eyes

but smiles on my lips

PEACE!