Thursday, February 25, 2010

This Week in Tibet

This has been a busy week for the Tibetan movement- with the Dalai Lama visiting DC and meeting with Obama for the first time since he took office, people on all sides of the issue have been offering their opinions. From the Chinese side, the response has been predictable: complete outrage at a meeting which Obama, for better or worse, kept fairly low-key and delayed initially. Hopefully Obama learned his lesson- the Chinese would have been just as furious if Obama had let the Dalai Lama set up shop in the Oval Office for a few days.

The combination of this perceived snub and the apparent failure of the negotiations between the Central Tibetan Administration and Beijing don’t lend themselves to an upbeat evaluation. In a statement located here, Arjia Rinpoche argues that there is still cause for optimism. Arjia himself is a pretty cool guy- enthroned as the abbot of the massive Kumbum Monastery in the early 1950's at the age of 2, he was responsible for rebuilding Kumbum after the Cultural Revolution left it in ruins (along with almost every other temple and monastery in Tibet and China). Eventually the pressure, scrutiny, and threats from Beijing grew too great, however, and Arjia chose to exile himself from Tibet in the late 90’s.

In regards to claims that Obama disrespected the Dalai Lama, Arjia says:
“My reading is different. The White House had already sent two envoys to Dharamsala to discuss and carefully plan a visit by His Holiness to Washington. These discussions did not seem like a haphazard, spur of the moment apology for a snubbing.”
As for why he remains optimistic:
“I detected in the most recent Tibet Work Issues Meeting [a Chinese task force convened in Beijing for the purposes of addressing Tibetan issues] a softening of tone in the rhetoric. I sensed a shift in nuance. Having grown into maturity as a Tibetan monk of the “exploiting class” and then risen in status in the government religious bureaucracy in the post Mao years, I learned to listen very carefully...”
After detailing some of the changes in official rhetoric seen lately, he concludes that:
“Over the last 20 years freedom has waned; perhaps it is ready to wax once more. The present policy of repression and attempted cultural murder has never worked. His Holiness the Dalai Lama is a bad enemy; he never strikes back. He won’t do what is expected of enemies. He has patience that seems endless. So I ask, how long can the government of China stand alone in the world believing that His Holiness represents incarnate evil instead of the reincarnation of Chenresig, the deity of compassion?”
Again, the entire thing is located here. Next, some bits from an interesting interview. Lobsang Tenzin is currently the Kalon Tripa, the elected head of the Tibetan Exile Government. The mere existence of that position is an irritation to Beijing, which claims that the Dalai Lama wants to personally take command of Tibet and institute serfdom because of his irrepressible malice. The fact that the 120,000 exiles are eligible for democratic elections is pretty inconvenient for them.

The Kalon Tripa was recently interviewed by Bi Yantao, a Chinese academic and writer who has managed to push for democratization without being beaten/jailed/disappeared. They discussed the main issue hindering the talks between the Tibetans and Beijing- namely, Greater Tibet. It’s easiest to illustrate this issue with a map or two. First, the status quo-

The Tibetan Autonomous Region is outlined in black. To its north lies the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, then proceeding clockwise around Tibet we have Qinghai province, Sichuan province, and Yunnan to the southeast. According to China, all discussions are limited to policies within the Tibetan Autonomous Region. But now let me fill in Tibet as it has existed for the last few centuries, prior to being divided by China-

Here we have the three traditional regions of Tibet. U-Tsang is mostly mirrored by the current Tibet Autonomous Region, but Amdo and Kham have been divided up into the entirety of Qinghai province, and parts of Gansu, Sichuan, and Yunnan provinces. These areas are still ethnically and culturally Tibetan, as they have been for generations. By some counts, a majority of the world-wide Tibetan population lives outside of the Tibetan Autonomous Region. Naturally, the Tibetan exiles insist that these areas be reunited with each other, and that any policy changes from the negotiations be effected on all of them. Beijing counters by saying that these regions weren’t controlled by Lhasa, which is technically true of the year when China invaded Tibet but absolutely false historically.

The interview is interesting, because the somewhat antagonistic tone of the interviewer is likely due to the troubles of getting anything sympathetic to the Tibetan cause published in China. The Kalon Tripa frames his arguments from a Marxist perspective and for the most part simply asks that China respect the laws already established in the Chinese Constitution regarding minority autonomy:
Kalon Tripa: The basic concept of national regional autonomy aims to preserve and promote the unique identities of the minority nationalities. To achieve this objective there is need to maintain administrative unity within same nationality, unless this unity is impossible due to geographical conditions. Apart from that, Article 4 of the Constitution says, "Any act which undermines the unity of the nationality or instigates division is prohibited".

It is stated in the autonomy law that national autonomous areas shall be classified into autonomous regions, prefectures and counties… There is no reason or need to deliberately divide a particular nationality by establishing many autonomous prefectures and counties.

Dividing the Tibetan nationality despite the fact that they have lived together for centuries in one contiguous area is considered as a violation of the spirit of the constitution. This is the imperialist policy of "divide and rule". If a minority nationality cannot integrate within itself, then it will become more difficult to integrate with the PRC.
The rest of the interview is here, and worth a read if you have some time and want to get a feel for the kind of nonsense the Tibetan diplomats put up with in Beijing.

1 comment:

  1. Great post.

    I've always wondered what would happen if there was a mess with china implosion. Something like the Dalai Lama meeting Obama in Taiwan to announce google cutting off China's censoring ability instantly.

    That would at least be entertaining.