Sunday, March 7, 2010
Orphans in this World
I have rewritten this old article.
“Yes, we can” was the mantra coined by Candidate Obama to win the hearts of the Americans during his presidential campaign.
A year later, one could just say: “Yes, he could have”. This is true not only for his internal policies, but also for his stand on Af-Pak, India and China.
One more demonstration came when he met the Dalai Lama in the White House. A few days after the ‘historic’ meeting, a photo appeared on the Internet. It was taken by an AFP photographer and was apparently released by the White House. One sees a smiling Dalai Lama coming out from what is said to be the kitchen door of the White House, with sacks of garbage on the side. A pro-Tibetan group based in India commented, “Orphans of the Cold War!”
Today Tibetans are certainly ‘orphans’: even nations and leaders who pretend to stand for human rights, democracy or free speech are panicky about China’s new might. As a result, these countries only pay lip service to human values.
(Some even get nervous before the spokesperson of the Chinese Foreign Ministry has started opining his mouth. This is the case of Thailand which refused to grant visa to Jetsun Pema, the Dalai Lama’s sister who was to take part in a Tibetan cultural event hosted at Bangkok Art and Culture Center).
To come back to Obama, even if he had planned for a low-key encounter, he should have given a decent exit to the Dalai Lama. Sadly, the most powerful nation of the world chooses today to bow to the economic rise of the Middle Kingdom.
Will the meeting have positive results for the Tibetans? I am not sure. Several friends told me that it is better to meet the US President than not to meet him; they are probably right, however, at the same time, I don’t think one can expect miracles from the Dalai Lama’s Washington visit.
Most of the media covering the event emphasised President Obama’s courage: He dared to defy Chinese anger (or diktats?) to meet the Tibetan leader. Well, it is probably the minimum that the new Nobel Laureate could do. How could he refuse to receive the Tibetan leader when his predecessors have met him?
The Chinese Government had as usual asked Washington to cancel the meeting which would ‘damage’ Sino-American relations. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Ma Zhaoxu declared: “China resolutely opposes the visit by the Dalai Lama to the United States, and resolutely opposes US leaders having contact with the Dalai Lama.”
After the discreet meeting in the Map Room of the White House where American Presidents usually stage hush-hush meeting, the Obama Administration said it was just a ‘private call’. The White House spokesman, Robert Gibb nevertheless declared that the President supported “the preservation of Tibet’s unique religious, cultural and linguistic identity and the protection of human rights for Tibetans in China”, it is not clear how the US will practically translate this on the ground for the Tibetans.
The meeting was certainly good for President Obama’s image since his popularity is tumbling fast (mainly due to domestic policies and his position on Afghanistan). A recent survey pointed that about 52 per cent Americans believe that Obama does not deserve a second term in office. In another CNN opinion poll, released on the eve of the meeting in the Map Room, nearly three-quarters of the Americans said that Tibet should be an independent country, (ironically, the Dalai Lama does not ask for independence anymore!).
The Americans’ strong feeling was an important factor in the decision by the Obama Administration to brave Beijing’s ire. But what will it bring to the Tibetans? The Chinese leaders today are too arrogant to listen to anything coming out of Washington. In fact, they strongly resent any advice from the West. Moreover, the US is deep in debt. What can a country with such a huge debt towards China impose on the Rising Dragon?
The Tibetan issue is extremely complex and the present leadership in Beijing does not possess the courage (and the charisma) to take the plunge and offer a genuine solution acceptable to the Tibetan people. This is a pity because the Dalai Lama is the only person who could help sort out the present contradictions of China. It is, however, true that a genuine solution would bring about tremendous changes inside China and perhaps the collapse of the present system under a totalitarian Communist regime.
An event which took place in north-eastern Tibet (outside the Tibetan Autonomous Region) showed another aspect of the problem. Thousands of Tibetans demonstrated in Ngaba County of Amdo Province. It was not like in March 2008 to express their anger against the Chinese, but to show their joy at the news of the Washington meeting; their leader had met the most powerful man in the world.
The website Phayul.com reported: “The mournful atmosphere of the Tibetan New Year was replaced by jubilation with people bursting firecrackers in the streets and celebrating.” Crowds from nearby villages gathered near Ngaba Kirti monastery for a purification ritual; they burned incense and erected wind-horse prayer flags.
Thousands marched in the streets and shouted “ki ki so so lha gyalo” (victory to the gods) while throwing tsampa (barley flour) in the air. The Chinese security forces did not know how to react to the incense-burning. The Chinese police eventually confiscated the firecrackers from the Tibetans and extinguished the ritual fires.
Fifty years after the Dalai Lama took refuge in India, the Chinese still do not know how to counter the fact that the masses on the Roof of the World are proud of their Tibetan identity.
Interestingly, the March/April 2008 unrest in Tibet (when I say ‘Tibet’, I mean the Tibetan Autonomous Region (TAR) and all the regions which have traditionally and historically been part of Tibet) has forced the leadership in Beijing to rethink its position on Tibet. One of the outcomes is that they seem to have changed their stance on the geographical definition of Roof of the World.
China Tibet Information Center website reported that the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference Chinese (CPPCC) Chairman Jia Qinglin affirmed that the CPPCC “will conscientiously implement the guiding principles of the central leadership's Fifth Forum on Tibet Work, and strive to achieve a leapfrog development and lasting stability in Tibet and Tibetan ethnic areas in Sichuan, Yunnan, Gansu and Qinghai provinces.”
He was delivering a report on the work of the CPPCC National Committee's Standing Committee over the past year.
This could be considered as a great change in Beijing's policy towards Tibet. The leadership always said that the Dalai Lama is a splittist because he speaks of a 'Greater Tibet'. Now they themselves admit the existence of "Tibetan ethnic areas in Sichuan, Yunnan, Gansu and Qinghai provinces". Where is the difference? Is it a step forward in the talks? Not sure.
A few days earlier, former Chinese Foreign Minister, Li Zhaoxing declared "Why did the Dalai Lama propose a 'Greater Tibet' and keep the 'government-in-exile' with a so-called constitution while claiming he is not in support of 'Tibet independence'?", thereby linking ‘Greater Tibet’ to Independence.
What the 2008 unrest demonstrated? The resentment has been the same in all the three traditional provinces of Tibet, whether they are today administrated by the TAR, Sichuan, Yunnan, Gansu or Qinghai provinces. There is only one Tibetan identity on the plateau. The regime in Beijing has apparently grasped this basic fact.
A tactical move?
At the same time, Beijing is so desperate to win over the Tibetans, that they initiated a new 'tactical move' which may soon become counterproductive; they appointed ‘their’ Panchen Lama as a member of the CPPCC.
As reported by The Independent in London: “The 20-year-old Panchen Lama, whose name is Gyaltsen Norbu, has long been earmarked as Beijing's choice to usurp the Dalai Lama as the public face of Tibetan Buddhism. He has taken an increasingly political role and was in the frame a couple of years ago to be a delegate to the CPPCC but was thought to be too young. The Panchen Lama was among 13 people named to the CPPCC, made up of about 2,200 business leaders, religious figures, academics and celebrities. The young monk has appeared with Communist Party leaders, publicly praised Chinese rule in Tibet, and vowed to contribute to the blueprint of the compatible development of Tibetan Buddhism and socialism".
Anointing a puppet Panchen Lama can only create more resentment among the Tibetan masses. It is however true that the leadership long ago forgotten the meaning of ‘masses’. Should India send some of her politicians to teach the Communist leaders in Beijing the concept of aam aadmi?
The appointment of Beijing’s Panchen Lama will certainly not help solving the Tibetan issue. Tibetans are no fools. If Beijing had freed the genuine Panchen Lama (under house arrest for the past 15 years), it may have gone a long way to convince the 'masses' that the Chinese government is sincere in its approach towards the Tibetans. It has not been the case.
Tibetan Culture still a living culture
The day after President Obama met the Dalai Lama, I happened to attend a dance performance by a group of Tibetan students who were perhaps 13 to 14 years old; they were not professional dancers, just students who, during their holidays, had learned some steps and songs. But they were really good. Their eagerness to preserve their ancient culture was quite touching. Interestingly, most of the youngsters were born in Tibet and had only come recently to India to learn about their own tradition.
I believe this is one of the greatest achievements of the Dalai Lama: the culture of the Roof of the World is still very much alive in India. The preservation of the age-old culture will certainly one day make a difference. In the meantime, if you visit China, do a Google search for Tibet — you will get a blank screen.
Let us hope that President Obama will do something to at least change this.
The day China will be an open society, half of the Dalai Lama’s (and China’s) problem will be solved.