Sunday, June 23, 2013

Two Distinct Views on Tibet?

Zhu Weiqun (left) in a previous 'avatar'
as United Front Work Department's official
I recently received an interesting write-up by Thubten Samphel, who is Director of the Tibet Policy Institute in Dharamsala.
Samphel argues that there are different views on  the role that the Dalai Lama could play in what Beijing calls 'China's Tibet'.
He quotes Prof. Jin Wei of the Central  Committee's Party School and Zhu Weiqun, a former United Front Work Department's official.
The Zhu Weiqun piece which appeared on June 10 in the 'China News Weekly' was reprinted by the Wen Wei Po and finally made it to the official Chinese press a few days later.
Zhu repeats some of his arguments published last year in an article “Seeking Truth Through Facts.”
His main point is that Party members must leave the Party, if they wish to embrace a religion.
In his opinion, religion could only divide and break up the Party.
Zhu believes that: "The world view of the Party relies on the Marxist strands of dialectical materialism and historical materialism, which form the foundation of all party theory and practice. By contrast, all world religions are driven by idealism and theism, meaning if party members practice religion it would create two contrasting world views that will undoubtedly rock the guiding position of Marxism and cause Party philosophies and theories to fracture."
Though Zhu agreed that a party-wide prohibition on religion would infringe on fundamental religious freedoms, he believes that "if a person volunteers to join the Communist Party, then they are also choosing to forgo religion. People have every right to believe in a religion — but not when they are a Party member."
He severely criticizes local Communist officials who promote religious symbols and religious history to increase tourism and make money.
He also mentions foreign forces using religion to bring instability in China with the ultimate objective of toppling Communist Party rule. As an example he speaks of China’s Christians who are about 23 million.
The former United Front official puts the number of believers in China at about 100 million (the same old figures from Mao's days).
It is in this context that he looks at Buddhism which he also sees as an outside threat, mainly because of the Dalai Lama and his followers.
Regarding the restive regions of Tibet and Xinjiang, Zhu has strong views, he said: "If party members in the Tibet autonomous region are allowed to be influenced by the teachings of the Dalai Lama, for instance, this would be bound to result in the party's organizational fragmentation".
He points out: "It is no coincidence that in Tibet and Xinjiang, where religious disputes are most frequently seen, Party members are prohibited from religious activities."
Zhu adds that for ethnic minorities, the Party may allow some religious activities but the philosophical arguments against religion within the party must stand.
It is in this context that he criticizes the Dalai Lama’s Buddhist credentials on three grounds:
1) the Dalai Lama and his group’s support for self immolation,
2) the Dalai Lama’s refusal to accept 'history and traditions' (i.e., the golden urn) as they are related to his own future reincarnation,
3) the Dalai Lama’s belligerent denunciation of Dorjee Shugden adherents within his own Gelug school which demonstrates little, if any, respect for his predecessors in history.
Thubten Samphel's piece should open up a debate amongst China watchers. Are there different perspectives on the Tibet issue in China today? Are Zhu Weiqun's views outdated?
It has to be noted that The Economist mentions the same topic in its current issue.

In China Two Distinct Views on Tibet
Thubten Samphel
If recent public comments on Tibet made by Chinese academics and officials are anything to go by, two sharply differing views are developing in China on how it should deal with the issue of Tibet.  How these views play out and which view will emerge as actual policy will determine China's attitude to how the issue of Tibet should be resolved, with ramifications for the future of all China.
Prof. Jin Wei of the CCP's Party School
A softer and perhaps a much more sophisticated argument on what medicine China should take to cure its perennial Tibet headache is advanced by Jin Wei, a professor at the Party School of the Central  Committee of the Chinese Communist Party  based in Beijing.   In comments made to Asia Weekly, a Chinese language publication in Hong Kong, on 12 June, Jin Wei said that treating the Dalai Lama is an "enemy" is alienating all six million Tibetans who believe him as "the living Buddha." She said "The Dalai Lama is the key to the issue of Tibet" and recommended that China should re-start its stalled dialogue with him.
On asked what the proposed new round of talks should focus on, Jin Wei suggested that big issues like the Middle-Way Approach should be set aside for the time being. Instead she suggested that the Tibetan spiritual leader be allowed to visit Hong Kong or Macau with the aim of his taking up permanent residence in the former British colony. According to Professor Jin Wei, China's final aim should be to avoid the "embarrassment" of a situation which throws up two Dalai Lamas. Jin Wei says that if China is able to gain control of selecting the reincarnation of the next Dalai Lama the Party will succeed in winning the goodwill of all Tibet and destroy the strength of Tibetan independence forces working outside the country.
The Central Party School at which Jin Wei is the deputy director of minority issues and director of ethnic religious studies trains China top future leaders. The president of the school is Liu Yunshan, a member of the standing committee of the Politburo, one of the seven leaders who run China.  The current President of China, Xi Jinping, was the president of the school from 2007 to 2013. The background of the party school and its importance should be reasons enough for observers to pay close attention to Jin Wei's Tibet comments.
There is another reason for paying close attention. The party academics in China  are well tuned to the thinking of the party on all core issues. They would not dare speak out on their own without some vigorous nods from above. This is an assumption. It could be wrong. Professor Jin Wei might have voiced her own opinion on Tibet. But if she spoke out of tune with official policy on Tibet and His Holiness the Dalai Lama, there is no indication yet of any adverse effect on her academic career. There is no news yet that she has been fired from her post.
The official Chinese hardline reaction to Professor Jin Wei's seemingly conciliatory remarks was not long in coming. Zhu Weiqun, who was the principal interlocutor in talks with the envoys of His Holiness the Dalai Lama from 2002 to 2010 as the executive vice-minister of the United Front warned against changing the Party's attitude to the spiritual Tibetan spiritual leader. In an interview to China News Weekly of 16 June, Zhu Weiqun, who is now the director of the ethnic and religious affairs of the Chinese People's Political Consulatative Conference, an organ of the party, made these remarks: "When we refer to Mr. Tenzin Gyatso as the Dalai Lama we are recognising his spiritual rank. However, in the course of time, he has acquired another label which we should never forget. Because of his efforts to split China he has become a political refugee. "
For Zhu Weiqun there can be no talks on Tibet. He said, "The future of Tibet, since 1951 with the peaceful  liberation to 1959 with democratic reforms, has been decided by the Tibetan people themselves. The Dalai Lama cannot change this situation."
In the past, on Tibet and all other issues, China spoke with one voice.  Either in writing or orally, policy statements on sensitive issues like Tibet carried the same turn of phrase or tone of voice. The party, state and military carried the same coherent message.
For observers, the question is why is China's previously internal Tibet debate now out in the open? Which view will prevail? How should Dharamsala respond?

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