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"We Tibetans are looking for a legitimate and meaningful autonomy, an arrangement that would enable Tibetans to live within the framework of the People’s Republic of China."

Orphans in this World

March 9, 2010

Claude Arpi
March 7, 2010

"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.

Another aspect

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 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.
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