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"I believe that to meet the challenges of our times, human beings will have to develop a greater sense of universal responsibility. It is the foundation for world peace."

Is the Dalai Lama becoming less relevant worldwide?

March 21, 2010

Bhuchung K. Tsering

March 18, 2010

I am beginning to enjoy reading the "news" that various organs of the
Chinese official media are putting out these days on issues relating to
Tibet. In the past, as much as I disagreed with the Chinese propaganda, I
had some sort of respect for them. The reports were no doubt drab, boring,
didactic, long and full of clichés. During the pre-electronic media days
even the layout of the printed versions were unattractive (the Tibet Daily
in Tibetan continues to be drab even now). But at the same time the contents
were serious and really revealed an ideological basis, irrespective of
whether that ideology was sound or not.

Now thanks to an increased propaganda budget and help from some Western
professionals, Chinese propaganda has become slick. The formulation has
become less stereotypical and the appearance is attractive. Alas, the
contents have become sensational and out of this world and, to use one of
their own formulation, are becoming "a laughing stock of the world."

A case in point is one of their outputs for today, March 18, 2010,
headlined, "The Dalai Lama becoming less relevant worldwide" in the People's
Daily. Through a combination of a stretch of the imagination, disinformation
and misinterpretation the article leads to the conclusion that His Holiness
the Dalai Lama is "gradually losing his popularity among Western media
groups." If we look at the only evidence that the article uses to support
this contention, you can understand why I feel the Chinese media's approach
to the Tibetan issue is becoming "a laughing stock of the world."

The article says that during the March 14 press conference by Premier Wen
Jiabao there was no question about the Dalai Lama. It says, "...foreign
media groups unexpectedly focused on the trend of China's economy and
China's international responsibilities, overlooking other issues concerning
the Dalai Lama." What an evidence to say that the Dalai Lama is becoming

I have no doubt that the Chinese leadership and the media people are aware
of the schedule of His Holiness the Dalai Lama that is on his office's
website. They should also be aware of the World Tibet Network News, a daily
electronic newsletter that compiles international news reports on Tibet. A
cursory look at these shows that rather than decreasing popularity,
invitations from different parts of the world to the Dalai Lama have
increased, and that on a daily basis at least half a dozen international
media outlets have a reference to Tibet and the Dalai Lama, almost all of
them positive. As I write this, His Holiness is travelling within India and
is about to leave for yet another trip to Europe.

But I think the Chinese leadership knows that international interest in the
Dalai Lama is increasing. Unfortunately, they are not able to take this. How
can this simple Buddhist monk, who does not spend a penny on public
relations, gain such international stature and reverence while China has to
spend a great deal of money and use political pressures to gain positive
publicity? China faces this quandary whether it is in the United States or
Nepal. Therefore, articles like the one cited above are aimed at vilifying
the Dalai Lama and bringing down his international image.

This article shows another technique that the Chinese side is using, namely
sensationalistic exaggeration. It begins with a reference to the Dalai
Lama's statement on the 51st anniversary of the Tibetan National Uprising
and accuses the Dalai Lama of voicing support to the "East Turkistan
Independence Movement." In order to give this a sinister spin the People's
Daily has intentionally put the first initials in upper cases to make it
appear that the Dalai Lama is in collusion with a much maligned Uighur group
accused of violence. But what the Dalai Lama actually said in his statement
is this, "Let us also remember the people of East Turkestan who have
experienced great difficulties and increased oppression and the Chinese
intellectuals campaigning for greater freedom who have received severe
sentences. I would like to express my solidarity and stand firmly with
them." What the Dalai Lama said is nothing more than what the international
community knows about the situation of the Uighur people, many of whom
continue to face persecution. However, since the Chinese side cannot deny
the human rights violations they have to indulge in sensationalism by
turning the Dalai Lama's solidarity with the oppressed Uighurs into a
support for East Turkestan independence. Is this not a stretch of the

While on the Uighurs, the Chinese authorities have made a great deal about
the use of the term "East Turkestan" instead of "Xinjiang." Every Chinese
knows that Xinjiang is the Chinese name for East Turkestan just as "Tibet"
is loosely known as "Xizang" to the Chinese. The Uighurs prefer their own
name and there is nothing more to it. Tibetans use the two terms Shar
Turkestan (East Turkestan) and Xinjiang interchangeably as would be evident
if the People's Daily writer indeed listened to the Dalai Lama's reading of
his March 10 statement in Tibetan. But seeking truth is not in China's

While on the March 10 statement, instead of looking at the political message
of reconciliation and reiteration of a commitment to a solution within the
PRC, which is the main message, the Chinese authorities have taken pains to
only challenge assertions about conditions in Tibet. Even as they claimed
that the situation for Tibetans in Tibet was normal, we were getting news
reports about a heavy clampdown and extra security in Tibetan areas. I guess
to the Chinese, military control and interference in the Tibetan people's
private religious lives is a normal thing.

The article's ending is what makes it a laughing stock and is an indication
of this childish attitude towards issues by the Chinese media. We have seen
Chinese officials' vehement objections to the international community's
recognition of the Dalai Lama as a pre-eminent spiritual leader, insisting
that he is not just a religious leader but also a political leader. The
article now lauds the fact that he is not being called a "political leader"
by Western government leaders.

I have a feeling that the much-hated philosophy used by a German regime of
the past of "If you repeat a lie often enough, people will believe it" is
very much being kept alive by the Chinese official media.
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