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Op-Ed: The Dalai's Lama's Impossible Choice

August 2, 2008

Thubten Samdup
World Tibet News
August 1, 2008

While the world's attention turns to the truly compelling stories of
human resilience behind every Olympic medal to be won in Beijing next
month, another human drama is unfolding, one that will define the
legacy of a man beloved by millions worldwide.

The Dalai Lama is facing a terrible choice. The talks between his
representatives and those of the Chinese government have,
predictably, produced nothing. Tibetans in Lhasa are still being
repressed, arrested without cause, imprisoned without charge,
stripped of their civil rights and maligned by China's propaganda.

Tibetans in the worldwide diaspora are clamoring for some sign of
progress from China, not for independence but for basic civil rights
and cultural protections.

The Dalai Lama is not just a political leader, he is a spiritual
leader. And the fundamental tenets of the Buddhism he embodies for
millions around the globe inform his belief, so intrinsic to who he
is that he could no more disavow it than commit murder, that he must
not do anything that would hurt his enemy. While this position is
admirable in a spiritual sense, it puts him at a lethal disadvantage
in dealings with a regime that has demonized him, repressed his
people and that only keeps up the appearance of dialogue long enough
to get through the Olympics but, clearly, will be no more amenable to
meaningful change after the games are over and the global spotlight
has moved on.

The time has come now that His Holiness the Dalai Lama must make the
difficult choice ­ choice between his Buddhist principle and his
people. This is too much to ask of a simple Buddhist monk, but he
must make that choice.

All his sincere overtures over the years have produced no tangible
result other than Beijing retreating back to its initial position
that there is nothing to talk about as to the future of Tibet except
the Dalai Lama's own personal status. China's position on the talks
was summed up in a statement by the new director-general of the
information office of the State Council, Mr. Dong Yunhu on March
16th: "The central Government will never discuss the future of Tibet
with the Dalai Lama. What we can discuss with him is his future and
that of some of his supporters." He further stated "I don't think
(the Dalai Lama) is qualified to represent Tibet. If he ever did, it
was before 1959" - when he fled to Dharamsala in north India after a
failed uprising.

After seven rounds of talk since 2002, when the Dalai Lama started
sending his special envoys to meet with Chinese officials and
negotiate the future of Tibet, all Beijing has done is stall, taking
advantage of their unique advantage in having an interlocutor bound
by his every breath to uphold peace, nonviolence and compassion.

The Olympics, China's coming-out party as an increasingly accepted
member of the international community, are less than ten days away
and Beijing is so paranoid about ensuring that the games go smoothly
they have demanded that the Dalai Lama control any trouble makers. If
the Dalai Lama were the sort of man to be ordering or canceling
protests, Beijing's bilateral relationship with him would have
unfolded very differently.

The Dalai Lama needs help. If any diplomatic process ever required
the involvement of a third party mediator, this is the most glaring
example. An international mediator would ensure that the positions of
both sides are weighed fairly against the measures of history and
international law, would neutralize the propaganda that has so
clouded the real issues at stake and would legitimize the outcome of
a process that will impact the lives of millions. It is the very
least the world can do for a people who have paid the price for
China's success for too long.

In his appeal of March 28th to the people of China, the Dalai Lama wrote:

    "Chinese brothers and sisters, I assure you I have no desire to
seek Tibet's separation. Nor do I have any wish to drive a wedge
between the Tibetan and Chinese peoples. On the contrary my
commitment has always been to find a genuine solution to the problem
of Tibet that ensures the long-term interests of both Chinese and
Tibetans. My primary concern, as I have repeated time and again, is
to ensure the survival of the Tibetan people's distinctive culture,
language and identity. As a simple monk who strives to live his daily
life according to Buddhist precepts, I assure you of the sincerity of
my motivation."

I love, admire and respect His Holiness as a faithful servant for the
past three decades and as a longtime supporter of his Middle Path
approach to our future. But I have changed my mind for his sake as
well as for the sake of Tibetans, Chinese and all people everywhere
who believe that this is a true test of whether tyranny and
repression will be welcome in this new international order.

The clock for the people of Tibet is ticking. The Dalai Lama must
demand international mediation in talks with China now or the Tibetan
people will have lost their battle for justice and he will have lost
his own quiet, lifelong war against those who believe good cannot prevail.

Thubten Samdup
Former North American Member of Parliament to the Tibetan Parliament in Exile
Founding President of the Canada Tibet Committee
National Chair, Dalai Lama Foundation - Canada
CTC National Office 1425 René-Lévesque Blvd West, 3rd Floor, Montréal, Québec, Canada, H3G 1T7
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