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"As long as human rights are violated, there can be no foundation for peace. How can peace grow where speaking the truth is itself a crime?"

Rejoinder to "Autonomy? Think Again"

August 3, 2009

By Email[Thursday, July 30, 2009 10:30]
By Lobsang Sangay

Elliot Sperling?s column, ?Autonomy? Think Again?, (Times of India July
20th 2009) proves him functionally illiterate on legal jurisprudence.
His condescending attitude of knowing it all while Dharamsala knows
nothing would have Edward Said rolling over in his grave. His
self-censorship also hints of Perry Link's anaconda in the chandelier.

On the one hand, Sperling argues that the Dalai Lama?s efforts to assert
the Tibet issue within the framework of the Chinese constitution is
fantasy because the Communist government does not take law seriously but
merely as a dispensable tool to serve its political ends. On the other
hand, he asserts that the debate (on the Chinese Constitution) that Ma
Rong opened up in April (actually March) is of critical importance to
China?s Tibet policy. If the Chinese Government does not take law
seriously, then who cares what kind of debate Ma Rong initiated? If what
Sperling said is true, then the Chinese Government can simply scrap the
present minority law. Why even debate, if law is simply a tool to be
dispensed at will? The fact that Sperling argues the critical importance
(emphasis added) of the debate itself is an acknowledgment of the
relevance of law.

Sperling cites Ma Rong?s reasoning that China?s Autonomy Law encourages
minorities to exclude others from their regions, and privilege their own
languages, religions and practices that differentiates them from others.
In short, "the current system leaves minorities with little or no sense
that they are Chinese." In that sense, Dharamsala's efforts to package
the Tibet issue within the Nationality Law seems to have been validated
because the memorandum on autonomy makes similar argument and ask its
full implementation to preserve and protect Tibetan identity and
distinct internal governance.

When Sperling bundles me with envoys Lodi Gyari and Kelsang Gyaltsen, he
exposes his lack of understanding of legal jurisprudence. First of all,
I don't reinforce the exile government?s view and in a few forums with
Elliot Sperling himself, I have presented critical analysis of the
negotiation efforts under satiric titles as "Much Ado About Nothing" and
"Waiting for God." Furthermore, he knows very well that I am familiar
with Ma Rong, and debated with him about Tibet on many occasions,
including conferences at Harvard that both Ma and Elliot attended.
Actually, Ma Rong's view is not new, an English version of his article
was published in 2007 which also proves Sperling is Johnny come lately
on this issue.

If Elliot had read my writings, then he would have seen my analysis of
the situation in Tibet more as an exposure of contradictions and
violations based on the Chinese constitution. For example, in an article
titled "China's National Autonomy Law and Tibet: A Paradox between
Autonomy and Unity," I argued that whenever there is a clash between
autonomy and unity, more often than not unity trumps autonomy and
thereby exposing the illegitimacy of autonomy.

Contrary to Sperling?s simplistic label, my personal analysis of Chinese
law is premised on Vaclav Havel?s seminal work "The Power of the
Powerless," the bible of the Eastern European revolution. Havel argues
that authoritarian regimes, no matter how cruel and oppressive, use law
to justify their actions because legality is important to legitimize
their lies. Hence the power of the powerless is to use the same law to
assert their rights. Doing so will either force the regime to implement
its law, thereby winning rights for the victims, or will expose regime's
lie, thereby undermining its legality and legitimacy: a win-win proposition.

Advocacy of law as a strategy was comprehensively illustrated by Vaclav
Havel among others in the Charter' 77, the foundation for revolution in
the Eastern European countries. Its Chinese incarnation, signed by
thousands of Chinese intellectuals, including the brave Tibetan poet
activist Woeser, is Charter' 08, which advocates legal reforms.
Similarly, Chinese lawyers? unprecedented report on the Tibetan uprising
in 2008 and representing Tibetan political prisoners and in one case
freeing a prisoner (monk Jigme Gyatso) are examples of the power of the
powerless. Hence it is imperative to recognize distinct usages of
Chinese laws and debates within China at various levels.

Perry Link has written that scholars practice self-censorship by not
criticizing China for fear of reprisal. Sperling?s article has
self-censorship writ large. On the surface, the article appears
sympathetic of the Tibetan people, but on closer look, one notices that
regarding the Dalai Lama and Dharamsala, Sperling uses terms such as
"ignorance, embarrassing fantasies, functionally illiterate, and wander
quite blindly." Sperling concludes his piece with irreverent "best of
luck with that one, guys." The article does not have a single critical
term about the Chinese Government, the Communist Party and Chinese
scholars. If his heart bleeds for Tibetans how come he cannot muster
even a single term critical of China's policy in Tibet or even on failed
talks? Is this simply Orientalism carried too far? Or perhaps Elliot
Sperling sees the anaconda in the chandelier.

Dr. Lobsang Sangay, is a Senior Fellow at Harvard Law School. Dr. Sangay
earned his Master's and PhD degree from Harvard Law School and in 2006,
selected by Asia Society as one of the twenty-four young leaders of Asia.
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