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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."

Free Tibet - One Way or the Other

December 3, 2009

(By Tsoltim N Shakabpa | The Los Angeles Times | July 28, 1996)
The issue of Tibet's future appears to be a topic the world would rather
not deal with. But like the San Andreas Fault, it is a phenomenon that
exists and no ostrich formula can avoid the worldwide impact its
eruption will produce. Prior to 1950, Tibet was a free and independent
nation. In October 1950, Chinese troops under Communist rule marched
through the unprotected borders of Tibet and forced the Tibetans to sign
the so-called 17-Point Agreement, subjugating Tibet into an autonomous
region of the People's Republic of China. This "treaty" promised
self-rule, freedom of religion and protection of Tibetan traditions and
culture, while China would remain guardian of Tibet's defense and
foreign affairs. By 1956, the Chinese had violated every promise they
made in that agreement; in 1959, the Tibetans revolted. This revolt was
followed by the flight of the Dalai Lama and 80,000 Tibetans from their
homeland to India and elsewhere.

The Dalai Lama struggled for more than 25 years to regain Tibet's
independence through nonviolent means. Then in 1988, believing that the
political leadership in China was in a state of flux and worried that
his country and his people would eventually become extinct, the Dalai
Lama proposed a "Middle Path" to reach a solution with the Chinese. This
proposal essentially involved acquiescence to Chinese rule, while
preserving Tibetan lives and identity. Although many Tibetans urged His
Holiness to withdraw from this approach, the Dalai Lama continues to
believe his formula will eventually save his people.

Tibetans believe the Dalai Lama to be the reincarnation of
Chenrezig--the Lord of Love and Compassion. Every Tibetan, no matter
what his background, believes in the Dalai Lama and his teachings. But
while there is no wavering of faith in the Dalai Lama, there are
differing views on what to do for the future.

Many Chinese and Western observers mistake this difference in view to
mean that Tibetans no longer support the Dalai Lama. But faith in the
Dalai Lama means belief in his teachings, not necessarily in his
political analyses or his political leanings.

The divergent views among the first family in Tibetan society should not
be mistaken or maliciously misconstrued as disunity within the family.
Rather, the family's courage in openly differing on political issues
should uphold the strength of the Tibetan democratic spirit and the
fearless willingness of the first family to set an example to all people
constrained by religious or political dogmas.

The views of the Dalai Lama's brother, who is also a recognized,
high-ranking incarnate teacher, differ from his brother's. The Dalai
Lama wishes to nonviolently preserve the basic human rights and identity
of his people, though reluctantly under Chinese rule, because he feels
independence may be too long in coming and that the Chinese may wipe out
the Tibetan race before then.

His elder brother, Taktser Rinpoche, wishes to nonviolently regain
Tibet's independence along with all the basic rights of the Tibetan
people. He feels that this is the only way Tibetan life and liberty can
truly be saved and preserved. While in both instances, there is not only
compassion but virtue, the tricky question is: Would Tibetans be selling
themselves forever to the Chinese or would they be fighting a losing
battle? Who is right? No Tibetan should feel he is sacrificing his
religious belief and faith in the Dalai Lama if he chooses the "path of
independence." That choice is a democratic choice and a constitutional
right, which the Dalai Lama himself so wisely promulgated in the new
Tibetan constitution. Neither should any Tibetan speak ill of the Dalai
Lama's "independent-minded" brethren, as that critic himself would be
breaking a cardinal rule of nationalism and patriotism. China was never
invited to come and rule Tibet. Tibet was made a part of China but
China, as in the case of Hong Kong, promised a different system of rule.
Slowly but surely, the Chinese reneged on the agreement. The freedoms
promised were unashamedly withdrawn and the noose around the neck
tightened with each move made by the Tibetans in protest.

The stories that have since trickled through the closed borders of Tibet
have been sad and gruesome: 1.2 million Tibetans killed and thousands
brutally tortured and imprisoned; nuclear waste dumped into sacred
rivers and lakes. Also, the Chinese government kidnapped a 6-year-old
boy regarded by the Tibetans as their highest-ranking reincarnate lama,
second only to the Dalai Lama.

Tibetans are a peaceful, patient and religious people, carefree in
appearance but determined in spirit. Therein lies their strength. My
late beloved father, Tsepon Wangchuk Deden Shakabpa, chose the "path of
independence" because he firmly believed in the principles and values
upon which his nation was built and because he did not want his people
or his children to suffer in Chinese hands. I, too, have chosen the
"path of independence" for the same reasons. My father lived and died
for Tibet.

* Tsoltim N. Shakabpa is Executive Director of the Tsepon Wangchuk Deden
Shakabpa Memorial Foundation and a celebrated poet.
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