Join our Mailing List

"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?"

Tough roads for the Dalai Lama

November 18, 2008

On the wake of an important meeting of Tibetan exiles the room for
compromise with Beijing is growing smaller
by Francesco Sisci
La Stampa (Italy)
November 17, 2008

History is the basis of territory. It has been so in the Earth's long
history, as weather and earthquakes shifted the course of rivers,
moved mountains, and made and destroyed islands. And it has been in
the short human history as wars, conflicts, and political tussles
have defined and redefined borders. No wonder, then, that
China—historically the country fondest of history—is trying to assert
its political position on Tibet via the writing or rewriting of
history. After all, for centuries China's cultural stance has been
that the new ruling dynasty writes the history of the past dynasty,
cutting and pasting events in the manner most convenient for present
circumstances. This has been a powerful ideological device, and it is
not easy to now discard it.

But history is a convenient ideological instrument only when there is
complete control over it—something that is impossible in modern, open

China's interest in Tibet's history has prompted different views.
Tibet expert Robert Barnett observes that China's historical claim to
Tibet as an integral part of Chinese territory is faulty.
"Historically, modern China recognized Tibet as having some sort of
special status or position that was not akin to that of a province.
Hence the 1910 invasion, the 1951 Agreement, the 1965 Autonomy
status, and so on," he argues acutely. The special status of Tibet is
also officially recognized by the Chinese government, which calls the
place an "autonomous region" rather than a province. This recognition
is complicated by the fact that China now uses the term for other
areas that do not historically have a special status. The name
"autonomous region" alone raises endless doubts about the history of
the ties between Tibet and the rest of China.

However, for China as for the rest of the world, sovereignty over
Tibet and the rights and limits of the Dalai Lama if he were to
return are not academic but political issues. To base the present
Chinese power in the region on faulty history seems to be a harbinger
of future problems.

The point seems altogether different. The political reasons for
China's 1951 intervention in Tibet may be open to analysis and
political evaluation, and those reasons might be also found to be
totally wrong. Was it right for white men to invade the American
continent and slaughter its inhabitants? Was it right to practically
wipe out native people from Australia or to impose the English
language onto Ireland, Scotland, and Wales? Was it right to invade
the Kingdom of Naples and the Pontiff State to build the artificial
institution of modern Italy? As a matter of fact, is any modern state
free of doubt and suspicion surrounding its formation or expansion?
Italy lost the cities of Fiume and Pola to Yugoslavia at about the
same time that Chinese troops entered Tibet—what would have happened
if Italy reclaimed those cities during the breakdown of Yugoslavia in
the 1990s?

Tibet has been integral part of the Chinese administration for over
half a century de facto like any other province. And Tibet is unlike
Hong Kong, which has enjoyed a special status since its "return to
the motherland" in 1997. It is thus impossible to realistically think
that Beijing could loosen its grip on the region. Chinese leaders
would fear that a restive Tibet might consider it encouragement for
further thrusts away from Beijing. This view might be conservative or
even reactionary, but the popular pro-government movement in China
after the March riots in Lhasa proves that the belief enjoys
widespread support among the Han majority. Effective autonomy is then
out of question, but better management of the region is absolutely
necessary -- even the most conservative among Chinese officials agree.

We don't know the reality of the recent discussions between Chinese
officials and envoys of the Dalai Lama, but we dare suggest that the
Dalai Lama's people consider these realistic political constraints
when thinking of a strategy for the bilateral talks. Furthermore, the
Dalai Lama envoys can count on dwindling Western support, which was
for decades the main source of their leverage over China. In times of
economic crisis, China, with a two trillion dollar reserve and no
significant deficit, now has powerful leverage over major Western
countries beset by bad debts. These countries are therefore much less
poised to pressure China on Tibet, objectively a minor and controversial issue.

The Dalai Lama can wait for the economic crisis to peter out, but by
then China could be much stronger economically and politically, and
the Tibetan cause may not have an improved political position. The
potential, short of a major accident, for this future situation
should push the Dalai Lama to work with the Chinese authorities on
better management of the region and from there move forward.

This resolution may be too little for a group of militants abroad
that has never given up and is willing to intensify the struggle. It
may even be too little for some Tibetans in Tibet who are giving up
Lamaism to return to pre-Buddhist beliefs because they believe that
Dalai is a softie with the Chinese. But the political reality is that
the Tibetan cause grows weaker by the day, and the Dalai must either
wait for a miracle or find a way to deal with the present situation.

Paradoxically, the sooner he accepts a resolution, the less harsh
conditions he might be able to extract. In a year, today's conditions
might have disappeared and harsher ones offered. We can say that this
is cruel or totally unfair, but that will not change things for the
Dalai Lama. Just as Western tears and guilt for the colonial past
will not alter that history and will only marginally improve the
present for colonial victims. America will not be returned to the
natives, nor will Australia. Europe is also unwilling to take back
hundreds of millions of emigrants.

Before these huge unsolvable issues, the Western concern for Tibet
seems like a Freudian projection of guilt: The sons of the
colonizers, unable to redeem their fathers' faults, try to prevent
what they see as a repeat of their fathers' mistakes. It is a noble
and worthy endeavor but must be gauged against real
conditions—otherwise, it can be counterproductive.

Furthermore, perhaps it is time to rethink of the horrors of
colonization. The first colonies we know of were established around
the eight century BC by the Greeks, who battled and defeated Italic
populations to establish colonies in what is today southern Italy.
The region was later conquered by the Romans. Barbaric hordes
followed, and then there were the Byzantine Greeks, the Franks, the
Arabs, the Vikings from Normandy, the Germans, the Spanish, the
French… Last came troops from Piedmont claiming they were on a
mission to re-unite Italy. For over a decade, they fought what was de
facto a civil war against local brigands. Yet, when had Italy ever
been united? Still, modern populations from southern Italy boast
their Greek and Roman ancestry and show off the local baroque
architecture of their Spanish rulers, forgetting that these people
were all early colonizers and conquerors.

Yes, your Holiness the Dalai Lama, I confess it "I am a southern
Italian. Although I might want to, it is impossible to return to the
Kingdom of Naples. The best I think I can do is to find a better way
to preserve my identity, within the south of a very united Italy.
CTC National Office 1425 René-Lévesque Blvd West, 3rd Floor, Montréal, Québec, Canada, H3G 1T7
T: (514) 487-0665
Developed by plank