TibetWatch: April 25th

It’s hard to even choose where to begin today, but perhaps the most important note to start with is that today marks the 23rd birthday of the Panchen Lama, kidnapped by the Chinese government at the age of six and not heard from since:

Speaking to Phayul over phone, an official in the Press Section of the Chinese Embassy in New Delhi today said that the XIth Panchen Lama Gedhun Choekyi Nyima is in “mainland China along with his family.”

“He is currently in mainland China along with his family and he doesn’t want to be disturbed,” the press officer, who declined from giving his name told Phayul.

When asked why the XIth Panchen Lama doesn’t want to be disturbed, the Chinese official, instead of giving a straight answer, blamed the Dalai Lama for “fabricating the truth.”

Despite repeated international pressure, the Chinese government has refrained from disclosing the well-being and whereabouts of Gedhun Choekyi Nyima and his family.

Coinciding with the XIth Panchen Lama’s 23rd birthday, Tibetans and supporters worldwide organised campaigns demanding his release.

If any one episode could fully relay exactly how villainous Beijing can be, the Panchen Lama affair might be it. Fittingly, today the International Campaign for Tibet is releasing a report entitled “60 Years of Chinese Misrule,” which makes detailed accusations of what ICT calls ‘cultural genocide’ in Tibet. The 148-page report can be downloaded here.

My thoughts on the report (and by the way, this is where I would put a full disclosure statement if this were anything other than a blog on the internet I write in my spare time): Before getting a chance to read it, I was worried that misleading narratives we frequently see in Tibet writings might be given some play, namely the misrepresentation of Tibet as an idyllic Shangri-La which only became a human realm after the Chinese invasion. To be sure, the report does make little mention of some of the problems of pre-Chinese Tibet, although given that this is explicitly a review of Chinese rule these omissions seem irrelevant. Instead, “60 Years” painstakingly documents how Tibet has been transformed from a proud civilization to a Chinese colony by way of policies which attack Tibetan culture, language, religion, traditional social structures, and ethnic identity.

By clearly defining cultural genocide and bringing all of the dimensions of the Tibet struggle into one document, ICT is trying to definitively change the discourse on Tibet in the same way that Mearsheimer and Walt did for Israel/Palestine with “The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy.” Points about different aspects of Chinese rule- from nomad resettlement to the elimination of Tibetan language education to rule by gunpoint- have all been made before, but the argument that together they constitute something greater (that is to say, worse) than the sum of their parts has never been made in such a detailed, focused way before.

Ultimately, it may come down to whether or not the reader believes in the concept of cultural genocide. Successive attempts to recognize cultural genocide, dating back to the same time as the coining of the term ‘genocide’ itself, have mostly been put down in the UN. ICT is at least trying to get it out there, and the reaction from the international community and retaliatory statements from China will likely be almost as interesting as the report itself.

Also breaking from Phayul today is news that the most recent self-immolators in Tibet left an audio statement which is now circulating around Tibet:

In their last message addressed to all Tibetans, Choephag Kyab and Sonam have reportedly said that their actions were for the “protection of the Buddha Dharma” in Tibet and for the “restoration of Tibet’s freedom.” They specified that their actions “were not for personal glory.”

The two have also urged the locals to “avoid fighting among themselves” and pleaded for “unity among Tibetans.”

“The message is being circulated widely in the region and Tibetans in the Zamthang area have been deeply moved by the message,” Gyatso said.

Local Tibetans had gathered in large numbers at the site of the protest to prevent them from being carried away by Chinese security personnel and carried the bodies to the Zamthang monastery.

Later at around midnight, following pressure from the local Chinese authorities, they were cremated near the monastery.

Around 6000 Tibetans from around the region attended the funeral according to Gyatso.

Finally, some interesting bits from the remarks by Lodi Gyari to the Council on Foreign Relations:

You know that I have been leading the Tibetan delegation for the dialogue with the Chinese government for the last many years. But I am not here today to give you a report on my progress because there is nothing new to say on that front. My last meeting with my counterparts in Beijing was in January 2010. Ever since, despite sincere and serious efforts on my part, we have been unable to reconvene. With the very critical situation in Tibet, the leadership changes both in Beijing and Dharamsala, and due to some other factors, I do not see any prospect for an early resumption, at least under my watch. However, having spent decades on this effort, I still do passionately believe that ultimately the only way for the Tibetans and Chinese to find a mutually acceptable solution for Tibet is through dialogue.

Adherence to the ‘one-China’ policy has been reiterated by successive American Administrations, sometimes making explicit reference to the communiqués mentioned above or to Taiwan’s unchanging status. Although the ‘one China’ policy was articulated in the context of US-China and US-Taiwan relations, Beijing increasingly demands that other governments with whom it establishes or maintains relations also endorse this ‘one-China’ policy.

What is the relevance of this discussion to Tibet? If one has to look for any reference point for China-Tibet relations, it is not the 1972 Shanghai communiqué, but the ‘17 Point Agreement,’ previously mentioned. In fact, the lack of relevance of the ‘one China’ policy is precisely what I would like to address. No Tibetan government has ever claimed to be the government of China, so the application of the ‘one-China’ policy to Tibet – or for that matter, the PRC government’s ‘one China’ principle that stresses the inalienability of both Taiwan and mainland China as parts of a single ‘China’ — simply does not arise.

We have our differences with China’s leaders when it comes to the history of Tibet and our historical independence from China but, as you well know, His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s proposals and statements concerning ways to resolve the Tibetan question all envisage solutions that respect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the People’s Republic of China as the state is constituted today. These proposed solutions call for the exercise by Tibetans of genuine autonomy within the People’s Republic of China and within the framework of its constitution – not for independence.

Yet, the PRC government vigorously pursues efforts to extend the applicability of ‘one China’ to Tibet and, in recent years, it has misled a number of governments into believing not only that the ‘one-China’ policy applies to Tibet, but that it restricts the extent to which their government officials can interact with Tibetan leaders in exile, including His Holiness the Dalai Lama. We believe that the intended effect of China’s initiative is to limit outside governments from playing a constructive role in promoting a mutually acceptable negotiated solution for Tibet. Indeed, by accepting the applicability of ‘one China’ to Tibet, governments are subtly aligning themselves with the Chinese position that the Dalai Lama is trying to ‘split’ China.

His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s proposals and the position of the Tibetan exile administration, supported by many international experts and governments alike, is that the situation in Tibet should be resolved by transforming what is now merely a nominal autonomy for Tibetans under the Chinese constitution and laws into a genuine and effective autonomy. We are convinced that our primary goal of restoring the right of Tibetans to live as Tibetans according to our culture, values and religious traditions can best be achieved if Tibetans can govern themselves under a system of devolution of power from the central government to the Tibet Autonomous Region and its contiguous Tibetan autonomous prefectures and counties in the People’s Republic of China.

What China’s leaders must also realize is that by reneging on the promises of autonomy in the constitution – even if they are unfulfilled – would severely impact the Tibetan position on the question. His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s Middle Way approach is premised on the supposition that a middle ground between independence and the current centralist dictatorship is possible within the framework of the People’s Republic of China and its constitution. That middle ground is genuine autonomy. If the constitutional basis for autonomy were to be removed from the Chinese constitution and if, therefore, a Middle Way approach could no longer be accommodated within the People’s Republic of China and its constitution, then Tibetans would be compelled to look for a totally different approach.


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Filed under ethnic conflict, Self-Immolation Crisis, Tibet

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