Participants unanimously agree that what they have actually seen in Tibet differs from what the 14th Dalai (sic) and the Dalai clique have said. The Dalai clique statements on Tibet are distorted and incorrect. Many Western media reports are biased and have led to much misunderstanding. Seeing is believing. Participants express the aspiration to introduce the real Tibet to the world.The duplicity comes from the fact that while the Chinese government accuses “Western media” of having a biased view of Tibet, at the same time they deliberately prevent Western media from entering Tibet to see for themselves. “Seeing is believing” is a privilege extended to the few lucky enough to get a visa. And the lucky few are often those who the government thinks will accept their portrayal of Tibet. The paragraph above comes from the “2014 Forum on Development of Tibet, China” held in Lhasa on August 12-13. The document, which Chinese media claimed was endorsed by the international participants, is taken straight from the central propaganda department’s talking points on Tibet – “ordinary people in Tibet are satisfied with their well-off lives,” “traditional culture [has] been well preserved,” “Tibetan people enjoy religious freedom.” We do not know if all the participants at this forum were told their names would be associated with a “consensus” document. We do know of one who was not. Bob Parker, former mayor of Christchurch, New Zealand, attended the forum and was asked if he endorsed the statement. “Not at all,” he told the BBC. “I’m aware that the statement was made but I certainly haven’t signed up to it. I think a number of people who were there were a little surprised to hear about that statement.” A skeptical view of Chinese practices is merited. A year ago, an editor the The Australian newspaper, Rowan Callick, discovered that the Chinese had attributed favorable comments on following his government-sponsored trip to Tibet. In response, he wrote,
Apparently I have told millions of readers in China that the people of Tibet are living a “wonderful life”… My glowing words, replicated on several official websites in China, starting with that of the China Daily, came as a surprise to me. For I didn’t utter them.I think we should give journalists the benefit of the doubt on what they report, through their outlets, from Tibet. They report what they see (highways, shopping malls). It’s hard to report on what they are not allowed to see (Tibetans’ discontent). Many do supplement their stories with the contemporary political context. Those who don’t, I would argue, are not doing their readers a service. One example of the former is the New York Times’ Ed Wong, with “A Trip to Tibet, With My Handlers Nearby.” An example of the latter include The Hindu’s Suhasini Haidar’s blog of her recent trip to the Tibet Autonomous Region. Somewhere in between is the Vancouver Sun’s Chuck Chiang, who visited Lhasa in June 2014. While he notes that he was given a limited perspective and didn’t see enough of religious life in Tibet, the officially sponsored trip left him “cautiously optimistic about Tibet’s future.” I suppose that’s like your ophthamologist saying he is cautiously optimistic about your glaucoma diagnosis after examining only one eye. The Chinese government objects to first-hand reporting that does not match its desired portrayal of Tibet. Likewise, we find some Tibet supporters who criticize observations that may not match their preferred image of Tibet. Take the case of Bill Bishop, a Beijing-based journalist who is on a trip through western Tibet, from Lhasa to Shigatse to Mt. Kailash. He has been tweeting frequently from his trip, and has been subject to criticism on Twitter that his observations are somehow promoting Chinese propaganda. I don’t know Mr. Bishop, but I read his excellent newsletter, Sinocism. The name itself tells us he is no fan of the Chinese government. I have enjoyed the photos and short videos Mr. Bishop has posted, which provide a contemporary view of places few of us will ever see. He has posted images of highways, buildings and other infrastructure. Like everything in Tibet over the last six decades, these were constructed under Chinese rule. Observing does not make him a propagandist. These are just facts. I’m sure Mr. Bishop is smart enough to understand the context. This appears to be a personal journey, not a professional one. Mr. Bishop has responded to the criticism, even citing, accurately, the Dalai Lama’s position: Fulfillment of the Dalai Lama’s admonition to “seek truth from facts” demands that we try to find common ground based on objective information. We should not allow ourselves to be confined to pre-conceived notions that fit our personal or political attitudes. Of course the Chinese party/state with its propaganda machine is the largest culprit. But even well-meaning Tibet supporters should take some perspective too.
Footnotes  Document can be found at http://news.xinhuanet.com/english/china/2014-08/14/c_126868303.htm (Warning: links to China-based sites cannot be certified as safe.)
One important lesson I attained from the week (which I mentioned on the radio show) was a message given by Mr. Lodi Gyari, former Special Envoy of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, who shared his thoughts on what he hopes to see in this new generation of Tibetans worldwide. He said we need more professionals. We can be professionals in anything, whether it is a lawyer, painter, politician, doctor, etc. Just being a Tibetan, and a Tibetan professional at that, carries tremendous weight and strengthens the entirety of our global Tibetan community. With our abundance of resources and our access to quality education in exile, I see more and more Tibetan professionals from all departments in the coming years. Another influential lesson I took from the week was the significance of being a “Tibetan-American.” Bhuchung Tsering la explained why we should identify ourselves as Tibetan-Americans and not just merely Tibetan or American, respectively. By being a Tibetan-American we have a substantial amount of opportunities as citizens of the United States, combined with a great deal of responsibility to use our opportunities to help our brothers and sisters in Tibet. So we must embrace and understand what it means to be a Tibetan-American and fully utilize it to our advantage. All in all, considering the quality of the preparation, intensity of the program, and having all the expenses paid for by ICT, there is no other program of this magnitude with these types of benefits. I whole-heartedly encourage any Tibetan-American University students reading this to apply for this unparalleled week. I especially recommend the younger students, 18-20, to apply as I did.