When it comes to the issue of Tibet and how much the top Chinese leaders know about the reality of the situation on the ground, one problem is that the officials serving in Tibet have not been providing accurate reports to Beijing.
Under the authoritarian system that is in China, there is a culture in which leaders only want to convey and hear good things, whether or not they are true. In the process the reality on the ground is ignored to serve a political interest, which in the course of time leads to unrealistic and misguided policies.
The latest example of this in the case of Tibet is utterances by Vice Director Cui Yuying of the State Council Information Office. In a meeting with visiting Indian and Nepali journalists recently, she told them the following: “Foreign media might have been spreading rumors that Tibetan people want repatriation of Dalai Lama. But this is not the situation,” adding, “Our investigation has shown that Tibetans do not want to see Dalai Lama coming back. ”
On the face of it, we could brush this away as a political statement from a Chinese official that does not deserve a second look. Leaving aside the issue of politics, it is not rocket science to get an idea of the aspirations of the Tibetan people vis-à-vis the Dalai Lama. The historical and spiritual bond between the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan people go beyond the birth of the People’s Republic of China. In Tibetan cultural context, the Dalai Lama is the manifestation of Chenrezig, the Bodhisattva of Compassion, who is the “Lhakel” (“assigned deity”) for people of the Land of Snows. Thus, the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan people are inseparable, to those who understand Tibetan culture and tradition. It is for this reason that despite his physical absence from Tibet in the past more than five decades, this bond has only grown closer.
Secondly, China’s own policies towards the person of the Dalai Lama contradict what Vice Director Cui is saying. Despite China’s claims that the Tibetan people enjoy religious freedom, the Chinese authorities have virtually banned the Tibetans from displaying portraits of the Dalai Lama in their houses, as is the Tibetan spiritual tradition. Additionally, the Chinese authorities forcefully make the Tibetans follow this command after realizing that Tibetans seek every opportunity to follow their tradition of revering the Dalai Lama.
Thirdly, even Chinese scholars and intellectuals who do not have this historical bond with the Dalai Lama have had their outlook on him changed after learning about his life and work. Today, many Chinese in China disagree with the perspective of the Dalai Lama that the Chinese leadership has been projecting to them.
All these information are known to the Chinese officials, which begs the question as to why the Vice Director should be making such a statement as above. I believe this has to do with the tunnel vision and the shortsightedness by which the Chinese authorities have framed their Tibet policy so far. The Chinese authorities have realized the tremendous reverence that the Tibetan people have for the Dalai Lama and somehow have concluded that this threatens the survival of the Chinese Communist Party’s hold over them. Rather than looking at this Tibetan tradition positively and finding ways to respect it, the Chinese authorities are have chosen to project the Dalai Lama as an adversary and to remove any reference to him from Tibetan society.
In the process, these Chinese leaders are forgetting China’s own claim of being a multi-ethnic country that respects the traditions of all the communities. Furthermore, such irrational utterances by Vice Director Cui goes against the new image of China that the new leadership in Beijing is trying to project.
This brings me back to the initial point about officials not conveying accurate information from the ground to the leaders in Beijing. Vice Director Cui knows the reality of the Tibetan people since she has served in Lhasa. Rather than tell the truth as it is and face it, she is choosing to misinform the public. In 1979 when the first fact-finding Tibetan delegation went from Dharamsala to Tibet, the leaders in Beijing were fooled by such a misinformation from Lhasa that led to them to order Tibetans not to disrespect the delegation as they are guests of Beijing. However, the tremendous and unimaginable positive Tibetan people’s reception to this, and the subsequent delegations, took Beijing by surprise.
It is time China and the Chinese leaders realize that their opportunistic statements are only fooling themselves and nobody else.
On the other hand, if the Chinese leaders really believe Vice Director Cui’s statement that “Our investigation has shown that Tibetans do not want to see Dalai Lama coming back,” there is a simple way to test this out. You know what I mean!