The events of the past week show how the PRC campaign against the Dalai Lama in the West has reached new levels of sophistication. The PRC knew that an attack on the moral character of His Holiness, which is unimpeachable, would be hard. The fact that the public meeting that the excerpted clip was taken from was available online for more than a month prior to the clip being released shows that this was not some instant reaction to a specific event. An innocent interaction was taken out of context and weaponized against the Dalai Lama. It was planned and methodical.
The Chinese government is obviously much more in tune with the conspiracy theories of the day and how to capitalize on them. Surely they are aware of what happened in Washington several years ago. I live in walking distance of Comet Ping Pong, where a confused man was manipulated into believing children were being abused in a non-existent basement. My family and I ate lunch there two hours before he entered with an assault rifle, looking to ‘help’ those imaginary children. He is now in prison. One example of how a conspiracy theory was manipulated to a violent end.
The PRC played on the conspiracy theories of the day and knew that by manipulating social media and the news media, they would be able to capitalize on the irrational views held by some who have a loud megaphone. In Tibet however, this particular campaign seems to have backfired. The PRC lifted the ban on talking about the Dalai Lama in China, and he started to trend on social media. The video that the Chinese hoped would lead to Tibetans denouncing His Holiness in shame has led to an outpouring of emotion because they were finally allowed to view video of him publicly and without fear of reprisals. It has also galvanized the Tibetan community in exile to fight even harder now that the PRC has shown there is no bottom to its smear campaign against His Holiness.
The entire Tibet world was shocked by the swiftness of the media (both social and news) cycle that took off with one 40-second out-of-context and misleading video clip. It was especially disheartening that there was so little pushback from Western media saying that there might be a deeper cultural meaning or context to the interaction.
This lack of pushback on the video and failure to see the manipulation by the PRC came as a tremendous shock to me and other allies. This shock led to a delayed response by all of us in the Tibet world, something that made the situation worse and allowed a conversation to continue long after it should have been extinguished. These types of attacks are unexpected, but not just by Tibetans and their allies. The same is true of the US government. The Washington Post recently reported that there were four more Chinese spy balloons in addition to the three that were spotted earlier this year. The US military wasn’t even able to initially identify all the equipment that was being used on the balloons. This new approach to spying on the US (and other countries) is now one that the military is prepared for and will take action against when it happens again.
Fortunately, the narrative is beginning to turn, and people are realizing that only the PRC benefits from this baseless campaign against the Dalai Lama, and we as Tibet supporters will never be caught so unprepared again. The old saying is true—a lie did make it around the world before the truth could put its boots on. We are not going to let that happen again.